My very first ballet was the Bavarian State Ballet’s Nutcracker, way back in 1981, I think, or possibly in 1990. Time, it passes, things change, and I figured, while technically I was going to see this ballet again, in fact it would seem like it was new. The only think I remembered about it from before was that it did not have a Christmas theme like every other Nutcracker I’d seen. My (German dwelling) uncle said that’s just how it was; I thought perhaps they’d changed the staging because we were watching it in June.
That said, I’m convinced that this was absolutely not the Nutcracker I saw long ago, but a completely revised version. This is so far removed from every Nutcracker that I’ve ever seen that not only does it not have dancers performing in mouse heads (hurray!) or a giant Christmas tree, it has NONE of the traditional dances (well, mostly) or interpretations (i.e. “It’s about Clara becoming a woman,” “It’s about Clara discovering true love”). Instead, it has a narrative that I found utterly compelling, one that allows for excellent dancing in the utterly coherent first act (shock!) AND sets up a second act that, well, I just wanted to sit down and watch bits of it all over right away.
So what is this incredible innovation? Simple and obvious: Clara (called Marie, played by Katherina Markowskaja) is a little girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina. She starts the show playing with a Dresdener porcelain statue of dancer, then with her own paper doll ballet theater. Drosselmeier (Cyril Pierre) is a dance teacher; not some mysterious magician who conjures up dancing harlequins, but a fop and a fool. His _important_ gift to Clara is not a nutcracker, but her first pair of toe shoes.The gift to us is a first act in which there is a party of mixed young and old but no children (other than Clara), so we have adult soldiers (not children) dancing with their girlfriends during the group dance scenes. Imagine: a corps of adult men dancing the first act of the Nutcracker, very much in character as they showed off to each other and the women. What a pleasure it was to watch!
The transitional scene between the real world (where Clara desperately wants to dance with the adults) and the dream world takes place as Clara runs downstairs with her Nutcracker man … to try on her toe shoes. She does, and can’t dance in them, but falls asleep on the floor … and I waited for a tree to appear … or a cuckoo clock … but instead it was just Drosselmeier, and as he lifted away the walls of the room of Clara’s house, he revealed … a ballet studio all done in silhouette, cream and black, like the paper cut outs of Clara’s theater. MY GOD IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL and for me pure theatrical magic.
The second half was constructed as “Clara attends the ballet class and watches classical ballets performed to the Nutcracker Suite.” I was enchanted by seeing the “greatest hits” of classical ballet done as extracts to very different music: so we had “The Living Garden” (aka “Le Jardin Animé” from Le Corsaire) to Waltz of the Flowers; “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” (a man in woman in Egyptian costume dancing to the “Arabian Dance,” really gorgeous); “Esmerelda and the Fool;” “The Chinese Bird” (Mai Kono dancing with Cyril Pierre – I was thinking of her as the Nightingale from Hans Christian Anderson; “Dancing Lieutenants” instead of the Russian dance. Clara tried to get involved with many of the dances (most adorably in the Neapolitain dance) until finally Drosselmeier let her dance by herself. While I think it would have been nice if this were the highlight, instead it was the Grand Pas de Deux with Clara’s sister Louise (Lucia Lacarra) and her refigured soldier boyfriend Gunther (Maxim Chashchegorov). My god, he did an overhead lift to a drop that had me gasping as all contact seemed to be lost before she magically did not hit the floor; and Lacarra was just so jaw-droppingly beautiful in that “what little girls dream ballerinas look like” kind of way.
Oh, I’m sure there was more I could say about the dancing, but I really just went to enjoy myself and not to sit there taking notes, and I was just hoping for “good.” Instead of that weak experience, I found my heart swelled with joy; I smiled; I laughed out loud; I was emotionally satisfied in a way I never thought I could be watching The Nutcracker. Damn. Now that was a good night out!
(This review is for the evening performance that took place on December 27th, 2012. If you want to see it next year, try buying tickets in September as it does sell out very quickly – I bought mine in October and some performances were already sold out – and I believe the people outside fishing for single tickets did NOT meet with success.)