> TCHAIKOVSKY Nutcracker [AB]: Classical DVD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Nutcracker - Ballet

Choreography by Maurice Béjart and Marius Petipa
Béjart Ballet Lausanne
Orchestra Colonne/Edmón Colomer
DVD Video Aspect Ratio 16:9; Stereo/Dolby Digital 5.0.
TDK DV-BLBNC [103min (Ballet)+ 26min (Documentary)]


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Those expecting a traditional version of this favourite Christmas Ballet with Christmas Tree and toys coming to life will be surprised by this DVD of Béjart’s version as presented at the Théâtre Musical de Paris – Châtelet. Béjart abandons Tchaikovsky’s story and instead presents an autobiographical story of an eight year old boy who adores his mother who died a year before. He dreams of Christmas past and of meeting a woman who could be his mother. He erects an enormous statue of this woman. But he cannot find his mother’s love and under the influence of a Faust-like figure decides to become a dancer.

Maurice Béjart interrupts the action from time to time to give a commentary based upon his own life (subtitles are available in English and four other languages) sometimes illustrated with photographs of his life and at one point a short interview with his grandmother. Béjart himself began his career as a classical dancer in England and has had a distinguished career both as dancer and choreographer and heads a ballet school in Lausanne which performs in this DVD. His choreography of this Nutcracker is fascinating and often spectacular with many unexpected touches (such as the Chinese Dance on bicycles).

Béjart was strongly influenced by Marius Petipa, the French dancer who choreographed the original version for Tchaikovsky, and he uses the original choreography for the Pas de Deux. This was derived from Petipa’s drawings and the dancing of the choreographer Nicoley Segeyev who had danced under Petipa (Béjart had met Segeyev during his early career in London).

The dancing is uniformly excellent and in particular Gil Roman in the part of Faust/Petipa is often brilliant. Elisabet Ros as Elle, the mother also puts in an exceptionally fine performance. Juichi Kobayashi as Felix the cat and Damaas Thijs as Bim, the son, convey their characters with panache. There is a large cast of other dancers whose performance reflects strongly on the excellence of this company. The staging and costumes are very good. The lighting also is good but much of the action is against a black background which is so fashionable these days; but as this reduces the visibility careful adjustment of the contrast and brightness settings are needed to achieve a good result.

The Orchestra Colonne is a much better orchestra than the average ballet orchestra and plays well under the young conductor Edmón Colomer. Tchaikovsky’s music is as written; Béjart had the idea of adding a number of popular French numbers on the accordion. Yvette Horner is an accomplished accordionist and also has a strong stage presence. Rather to my surprise this works very well and enriches Tchaikovsky’s music rather than diminishing it. An additional accordion number is an air and variations by C.P.E. Bach which adds to the general happy atmosphere of Act 2 of the Ballet.

Overall the DVD is a good one, presenting well what was obviously a successful and well performed staging of Nutcracker. The atmosphere is a happy one with just a suspicion of sadness in Act 1, this however never sinks to sentimentality. The commentary by Béjart is however somewhat self-indulgent and will not stand repeated hearings. I must confess an overall preference to the traditional Tchaikovsky/Petipa version.

Arthur Baker

Overall the DVD is a good one, presenting well what was obviously a successful and well performed staging … see Full Review

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