Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The nutcracker and the mouse king ballet (1892) [108:00]
Choreography by Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling
Clara Staalboom - Anna Tsygankova
Prince/Mr Drosselmeijer’s nephew - Matthew Golding
Nutcracker - James Stout
Mr Drosselmeijer - Wolfgang Tietze
Louise, Clara’s sister - Nadia Yanowsky
Frits, Clara’s brother - Rink Sliphorst
Mouse king - Alexander Zhembrovskyy
Mr Staalboom - Nicolas Rapaic
Mrs Staalboom - Rachel Beaujean
Young Clara - Amaljá Yuno
Young Frits - Giovanni van den Berg
Poet - Juanjo Arqués
Faun - Roman Artyushkin
Old Don Juan - Steven Etienne
Prince inside the magic lantern - Oleksey Smolyakov
Princess inside the magic lantern - Erica Horwood
Leading snowflakes - Maria Chugal and Sasha Mukamedov
Students from the Nationale Balletacademie Amsterdam
Children’s Choir ‘Waterland’
Holland Symfonia/Ermanno Florio
Directed, filmed and edited by Altin Kaftira
rec. live at the Amsterdam Music Theatre, 2011
Sound formats: PCM stereo, dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Picture format: 16:9
Region code: worldwide
Resolution: 1080i High Definition
Blu-ray disc 25 GB (single layer)
ARTHAUS MUSIK BLU-RAY 108 054 [108:00 + 27:00 (bonus)]
The Nutcracker is certainly a most adaptable ballet, as proved by its
frequent reincarnations in all sorts of productions set widely in terms of both
time and place.
Choreographer Maurice Béjart’s interpretation, available on DVD
here, was certainly off-the-wall. A live 20th anniversary production of
Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! that I saw earlier this year was imaginatively
set in “Dr Dross's Home for Waifs and Strays” and incorporated a
huge roll-call of new and colourful characters. I have also recently reviewed
the DVD of a Royal Swedish Ballet performance that included such unexpected
individuals as Uncle Blue, Aunt Brown, Aunt Green and Aunt Lavender from Petter
and Lotta’s Christmas, a favourite Scandinavian children's book by
Elsa Beskow (see
here). Now comes this Dutch take on the core story that grafts onto it such
specifically national characteristics as skaters on an Amsterdam canal and the
traditional Netherlands Christmas characters St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet.
The elegant “Jane Austen” costumes, designed by co-choreographer
Toer van Schayk, indicate that the production has been set at about the time
E.T.A. Hoffman’s original story was written - 1816. Great care has clearly
been put into getting the “look” right, for even Anna Tsygankova’s
tiara in the Grand pas de deux replicates one worn by Napoleon’s
Empress Josephine just a few years earlier. In fact, the only element of the
production that I could spot as chronologically out of place occurred when a
magic lantern was wheeled onto the stage on castors - which weren’t patented
This production’s overall concept is relatively novel and dispenses with
some of the familiar features of the story. Thus, for instance, we don’t
see a hugely-growing Christmas tree as Clara “shrinks”, just doors
and furniture that seem to increase in size. That may, though, simply be another
instance of care for historical accuracy, as it seems unclear at what date decorated
trees were generally adopted as part of Dutch Christmas celebrations.
A more significant novelty concerns the whole of the second Act, however, for,
instead of being transported to a land of sweets, Clara and her prince are taken
into the inner workings of the aforesaid magic lantern. Moreover, it’s
then implied that the characters featuring in the Grand divertissement
dances are not simply what they appear to be but are instead psychological reflections
of some of the real-life people whom our heroine had encountered in Act 1. The
Spanish dance, for example, animates a doll that we saw at the earlier Christmas
party. The Arabian dance features not just the usual bevy of harem girls but
a cruel whip-wielding sultan and Clara’s brother Frits, captured in the
battle with the mouse king’s army and now a prisoner in chains. Sadly,
the Chinese dance isn’t really very “Chinese” at all, apart
from the principal dancer and misses the usual - admittedly ethnically stereotyped
- humour that we expect. After a colourful Russian dance involving Clara’s
parents, we unexpectedly get a Greek dance that is great fun with some very
effective mugging from a dancer playing what appears to be a lecherous Ancient
Greek philosopher! In general, throughout the Grand divertissement dances
Clara, her brother Frits and the prince are not simply spectators but take part
in the action far more than usual, and that, I think, works well.
This is an even “busier” production than most, with a large cast
including no fewer than 51 children, some of whom are very young indeed but
all of whom are clearly very enthusiastic. The youngsters dancing Clara and
Frits are especially engaging and display no sign of nerves whatsoever, as well
as considerable talent for their age. Great care has obviously been taken to
ensure that everyone is well-characterised and acts with an individual personality.
There is certainly always a lot going on on that Amsterdam Music Theatre stage.
The sets, once again the creation of Toer van Schayk, are generally well placed,
often at visually interesting angles, and are very attractive, whether what
we see is just a small child’s bedroom or the full-width stage. The second
Act set - the interior of that magic lantern - is especially striking, with
massive cogs, wheels and a giant lens, all tended by workmen with their spanners
and oil-cans. All the sets create appropriate and appealing showcases for the
artists. Some of the props are also very imaginative. The nutcracker doll itself
is more substantial and impressive than is often the case and it even moves
across the stage by, I presume, remote control. I also enjoyed the brief contribution
of a particularly striking (and animatronic?) cat.
The mouse king episodes are very well done with some effective comedy. The big
battle scene is very lively indeed, and I loved the brief episode where some
of the mice soldiers injured in battle are stretchered off by the Mouse Red
Cross. Anyone familiar with the usually-encountered version of the story will
note, though, that the rodents’ parts have been significantly beefed up.
Their king actually wins the battle at the end Act 1 - in a striking
vignette his troops haul away a cage-full of terrified loyalist toy soldiers
- and he consequently features in both the subsequent waltz of the snowflakes
and the “inside the magic lantern” second Act.
Mention of the waltz of the snowflakes reminds me that the corps de ballet
make a real contribution to this production, particularly in the waltz of the
flowers. With some really beautiful costumes, their richness emphasised by subtle
lighting, and supported by fine orchestral playing that typified the whole performance,
that was one of the evening’s highlights for me.
What, then, of the two principal dancers, Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding?
I have reviewed the pair in another Dutch National Ballet production quite recently
here) and once again they are in first class form. In the Grand pas de
deux - something of a “slow-burn” account here that builds up
the passion gradually but inexorably - they radiate sheer theatrical glamour.
Their subsequent solos then go on to show their individual qualities to best
advantage. Golding is strong, virile and technically assured while Tsygankova
exhibits precision, delicacy and, above all, elegance. Proof that I struggled
to find something to criticise is demonstrated by the sole negative observation
that Mr Golding ought not to smile quite so much because his unbelievably white
teeth shine distractingly in the stage lighting!
Overall, then, teeth aside, this is a very beautiful production from a visual
point of view, especially when watched on High Definition Blu-Ray. I did, though,
have one technical worry. There were one or two occasions, most notably in the
busy party scene at about 9:32, when fast lateral movement - either of dancers
running or the camera quickly panning across the screen - caused deterioration
in the sharpness of the visual image. I may have been sent a rogue disc for
it is only fair to point out that the only current reviewer of the Blu-Ray version
on Amazon specifically says that he detected no movement blur at all. I should,
however, also mention that other Amazon customers, as well as several contributors
to internet ballet forums, have noted that Arthaus Musik’s Blu-Ray version
of Dutch National Ballet’s Don Quichotte suffers similar problems.
Do let me stress, however, that, even allowing for the odd glitch on my disc,
this is an instance where the Blu-Ray process is shown to great advantage in
a generally magnificent presentation.
There are, I should add, 27 minutes of bonus material consisting of what appears
to have been an interval “filler” for a live relay of the performance
to cinemas across the world. Presenter Wendeline Wijkstra, a dancer with the
company herself, while undeniably easy on the eye, is unfortunately not a trained
interviewer. As a result she wastes much of her opportunity with a series of
“closed” questions that, with the exception of some informative
contributions from conductor Ermanno Florio, Toer van Schayk and the company’s
artistic director Ted Brandsen, fail to elicit much of great interest.
Nonetheless, putting the disappointing bonus material to one side, this Dutch
National Ballet production undeniably adds a very enjoyable, artistically impressive
and out-of-the-ordinary account of The Nutcracker to the growing number
of ballet recordings that are increasingly, these days, widely available.
A very enjoyable, artistically impressive and out-of-the-ordinary Nutcracker.