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Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) & Yvan TALBOT
A nutcracker [70:00]
Choreography and artistic direction by Bouba Landrille Tchouda
Compagnie Malka
rec. for television 2013 (?), venue unspecified
Directed for television by Greg Germain
Sound format: PCM stereo
Picture format: 16:9
Resolution: 1080i High Definition
Region: worldwide
25 GB Disc (single layer)
ARTHAUS MUSIK Blu-ray 108121 [70:00]

A persistent Hollywood legend has it that one of the credits for the 1929 movie of Shakespeare’s The taming of the shrew read "additional dialogue by Sam Taylor". Sadly, no surviving reels of film confirm it, but I was reminded of the story by the billing on the packaging of this new Blu-ray disc. “Music”, it proclaims, “by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Yvan Talbot”.
Let’s consider that musical score first of all. Yes, some of Tchaikovsky’s much-loved Nutcracker score is there – but by no means all. I didn’t have a stop-watch to hand while watching the disc, but I’d guess that, of the slightly less than 70 minutes of music we’re offered, no more than half comes from the pen of Tchaikovsky. Some of that is heard in brief snatches, not necessarily in their usual form or rhythm, in the background. The rest comes in a sequence of re-ordered “greatest hits” that includes the Dance of the sugar plum fairy and the Waltz of the flowers.
The newly-composed parts of A nutcracker have been written by Yvan Talbot, an enthusiast for traditional West African music and instruments. The latter, according to his page on Compagnie Malka’s French-language website (see here), include “[the] bara, djembé, dunduns, djéli n’goni, donso n’goni, luth kondé, cythare tchadienne, tama, longa, bougarabous, [and] boté”. I confess that I’m not familiar with any of those, but my own ears suggest that M. Talbot has used quite a few electronic instruments in his score. While Tchaikovsky’s music can always be described as melodic, you’d be hard put to apply the same description to these new additions. It is certainly, however, atmospheric in a manner that makes its own strikingly distinct contribution to the production.
The hybrid score provides a setting for dancing that’s entirely outside the tradition of classical ballet. The strongest influence is quite clearly hip hop culture – specifically, break-dancing. “Breaking”, as I’m told it’s more properly known, prizes gymnastic athleticism above grace (see here) and you might therefore assume that Tchaikovsky’s music wouldn’t be a good fit. There are, however, plenty of parts of his Nutcracker score that are really quite appropriate. The Russian dance, the Chinese dance, the dances of Drosselmeyer’s toys in the first Act, and others all happily give Compagnie Malka’s energetic dancers – just eleven of them in all – some fine opportunities to run and jump all around the stage and demonstrate their talents.
Unfortunately, quite what all that running and jumping is supposed to signify isn’t always clear. Only towards the end was there anything approaching an obvious “plot”, as the nutcracker imprisoned Clara in a box and the prince came to her rescue. Well, I think that’s what was going on. No soloists are named on the packaging, but the booklet notes mention Sonia Delbost-Henry (Clara), Rémi Artechaud (the prince) and Hichem Sérir Abdallah (the nutcracker and the godfather). While I’m no judge of the quality of their ability when it comes to breaking, all three certainly exhibited the greatest energy and commitment throughout.
The direction for the screen was well done, with plenty of wide shots to show the activity over the whole stage, but the decision to use a split screen at one point – divided into two and then into four – destroyed, at least for me, the illusion of being a member of the theatre audience.
At the very opening of the show, we saw that that audience contained a substantial proportion of children. They, no doubt, would have loved Compagnie Malka’s A nutcracker. Many of their parents, on the other hand, may, I suspect, have been more than slightly bemused by the whole evening’s entertainment.
Rob Maynard