Two days before Christmas, and a dose of Nutcracker magic is just what was in order. I must say that I had high expectations following the Royal Ballet’s production a few weeks earlier; however, I think even without those comparisons in my mind the Bolshoi’s Nutcracker still would have fallen short. By no means was this a bad production however I found its use of caricatures to lack character and its perfect technique lacking in performance.
To me, The Nutcracker embodies everything that is magical about Christmas with Drosselmeyer (Denis Savin) being the great orchestrator and magician of the whole narrative. However, I found that for the Bolshoi, Drosselmeyer cannot conjure magic with jazz hands and dry ice alone. Savin’s character, masked like a jester, felt more like a clown that the great magician, with his first great trick merely being able to make his cane stand up by itself. Equally, the majority of the cast were made into comic caricatures, which in some senses brought the stylistic qualities of the music to life while lacking a substantive characterisation which creates empathy for Marie (Margarita Shrainer) on her journey. It became comfortable enough to believe that the dancers were mechanical toys and while their technique was flawless, living up to the prestige a Russian Ballet company bring with them, the performance aspect was hardly the forefront of the afternoon.
Although, the second act significantly pulled the performance back from the negatives. The series of pas de deux as the character entered the realm of sweets were full of energy. From Chocolate to Liquorice, these personified sweets invigorated the performance with contrasting styles of movements, huge leaps and daring lifts, creating a sense of excitement with them. Both The Waltz of the Flowers and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy created the best climatic moments of the show, as full company numbers which contained everything you’d expect from a ballet; from excessive pirouettes to high extensions that defied gravity, and beautifully moving formations. Both Marie and The Nutcracker (Semyon Chudin) performed technically perfect solos and duets, and they both showcased their extensive training. In particular, I enjoyed the progression of Marie’s character, something which is often lacking in the English version of the tale. Just as The Nutcracker transforms from a doll into a person, Marie is likewise given a transformation from a childish girl to a prima ballerina. Her costume changes cleverly aid this suggestion, moving from her nightgown to a full tutu and veil by the end of the performance. Marie becomes the Sugar Plum Fairy and her own character in a way Clara does not.
Overall, this performance was a good one but failed to hit the exceptional mark. For a Sunday afternoon it was a pleasant way to pass the time festively, but as the guy next to me fell asleep, I can hardly call it captivating. The best way I can describe this performance is The Nutcracker for children; a traditional, seasonal, and beautiful production but not quite magical. I highly enjoyed the afternoon broadcast from the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, but sadly I don’t think I’ll remember the details of the performance in five years. Their technique was exceptional, and their movements as a full cast deserve high praise. As a performance though, the company aren’t quite there yet.
Fancy seeing some more from the Bolshoi Ballet? Head to dukes-lancaster.org to see their upcoming stage-on-screen events in the new year.