Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Traditions of Christmas - The Nutcracker II

The Nutcracker - Sendak CoverIn his preface to a 1984 translation by Ralph Manhem of E. T. A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker illustrator Maurice Sendak, who had based his drawings on set and costumes he created for Pacific Northwest Ballet production of the Christmas favorite, comments:
Tchaikovsky, understandably disappointed in the scenario, proceeded to compose a score that in overtone and erotic suggestion is happily closer to Hoffman than Dumas. His music, bristling with implied action, has a subtext alive with wild child cries and belly noises. It is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children. One can, after all, count on the instincts of a genius.

I saw my first Nutcracker in 1952 at the age of six in a very traditional production by the National Ballet of Canada. They followed the story that Ivan Vsevolojsky had created from an Alexandre Dumas-père version of E.T.A. Hoffmann's novella: Clara is given a Nutcracker, Christmas Eve the Nutcracker with her help defeats the Mouse King, The Nutcracker turns into a Prince and takes her through the Land of the Snow to the Kingdom of Sweets, she wakes up and it was all a dream. Not very exciting as stories go and certainly no where near the complexity or drama of Hoffmann's original and certainly no equal for that score. Since that first production in 1891 many great choreographers - Balanchine, Cranko, Nureyev, Bourne, Bèjart, Petit - have adapted, changed or completely thrown over Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa's original dances and Vsevolojsky bland scenario in attempts to match Tchaikovsky's ravishing music.

I'm struck by the phrase "erotic suggestion" that Sendak uses - I have always thought that the two great pas de deux are amongst the most erotic and sexual music every written.

The first act transformation of the Nutcracker into the handsome prince of Clara's dreams throbs with sexual awakening - and nowhere is that more apparent than in this performance by Merle Park and Rudolf Nureyev. Later dancers may perform Nureyev's choreography with more grace but few have the same raw passion.

Equally the music for the Act II Grand Pas de Deux has a startling sexuality for a dance between a spun sugar fairy and her cavalier. When I listen to it I hear two people making love; it builds from gentle foreplay to climax - listen to those almost out of control flutes - to the final shudders of after play. Even in this beautiful but slightly aloof performance by Miyako Oshia and Jonathan Cope I find the eroticism of two bodies in tune with each other and the music highly sexual.

Tchaikovsky may have been writing to an insipid scenario but Sendak is right about "the instincts of genius."

23 decembre - IVa domenica di avvento


Doralong said...

What a lovely gift- thank you dear! Rudolf was indeed a god!

Personally I've always fancied the Balanchine interpretation myself.

Happy Christmas!

evilganome said...

Merry Christmas! I agree with Doralong. This was lovely to watch and listen to. All of my best wishes to you, Laurent and of course that handsome devil Reese.

Anonymous said...

A better pas de deux is that of Larissa Lezhnina and Baranov. You can see it on You Tube: The Nutcracker The Kirov Ballet 5 and 6. Unhappily the pas de deux is split between excerpts 5 and 6 that damages the effect. But the dancers are both better than the ones here despite not being so well known. And the choreography is superior too. It flows more smoothly and the climax when Lezhnina gallops across the stage and leaps into Baranov's arms is beyond spectacular.