Estonian National Ballet’s “Nutcracker” (“Pähklipureja”)
As is often the case, the Estonian name for the holiday classic looks nothing like the English version, whereas in other languages such as German (“Der Nussknacker”), you’re in with a chance.
However, Mai Murdmaa’s delightful production from 2000 is unmistakable, especially in the first act. Murdmaa
is a celebrated choreographer who was always seen as a radical in the Soviet system and worked overseas including the USA. Thomas (Toomas) Edur told me recently that he regards her as a genius.
I have to say that the first act is one of the best I have seen with clear characters, little clutter despite the tiny stage, a charming set and choreography with strong patterns and use of geometry. It is set around 1900 and is a family setting with dances for the children and adults, which make choreographic sense rather than the gap filling material we sometimes see. In these scenes, Daniel Kirspuu as Fritz showed that he is one of the brightest talents among the younger men in the Company. His dancing has a clean exuberance, which is very winning.
A divergence from most Anglo-Saxon productions is that Drosselmeyer is a Principal role, which ensures that there is a lot of dance in this production. Sergei Bassalajev gives the character some depth. He is clearly in love with Marie (Clara), but in a platonic sense rather than with the dark overtones of Derek Deane’s production for English National Ballet. Marie is also a virtuoso role and was played in this performance by Eve Andre, another fine young dancer. With the Prince, Sergei Upkin, Andre won the Gold medal for best partnership at Jacksonville. And we see plenty of this lovely couple in this production, as they perform all the major dancing, including the snow scene and the Grand pdd, which is actually a pas de trois for the three main characters.
The designs by Charles Cusack Smith are particularly attractive in the first half with a strong art nouveau flavour and the transformation scene works well. Before that, two students from the School, Anna Kirs and Teele Ude pleased everyone as the ballerina doll and the small Nutcracker.
The second half is perhaps not quite so successful. The international dances never really come to life. Kaire Kasetalu in the oriental dance has serpentine arms to die for, but the choreographic movement is often stiff at variance with the sinuous port de bras. In the Chinese dance, Vitali Nikolaev gets some good bent legs jetées, like those from “The Prodigal Son”. The Spanish dance is no more than pleasant and the Russian dance suffered from a lack of precision, reflecting that male ensemble dancing is one of the relative weaknesses of the Company.
After the Land of Sweets, there is a visit to the Land of Roses with good patterns from the corps and a solo role. The final pas de trois works well with a spectacular move, where Marie is thrown from Drosselmeyer to the Prince. Upkin manages the catches without mishap on both occasions, but our hearts were in our mouths!
After a separation from her Prince, Marie is carried back to her home by Drosselmeyer and in the final scene, just as the curtain comes down, Drosselmeyer bring in his nephew who turns out to be the Prince. However, this is rushed and adds little to the narrative.
Overall, this is a fine, traditional production with some distinctive characteristics. I enjoyed it greatly and I am told it was well received in Malmo over Christmas. Indeed, many theatres around Europe would be very pleased to have this holiday production. In addition, I had a stalls seat two thirds of the way back in the 800- seater auditorium for $10. Good value for money or what! I took a family including a 16-year old young man who had never seen ballet before and he found it "interesting" - another convert in the making?
Here is a link to full information about the work on the Company website
, including a good quality 5-minute video of excerpts (7 minute broadband download), featuring CriticalDance poster Vladimir Arhangelski and his partner on and off stage, Marina Chirkova.
<small>[ 16 January 2005, 07:10 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>