Feature: Mariinsky Ballet's The Nutcracker - new on DVD & Blu-ray

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Mariinsky Ballet 'The Nutcracker' on DVD & Blu-ray

Mariinsky Ballet
The Nutcracker
WarnerClassics on DVD and Blu-ray, December 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts

Congratulations to Laura Dodge, Patrina Spenser & Aislinn Ryan who all win DVDs . The choreographer of the Mariinsky Ballet’s Nutcracker was Vasily Vainonen

There are countless productions of the classic Christmas ballet being performed in theatres around the world this month, but if you’d prefer to watch The Nutcracker on screen in front of a roaring log fire, there are many good reasons for choosing this newly released Mariinsky Ballet version.

The incomparable dancing of the company is shown to great effect with more than 100 dancers on stage, enhanced by exceptional performances in the two principal roles. As Masha – a character usually referred to as Clara in the west – Alina Somova shows why she leads the latest generation of tall, elegant Russian ballerinas with an unparalleled command of the line and balance required for ballet’s slow movements; while, in the title role Vladimir Shklyarov combines the attack of virtuoso athleticism, the softness of lyrical, romantic line and the security of being a strong and attentive partner. There are yet few opportunities to enjoy the sublime artistry of these two young dancers in the comfort of our living rooms and this performance is worth seeing just for the gorgeous concluding grand pas de deux.

This duet is extra special for being one of the most romantic pieces of music ever written for dance (an accolade which is strongly contested by the melody to the duet for Masha and the Nutcracker at the end of act one) and there is no better interpreter of Tchaikovsky’s soaring music than Valery Gergiev, the Director of St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre. His passion is evident in many close-ups of the maestro’s fluttering fingers at work (he always conducts without a baton). Gergiev’s genius is apparently multi-faceted since he leaves the orchestra pit with several days growth of beard and arrives on the stage for his curtain call clean-shaven, ostensibly just a few moments later.

Axel Rothenburg’s camera work is fresh and interesting, providing many close-ups for key sequences. In the Spanish dance, for example, the camera passes in front of the performers, travelling from right to left to suggest that we are walking onstage in front of them (as if inspecting the troops) and when the children are on the floor looking up at the dolls, the camera shows the scene from their perspective. This process leads to some strange camera angles but it gives an intriguing view of wonderful dancing in a way that can never be achieved from a seat in the orchestra stalls.

Most companies decide to regularly refresh their interpretation of E.T.A Hoffman’s fairy tale and Tchaikovsky’s glorious music but the Mariinsky Ballet has kept faith with Vasily Vainonen’s choreography for nearly 60 years. He created the work as far back as 1934 and it has remained in the choreography of the Mariinsky Ballet (known as the Kirov for much of the soviet era) since being revived in 1954. This is a traditional interpretation that has been coloured by the soviet ideal: for example, the “one for all, all for one” principle is emphasised in the adagio section of the concluding pas de deux, where Masha (in the role associated with the Sugar Plum Fairy, but not described as such here) dances with a parade of several partners before finally landing the prince.

Simon Virsaladze’s designs have been preserved through all these years and they present an evocative, idealised vision of Christmas, including a magical opening snow scene. Some of the costumes – particularly for the mice and the soldiers in the battle scene – are dated but this only adds to the unassailable charm of the work.

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