Review: Peter Schaufuss Ballet - Tchaikovsky Trilogy – The Nutcracker
Reviewed: 27 July
On the night when at least 27 million of us watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony, how many would turn up at the London Coliseum to see the concluding part of the Schaufuss Tchaikovsky trilogy? In fact, while the auditorium was not near to being full, it was also far from empty and on ample evidence of a colourful array of shirts, shorts and badges, it seemed as if many attendees were in London for the Olympic Games. Peter Schaufuss came on stage prior to the performance to tell everyone that their support for the company on this special night merited the award of a prize, being a poster signed by the entire cast. For this writer it was to be a kind of long-service medal in paper form: for the dancers, signing hundreds of posters must have led to a very different kind of cramp than they are generally used to suffering!
Any hope that I had that this trilogy would make sense come the end went unfulfilled. The themes spreading through the three works were reasonably clear but the point of it all was not. The newly married prince and princess go to bed at the end of Sleeping Beauty and the same dancer (Megumi Oki), who has been both Odette in Swan Lake and the princess Aurora, wakes up as Clara, the young heroine, in the opening scene of The Nutcracker. We must assume that the sleeping man next to her was the dancer formerly known as prince since he made no further appearance, which also meant that the star attraction, Alban Lendorf, was absent from the ballet. This must have been disappointing for his fans in the audience but at least they got the consolation prize of his signature on a poster.
The little grey cells were also unchallenged by working out that the evil characters of the Black Swan in Swan Lake and Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty had merged into the stroppy girl called (wait for it…) “Blackboss” in The Nutcracker, all three characters being portrayed by Yoko Takahashi. Her dastardly deeds had slipped down the league table of dastardliness from the kidnap, attempted murder and drug dealing of the first two ballets to being a bit of a party-pooper in this one. The weakness of this device is exposed by the fact that Blackboss doesn’t even merit a mention in the story’s synopsis. However, across all three ballets, Takahashi has been the most consistently enjoyable performer to watch.
Perhaps the best of these trilogy overlaps is that Schaufuss brings together the four princesses rejected by Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake with the four suitors turned down by Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and pairs them up as couples for the national dances of the party that ends The Nutcracker. This choreography retains the characteristics of their solos from the earlier ballets and provides the most conventional elements of the ballet, which is another way of saying that the wackiness content is toned down. The concluding pas de deux is not danced – as it would be conventionally – by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her consort but is instead a dénouement for the Dream Master (Stefan Wise) who has manipulated the whole trilogy with his “magic couch” and Takahashi, although now no longer in the guise of the nasty girl. This music is so tuneful and romantic that even Schaufuss declines to ruin it with outrageous choreography: although, in truth, he has already done that with Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music for the earlier pas de deux between Clara and the Nutcracker, which had the girl turned into a game of pass the human parcel. This music is so beautiful – even when blasted out on the Coliseum’s sound system – that I wanted to call foul for how badly it was interpreted.
The other star name for the trilogy was the great virtuoso dancer, Irek Mukhamedov who, now aged 52, is not a dancer to suit ballet tights, even when worn in jest. Mukhamedov and Zoe Ashe-Browne reprised their roles as the King and Queen in Sleeping Beauty by continuing as Clara’s parents in The Nutcracker. But, in Clara’s dreams they turned into candy-floss caricatures of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her consort, respectively wearing ghastly pink and green wigs and doing little but absurd posturing on the periphery of the aforementioned national dances. Mukhamedov hammed up all his scenes with the kind of exaggerated, over-the-shoulder, furtive looks that would have done credit to a keystone cop. I can’t believe that the man – a true hero in the world of ballet – had to sign all of those posters and then perform this nonsense.
The title of the ballet is also made senseless because the “nutcracker” doll is something called Nut ‘Sky’ Cracker which is a sort of “Buzz Lightyear” representation of Clara’s favourite cartoon character come to life. Dressed like Robocop with a gold crash helmet and seventies flares, poor Johan Christensen came unstuck with his initial entrance as his head cracked the floor with a huge thud and the helmet fell off!. Apart from feeling his pain, it did strike me as an appropriate metaphor for the whole sad shebang. I saw a little twinkle of merit emerge in the middle work – Sleeping Beauty – but the trilogy ended just as badly as it began. The only credit goes to hard-working dancers who did their very best to wring something interesting out of such mixed material.
Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.