J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker at the Mariinsky

We often overlook the Russianness of one of our most beloved Christmas traditions.  It is Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, after all.  Almost one hundred twenty years ago, to the day, The Nutcracker premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg (known as the Kirov during darker Soviet days).  At the time, reviews were rather mixed, but it caught on eventually.  The Mariinsky Theatre Ballet Company and the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Valery Gergiev, once again perform the holiday favorite where it all began.  The Sugar Plum Fairy will indeed dance when The Nutcracker screens in 3D nationwide, for one day and one day only, this coming Monday, via Fathom Events (trailer here).

As everyone should know, young Masha’s eccentric godfather, Councilor Drosselmeyer, brings some remarkable toys to her family’s Christmas Eve festivities.  However, only she has eyes for his wooden Nutcracker.  Waking just before midnight, Masha witnesses an epic clash between the Mouse King’s rodent army and the gingerbread soldiers led by the Nutcracker.  Thanks to her intervention, the Nutcracker prevails.  Shortly thereafter, they are transformed into fully grown lead dancers and whisked off to a fantasy land.  Much dancing ensues.

Directed for the screen by Andreas Morrell, the Mariinsky Nutcracker does not skimp on pageantry.  The sets and costumes are as lavish and elegant as viewers would expect, except the mice soldiers, who are deliberately cartoony enough not to upset even the most sensitive of young viewers.  Of course, the dancers are world class, particularly the striking Alina Somova as Princess Masha.  Evidently though, Mariinsky patrons are tough audience.  They do not show much love until the principles reach the Land of Sweets.  That must be a Russian thing.

Incorporating Vasily Vainonen’s acclaimed choreography, the Mariinsky Nutcracker should satisfy experienced ballet connoisseurs and first-time viewers.  While only available in 2D for review attention, it should lend itself quite nicely to 3D, especially the whirling dances in the Land of Sweets, performed in long, flowing exotic garb.  Indeed, Wim Wenders’ Pina proved the utility of 3D cinematography in conveying the spatial dynamics of dance.

There is a reason The Nutcracker has become a Christmas tradition.  Tchaikovsky’s music and the fantastically bittersweet story, sort of adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman’s story, just always seem to work.  With dancers of the Mariinsky’s caliber performing in such a storied venue, it can’t miss.  Recommended for festive families and the cultured elite alike, the Mariinsky’s Nutcracker screens twice this coming Monday (12/3) at theaters throughout the country, including the AMC Empire and Regal Union Square here in New York.

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