Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Nutcracker season, and the time we writers reach far and deep to comment, critique, profile, feature, and elevate the famed Nutcracker. In truth, there’s plenty to write about. It’s one of classical ballet’s anthems of movement, and after 100+ years, still evokes seasonal feelings of nostalgia and appreciation for the art form.

This season, a handful of different productions of the seasonal favorite will be aired December 6-December 20 (see, including Casse Noisette Circus of the Ballet of Monte Carlo, Maurice Bejart’s Nutcracker, and offerings from the Berlin State Opera and Bolshoi Ballet. I’ve just viewed the 2009 Royal Ballet production airing December 6, with Peter Wright’s choreography and featuring the lovely Mikayo Yoshida as Sugar Plum Fairy and the reliable Steven McRae as the prince. The production is smart and traditional enough to please any balletomane. What a contrast to the Chinese State Circus performing another Tchaikovsky favorite, Swan Lake — with its astounding grand pas de deux (see, about 30 seconds into the clip). This is a production that takes one’s breath away, mostly for its shock value – featured dancers are an astounding mix of aerial artist-gymnast-ballerina.

In this production, rather than being lifted by her partner, the acrobatic Odette dances on top of her partner, on his shoulders, on his head, on his arms – all on pointe. One has to change (classical sensibility) lens to really see the performance – marked by its sustained character and its lyrical ensemble dancing. By contrast, the Chinese State Circus production is a staccato affair, and so full of tricks as to completely overshadow any corps presence. Really, though, that’s my only criticism, for it offers a lightness achievable only, perhaps, by elevating hyperextension to an art. It’s worth a look.

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