By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 21 MARCH 2010 Few ballets bring as much pleasure to the
general public around the holiday season as the ever-popular
Casse-Noisette (The Nutcracker), reprogrammed in Paris after
only a two year absence. But while Marius Petipas main concern in 1892
was solely to provide lighthearted entertainment for the Christmas and New
Year celebrations in Russia, Rudolf Nureyevs version, created in Berlin
in 1979 but reworked and premiered at the Paris Opera six years later,
favoured Hoffmanns supernatural tale with its psychological depths, in
which the Sugar Plum fairy and the Kingdom of Sweets are banished forever.
With little of the original Ivanov*
choreography surviving except for the grand pas de deux of Act 2,
Nureyev adapted the work freely and made it so much more than a
quintessential ballet for children, appealing as it does to
audiences of all ages.
For a matinee performance in early December, I found myself sitting
next to a small girl of four and half on one side and a lady who could
have been anything between eighty-five and ninety-five on the other. Both
had their eyes glued to the stage, on the dancing, on the costumes, and,
of course, on the grandiose, glittering Christmas tree with the gaily
wrapped gifts below, and got up from their seats to applaud lengthily and
lustily with the rest of the auditorium as the curtain came down.
Paris Opera Ballet: Casse-Noisette
Choreographically, it is one of Nureyevs outstanding achievements. The
Snowflake scene, followed closely by a lyrical and romantic pas de
deux between Clara and her prince in the snowy forest, holding hands
and moving side by side, is extremely beautiful, particularly when danced
as it was by Emmanuel Thibault and the gentle, delicate Myriam Ould Braham
on a second performance I attended in January. From the moment Ould Braham
arrived on stage in the first act, still a child, in the splendid grand
salon of 1900 devised by the legendary Nicholas Georgiadis, she
convinced by the quiet charm and grace of each of her gestures.
In Kirov style, but also because he had always enjoyed working with
children, Nureyev chose to include many of the young pupils from the Opera
School, and he showed them off to advantage when they dance in rows like a
small corps de ballet. They eagerly greet the appearance of
Claras godfather, Drosselmeyer, cloaked like a magician as he entertains
them, bringing toys to life before finally transforming himself into
Claras dream hero, the handsome prince of Act 2.
By the beginning of the second act, Ould Braham had beautifully
accomplished that fragile transition from pretty adolescent to poised
young woman, and together with Thibault, began their grand pas de
deux, full of grace and musicality. Their joy in dancing together
flowed over onto their audience.
With the gorgeous costumes and spectacular staging, this production,
unsurprisingly, always performs to packed houses whenever it is
Moreover, while it is a bonus to see a delightful cast such as Thibault
and Ould Braham, it is a work which does not suffer too much when the
central roles are under-cast as they were for a first matinee performance
I saw in December. It is obviously a let-down to see lesser interpreters
sweating over Nureyevs exceptional but technically difficult choreography
in that fabled Act 2, but the whole ballet is such a feast for the eyes
and ears and gives so many opportunities for other dancers to show their
worth, that almost any acceptable performance sends one home on a high.
However, it was somewhat disconcerting to realize, that what the little
girl had loved most that day of all were neither Clara nor her prince, but
*This was originally Petipas
ballet, but, having written the libretto, ill-health obliged him to hand
over the work to his assistant, Ivanov.
Patricia Boccadoro is Dance Editor for
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