By Patricia Boccadoro
8 February 2000 - After a series of dismal evenings in Paris
culminating in Maurice Béjart's
tedious version of The Nutcracker, I decided to go to
London in hope of more traditional fare . With Wright's production at
Covent Garden, Deane's at the Coliseum, Bintley's in Birmingham, and
the Saint Petersburg Ballet Theatre in the provinces , there was
plenty of choice, but I opted for Derek Deane's 1997 version with the
English National Ballet, mainly because of the guest appearance of the
Paris Opéra's star couple, Agnès
Letestu and José Martinez as the Sugar Plum fairy and the
I was interested to see what such
artistically gifted dancers could do with potentially two of the most
colourless and clichéd characters in classical ballet. Not only
was my curiosity rewarded.......they brought light and lightness to
the ballet, but I was also swept along by one of the freshest versions
I have seen for some time.
While retaining the traditional
plot based on E. T. A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and the Mouse
King, which is not quite the innocent fairy tale it first might
seem, Deane has put his production into a contemporary setting to
which it lends itself readily. The curtain rises on a Christmas party,
with guests tangoing round the room dressed in slinky little black
numbers. One elegant young woman is chatting on her portable telephone
when Drosselmeyer, Clara's godfather, arrives on a very smart delivery
As the adults go in to dinner, he conjures up three
life size mechanical dolls resembling Robocop, Michael Jackson and
Barbie to entertain the children, but then, when Clara starts to dance
with her new Nutcracker doll, she somehow ends up being swirled around
in his arms. Misplaced ardour ? Without a doubt.
the lines of the story, Clara falls asleep under the Christmas tree,
and the sinister rats arrive accompanied by the most cuddly mice that
ever set paw on stage, for the ensuing battle with the toy soldiers.
The victory of the nutcracker soldier who turns into the handsome
prince is a foregone conclusion.
The living room is
transformed into the glittering Land of Snow, and all suggestive
undertones have vanished with the telephone as the heroine dances with
the Ice Queen and her attendants. But the best of the ballet has yet
to come. Soaring through the skies on the magical tricycle (style E.
T. and his friends), Clara and her prince arrive in the Kingdom of
This is inhabited by dancing liquorice allsorts in
square tutus and giant bags of sweets capering around the stage , and
there is even a Chinese dragon which joins in the fun as dancers
arrive from the four corners of the world for a joyful celebration
culminating with the appearance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
all fairness, the ballet resembled more a succession of tableaux than
a coherent full-length work. But all praise must be given to Derek
Deane for what he has accomplished on obviously limited financial
means, for while neither decor and costumes can remotely compare with
the lavish stagings in France, nor with those across the road at
Covent Garden, they were nevertheless most effective.
cast was led by Spanish trained Tamara Rojo, ex-pupil of Victor Ullate
as Clara. With her lovely rounded arms and dreamy sweetness, she was
enchanting. Agnes Oaks, from the Estonian Opera Ballet, was a suitably
brittle Snow Queen, and Cuban dancer Yosvani Ramos as the jubilant
high jumping Russian dancer was obviously and deservedly a favourite
with the audience.
However the undisputed stars of the
evening were the young dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet whose
grace, beauty and style were a sharp contrast to Dean's lack lustre
José Martinez was every young girl's ideal of
love, (and many a grandmother's in the audience too), while Agnès
Letestu excelled in the role where the tantalising leitmotiv in the
music was, according to Roland John Wiley , addressed to Tchaikovsky's
sister, Alexandra, (who had died while the composer was working on the
score.) Sadly, the same cannot be said of the corps de ballet. With
their pinched small faces and bony knees sticking out from under their
party frocks they looked more in need of a good meal than anything
else. Skinny arms are not pretty, and no matter how well they coped
with the choreography, there was little joy in their dancing . Was it
pure coincidence that none of the soloists were British dancers ? It's
time the page was turned on the half-starved, emaciated waifs who
haunt so many of the ballet companies of today .
Martinez and Agnès Letestu will be dancing Esmeralda
and In The Middle, choreography Forsythe, at the Lincoln
Center, New York, on February 14. They will also make a guest
appearance in Dallas on March 11th dancing Sylvia choreography
Balanchine followed by In The Middle .
Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian,
The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC
Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance
editor for Culturekiosque.com.