For many of my generation, the first contact with Tchaikovsky´s "The Nutcracker" was its suite as played by the Philadelphia Orcxhestra under Leopold Stokowski for Disney´s wonderful "Fantasia". In fact, the whole film opened my ears and visual sensitivity at the tender age of six, and I never recovered from the impact. The images and the music of the Tchaikovskian suite were indelibly imprinted on me; thus, to this day, the Chinese Dance is the Mushroom Dance for me.
My second epiphany came during the Christmas week of 1957 when, 18-years-old, I saw the delicious Balanchine choreography with his perfect New York City Ballet. After its 1954 inception it became a Manhattan staple at almost every succeeding season.
And then came the Colón revelation in 1971 of Rudolf Nureyev´s marvelous choreography and interpretation of both Drosselmeyer and the Prince, plus the imaginative and beautiful stage designs by Nicholas Georgiadis. It was the Colón at its very best, in the last full year of Artistic Director Enzo Valenti Ferro´s admirable tenure.
Many years later, in 1997 the Nureyev conception was again presented, and then repeated in several seasons.
Alas, in 2009 Aleth Francillon, famous revivalist of the Nureyev legacy, was mistreated by Pedro Pablo García Caffi, then and now Artistic Director, and vowed that no Nureyev choreography would be offered at the Colón as long as this Directorship would last. She was as good as her word, and the Nureyev choreography vanished from the repertoire. It was a sore blot in the Colón history.
But "The Nutcracker" is too important a ballet to disappear, even if such a valuable choreography is no longer available. And so this year it closed the season with choreographic work by the Colón Ballet´s directress Lidia Segni, based on the original Petipa plot and the traditional Ivanov choreography. But with changes that accented the academic side, changed characters and fragment denominations without need and blunted the humorous aspects of this ballet apt for children.
Two years ago my seven-year old granddaughter was fascinated by Iñaki Urlezaga´s adaptation (by the way, revived this year almost simultaneously with the Colón presentation). Now I took a grandparent´s risk and exceptionally I bought a loge on the "Palco Alto" region, smack in the center, ideal tickets, and I brought along two granddaughters of nine and almost seven, and a grandson of seven. The verdict: the girls liked it, the boy was bored. But more important for this review, my wife and I were sometimes bored. And we love this ballet.
For those who don´t know it, let me give a short conspectus. It is based on an E.T.A. Hoffmann short story, "The Nutcracker and the Mice King", written in 1819 and typical of his wild imagination. It seems just a sweet children ballet in Petipa´s adaptation but it does have a dark side. The First Act´s initial tableau is just a Christmas party in which Clara receives as a toy a nutcracker that looks like a soldier. The guests leave, she falls asleep and has a nightmare: she is being attacked by mice; but the "soldier" protects her, eventually transforms into a Prince and leads her to a magic Palace where she will see wonderful dances. But then she wakes up and realizes that it was all a dream.
Tchakovsky´s music isn´t always on the same level, especially in the opening scene, though the Battle has an ominous power, the exotic dances are very nice, and there are two anthological waltzes, that of the Snowflakes with wordless children´s choir and the Flowers´ famous one. The musical side was well taken care of by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under the expert Emmanuel Siffert and the brief choral passages were sang with alluring freshness by the Colón Children Choir.
The steps were academic both in its good and bad sense: cleanly executed, beautiful in themselves; but also repetitious and unimaginative. Mistakes were many; just a few: there was nary an inkling of why the Flower Waltz is called thus; the mice corraled Clara thrice before the Soldier intervened; Fritz, Clara´s brother, was a cipher instead of a truly bothersome jealous personality; there was no fun in the Christmas tree scene, and it didn´t grow much; there was no Sugar-Plum Fairy; etc.
The dancers were good (I´m reporting on the penultimate performance), especially Karina Olmedo as Clara. Her Prince, Gerardo Wyss, brought a reasonable technique but little character, and as Drosselmeyer left me thinking of Nureyev´s powerful interpretation. I liked Paula Cassano as the Snowflake Queen. Macarena Giménez as the Doll and Maximiliano Iglesias as Harlequin did well. Igor Gopkalo was a staid Father. On the exotic dances I enjoyed the sensual flexibility of the Arabian Dance; the others were correct. The Corps de Ballet was reasonably disciplined.
Usually the stage designer is more important than the costume designer, but the latter was the famous Gino Bogani in his first ballet job. He did very creditable work, with elegant gowns, convincing mice with luminous eyes and "Russian", "Spanish" and "Chinese" clothes. Sergio Massa´s stage designs were uneven: the snow-covered wood was beautiful, the Christmas party rather nondescript and the Enchanted Palace of the Kingdom of Sweets was effective but too vulgar. The lighting by Rubén Conde was traditional.
All in all, too much academy and too little imagination. Shame on the Colón, there was no air conditioning...
For Buenos Aires Herald