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Nutcracker & The Mouse King / Dutch National Ballet [blu-ray+video samplers]

Tchaikovsky / Tsygankova / Dutch National Ballet
Release Date: 09/24/2013 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 108087  
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dutch National Ballet Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
Blu-ray Video:  $9.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Note: This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players, and not compatible with standard DVD players.

Also available on standard DVD

Choreographers Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling created a Nutcracker for the children and adults of today. It is more dynamic and exciting, and less sweet than usual. They also chose to give a Dutch twist to their interpretation of the story, with skaters on the canals and a living room that transforms into a snowy forest. Unlike the original story, the production by Eagling and Van Schayk (who also designed the delightful sets and costumes) does not take place on Christmas Eve in a German town, but
Read more during St. Nicholas celebrations in Amsterdam, around 1810.

Clara Staalboom – Anna Tsygankova
Prince / Mr Drosselmeijer’s nephew – Matthew Golding
Nutcracker – James Stout
Mr. Drosselmeijer – Wolfgang Tietze
Louise – Nadia Yanowsky
Frits – Rink Sliphorst
Mouse King – Alexander Zhembrovskyy

Dutch National Ballet
Holland Symfonia
Ermanno Florio, conductor

Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling, choreographer
Toer van Schayk, set and costume designer
Hans Åke Sjöquist, lighting designer

Live recording for the Amsterdam Music Theatre, 2011

Bonus:
- Behind the Scenes: Interviews with the choreographers and dancers as well as backstage footage
- More than 150 minutes of highlights from 50 critically acclaimed opera, ballet, concert and documentary productions on Blu-ray Disc

Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles (Bonus): English, German, French
Running time: 108 mins (ballet) + 27 mins (bonus)
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 25)

R E V I E W:

The Nutcracker is certainly a most adaptable ballet, as proved by its frequent reincarnations in all sorts of productions set widely in terms of both time and place.

Choreographer Maurice Béjart’s interpretation, available on DVD and reviewed here, was certainly off-the-wall. A live 20th anniversary production of Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! that I saw earlier this year was imaginatively set in “Dr Dross's Home for Waifs and Strays” and incorporated a huge roll-call of new and colourful characters. I have also recently reviewed the DVD of a Royal Swedish Ballet performance that included such unexpected individuals as Uncle Blue, Aunt Brown, Aunt Green and Aunt Lavender from Petter and Lotta’s Christmas, a favourite Scandinavian children's book by Elsa Beskow. Now comes this Dutch take on the core story that grafts onto it such specifically national characteristics as skaters on an Amsterdam canal and the traditional Netherlands Christmas characters St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet.

The elegant “Jane Austen” costumes, designed by co-choreographer Toer van Schayk, indicate that the production has been set at about the time E.T.A. Hoffman’s original story was written - 1816. Great care has clearly been put into getting the “look” right, for even Anna Tsygankova’s tiara in the Grand pas de deux replicates one worn by Napoleon’s Empress Josephine just a few years earlier. In fact, the only element of the production that I could spot as chronologically out of place occurred when a magic lantern was wheeled onto the stage on castors - which weren’t patented until 1876!

This production’s overall concept is relatively novel and dispenses with some of the familiar features of the story. Thus, for instance, we don’t see a hugely-growing Christmas tree as Clara “shrinks”, just doors and furniture that seem to increase in size. That may, though, simply be another instance of care for historical accuracy, as it seems unclear at what date decorated trees were generally adopted as part of Dutch Christmas celebrations.

A more significant novelty concerns the whole of the second Act, however, for, instead of being transported to a land of sweets, Clara and her prince are taken into the inner workings of the aforesaid magic lantern. Moreover, it’s then implied that the characters featuring in the Grand divertissement dances are not simply what they appear to be but are instead psychological reflections of some of the real-life people whom our heroine had encountered in Act 1. The Spanish dance, for example, animates a doll that we saw at the earlier Christmas party. The Arabian dance features not just the usual bevy of harem girls but a cruel whip-wielding sultan and Clara’s brother Frits, captured in the battle with the mouse king’s army and now a prisoner in chains. Sadly, the Chinese dance isn’t really very “Chinese” at all, apart from the principal dancer and misses the usual - admittedly ethnically stereotyped - humour that we expect. After a colourful Russian dance involving Clara’s parents, we unexpectedly get a Greek dance that is great fun with some very effective mugging from a dancer playing what appears to be a lecherous Ancient Greek philosopher! In general, throughout the Grand divertissement dances Clara, her brother Frits and the prince are not simply spectators but take part in the action far more than usual, and that, I think, works well.

This is an even “busier” production than most, with a large cast including no fewer than 51 children, some of whom are very young indeed but all of whom are clearly very enthusiastic. The youngsters dancing Clara and Frits are especially engaging and display no sign of nerves whatsoever, as well as considerable talent for their age. Great care has obviously been taken to ensure that everyone is well-characterised and acts with an individual personality. There is certainly always a lot going on on that Amsterdam Music Theatre stage.

The sets, once again the creation of Toer van Schayk, are generally well placed, often at visually interesting angles, and are very attractive, whether what we see is just a small child’s bedroom or the full-width stage. The second Act set - the interior of that magic lantern - is especially striking, with massive cogs, wheels and a giant lens, all tended by workmen with their spanners and oil-cans. All the sets create appropriate and appealing showcases for the artists. Some of the props are also very imaginative. The nutcracker doll itself is more substantial and impressive than is often the case and it even moves across the stage by, I presume, remote control. I also enjoyed the brief contribution of a particularly striking (and animatronic?) cat.

The mouse king episodes are very well done with some effective comedy. The big battle scene is very lively indeed, and I loved the brief episode where some of the mice soldiers injured in battle are stretchered off by the Mouse Red Cross. Anyone familiar with the usually-encountered version of the story will note, though, that the rodents’ parts have been significantly beefed up. Their king actually wins the battle at the end Act 1 - in a striking vignette his troops haul away a cage-full of terrified loyalist toy soldiers - and he consequently features in both the subsequent waltz of the snowflakes and the “inside the magic lantern” second Act.

Mention of the waltz of the snowflakes reminds me that the corps de ballet make a real contribution to this production, particularly in the waltz of the flowers. With some really beautiful costumes, their richness emphasised by subtle lighting, and supported by fine orchestral playing that typified the whole performance, that was one of the evening’s highlights for me.

What, then, of the two principal dancers, Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding? I have reviewed the pair in another Dutch National Ballet production quite recently and once again they are in first class form. In the Grand pas de deux - something of a “slow-burn” account here that builds up the passion gradually but inexorably - they radiate sheer theatrical glamour. Their subsequent solos then go on to show their individual qualities to best advantage. Golding is strong, virile and technically assured while Tsygankova exhibits precision, delicacy and, above all, elegance. Proof that I struggled to find something to criticise is demonstrated by the sole negative observation that Mr Golding ought not to smile quite so much because his unbelievably white teeth shine distractingly in the stage lighting!

Overall, then, teeth aside, this is a very beautiful production from a visual point of view, especially when watched on High Definition Blu-Ray. I did, though, have one technical worry. There were one or two occasions, most notably in the busy party scene at about 9:32, when fast lateral movement - either of dancers running or the camera quickly panning across the screen - caused deterioration in the sharpness of the visual image. I may have been sent a rogue disc for it is only fair to point out that the only current reviewer of the Blu-Ray version on Amazon specifically says that he detected no movement blur at all. I should, however, also mention that other Amazon customers, as well as several contributors to internet ballet forums, have noted that Arthaus Musik’s Blu-Ray version of Dutch National Ballet’s Don Quichotte suffers similar problems. Do let me stress, however, that, even allowing for the odd glitch on my disc, this is an instance where the Blu-Ray process is shown to great advantage in a generally magnificent presentation.

There are, I should add, 27 minutes of bonus material consisting of what appears to have been an interval “filler” for a live relay of the performance to cinemas across the world. Presenter Wendeline Wijkstra, a dancer with the company herself, while undeniably easy on the eye, is unfortunately not a trained interviewer. As a result she wastes much of her opportunity with a series of “closed” questions that, with the exception of some informative contributions from conductor Ermanno Florio, Toer van Schayk and the company’s artistic director Ted Brandsen, fail to elicit much of great interest.

Nonetheless, putting the disappointing bonus material to one side, this Dutch National Ballet production undeniably adds a very enjoyable, artistically impressive and out-of-the-ordinary account of The Nutcracker to the growing number of ballet recordings that are increasingly, these days, widely available.

-- Rob Maynard, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Nutcracker, Op. 71 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dutch National Ballet Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1892; Russia 

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