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On Christmas Eve, a little girl named Marie (Cohen) falls asleep after a party at her home and dreams herself (or does she?) into a fantastic world where toys become larger than life. Her beloved Nutcracker (Culkin) comes to life and defends her from the Mouse King, then is turned into a Prince after Marie saves his life. Written by
This version of the ballet, an adaptation of the famous George Balanchine staging presented annually in New York City, is the only well-known American production of "The Nutcracker" to use children in the roles of Marie (known as Clara in most versions) and the Nutcracker/Prince, so the roles are not choreographed to be as technically demanding as in other productions of the ballet. The original 1892 Russian production also used children. Several other productions, including the recent Helgi Tomasson one for the San Francisco Ballet, have taken their cue from Balanchine and cast a little girl in the role of Clara, but in the Tomasson version, Clara is magically transformed into an adult in Act II so that she can dance the pas de deux with the Prince (danced in the Tomasson production by an adult). Many other productions (especially Russian ones) now cast adults as the Nutcracker/Prince and the girl, usually known as Clara rather than Marie, so that there is an adult love interest between the couple. See more »
In the opening credits, Macaulay Culkin is listed as playing Drosselmayer's nephew, but he is not listed as playing either The Nutcracker or The Prince. See more »
I'd seen parts of this production before but I wanted to refresh my initial reactions and see if they were correct. I think they were!
I've always thought Balanchine was very old-fashioned in his attitudes, particularly in the ballerina-and-her-cavalier prototype. But this is, of course, what Russian ballet is all about.
I was mostly interested in seeing if Balanchine would keep the music up to speed and I find he has. After seeing the traditional performances where everything is slowed down to a glacial pace to accommodate the dancers, this is most refreshing and as a record of Mr. B's approach, this video production is invaluable.
Others have mentioned the music-tampering but this is not unusual in the dance world or even in Balanchine. One glaring example of this is his "Serenade" where Tchaikovsky's last two movements are reversed; the "Elegy" is the last thing heard instead of the fast finale. In all fairness, Balanchine assumed that his own works would be forgotten with time and would not become the monuments they have.
Is the 12 year old Culkin as bad as all that? In context, his star power has proved a liability here and this is at least partly due to his overall awkwardness in the nephew-prince role. Smiling or smirking professionally in that dreadful pink Lord Fauntleroy suit he can often look downright sinister. (He later used that quality in "Party Monster" for example.) And, with almost nothing to do except lend his presence to the second part, whenever they show him in passing I find the effect jarring.
Mack aside, the photography is good in general though awkward in the pan-and-scan version close-ups. The narration really shouldn't have happened but it's not too disturbing.
the DVD: It's a two-sided DVD with no real labels. (Watch your fingers!) The second side is the letterboxed one which I think is more successful than the pan-and-scan first side. The extras are informative but sparse.
6 or 7 out of 10.
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