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As far as I can recall, Balanchine's alterations to Tchaikovsky's score
are as follows:
1) The final section of the Grossvatertanz (a traditional tune played at the end of a party) is repeated several times to give the children a last dance before their scene is over.
2) A violin solo, written for but eliminated from Tchaikovsky's score for The Sleeping Beauty, is interpolated between the end of the party scene and the beginning of the transformation scene. Balanchine chose this music because of its melodic relationship to the music for the growing Christmas tree that occurs shortly thereafter.
3) The solo for the Sugar Plum Fairy's cavalier is eliminated.
It seems to me the accusation that Balanchine has somehow desecrated Tchaikovsky's great score is misplaced.
This was so beautiful. I am a ballerina and I have played both the Sugar Plum Fairy and Marie in numerous productions of this, but I have to admit that this is IT. This is the ultimate #1 version of this classical ballet. It was so beautiful. The music is absolutely marvelous and the scenery is gorgeous. The woman who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy is absolutely beautiful and does a fabulous job! I saw the Broadway version of this on a visit to NYC and I have to admit that this version was better than the one I saw there. George Balachine does amazing ballet, I wish I could study with him at his School of Ballet. And the composer(I know who it is, but I cant spell his name) is a musical genius. I give it 10/10.
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.
Those who have given this production such a low rating probably have
never seen the celebrated George Balanchine production live onstage, or
are letting their disdain for the star casting of Macaulay Culkin
influence their judgement. The Atlanta Ballet was fortunate enough,
from the 1960's to the 1980's, to be the first ballet company
authorized to stage this production other than the New York City
Ballet, and I have seen it live onstage several times. I can assure
readers that the film is a quite accurate rendering of this production,
and that the use of a child with limited dancing abilities in the title
role is not a cheap stunt dreamed up to showcase Culkin; it was
Balanchine's idea to use a child in this role, just as it was his idea
to use a child for the role of Marie. The "heavy" dancing is left to
the adults in the story.
This is deliberately a stagebound film; in a way, it resembles Laurence Olivier's "Othello". Exactly as in that film, the sets of the stage production have been enlarged to the size of a movie soundstage, but not made any less artificial, and the ballet is straightforwardly photographed with discreet closeups, and without the distracting "music video" quick cuts featured in the 1986 overrated Maurice Sendak-Carroll Ballard version. There are only two false steps in this 1993 film. One is the addition of distracting and completely unnecessary sound effects (mouse squeaks, the children whispering "Ma-gic!" to Drosselmeyer,etc.). Those sound effects are never heard in any stage production of any "Nutcracker", and they have been put in as a cheap concession simply to appease unsophisticated audiences who may not relish the idea of watching a ballet on film.
The other false step is Macaulay Culkin's nutcracker make-up, which looks absolutely ridiculous. When he is on screen as the Nutcracker, rather than wearing a huge mask (as is always done when the Balanchine production is performed onstage), Culkin is actually made up as the toy - he wears what looks like a bald cap, as well as a white wig, whiskers, and a beard. He also has his face rouged up somewhat, and the worst aspect of his make-up is that it is still recognizably his face, amateurishly transformed in a manner similar to Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr's makeups in "The Wizard of Oz" (that film's makeup results though, worked spectacularly, as this one's does not). And a comparison with Baryshnikov's nutcracker in *his* production shows how wonderfully creative Baryshnikov's nutcracker mask was - the "jaws" actually seemed to move whenever Baryshnikov tilted his head back.
The dancing itself in the Macaulay Culkin version is excellent, of course, except for Culkin himself, whose dancing, as I said, isn't meant to even be spectacular. (The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier are the prominent dancing roles in Balanchine's production of "The Nutcracker".) The film's colors, though, could be a bit brighter since this IS a fantasy. The choreography is also brilliant, and the adaptation of it is so faithful as to include the sequence that features additional music from Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Sleeping Beauty" - as Marie sneaks downstairs, falls asleep on the sofa, and dreams that Drosselmeyer is "repairing" the broken Nutcracker (this sequence was, of course, never included in Tchaikovsky's original ballet---it is the only sequence in this production which features music from a work other than "The Nutcracker").
Those who have missed out on this film, or those who despise (or loathe it) should give it a chance, despite its two big drawbacks. It is far better than it seems when one first hears that Culkin is in it.
This movie is a perfect portrayal of The Nutcracker; the dancing is
wonderful, the scenery in the background was excellent, and I LOVED
THAT FLOATING BED.
Oh, and the costumes... I particularly loved Marzipan's, the tutu was adorable. The special effects were very well done (e.g. the tree, the bed, etc.), and I quite enjoyed the rats. I love how they didn't make them scary, but cute and huggable. Except for the king, I suppose.
If you're a thoroughly masculine person, you won't enjoy this, but this is a very good movie that's good for all ages - just not all levels of testosterone.
But I have a few complaints.
Firstly, why did they have to put the Sugar Plum Fairy's partner in those terrible tights? It would barely make a difference if he was butt naked! And secondly.. why on EARTH did they have to make Culkin's outfit PINK?
Both visually and musically stunning. A treat for both the eye and the ear. The quintessential Victorian element of the opening sequences were completely enchanting, helping to create a Christmas scene of which Dickens himself would have been justifiably proud. Technically the production is visually stimulating and the special effects are both imaginatively devised and creatively achieved in a traditional stage setting. The dancing of many of the lead artistes is breathtakingly good. The photography and lighting are first class and the sound recording admirably matches the overall high level of technical skills employed. A great film for all the family at Christmas time and a most delightful discovery which will withstand multiple viewing.
The best thing about this movie was the Orchestra and the incomparable Tchaikovsky score. A few of the dancers were literally amazing and virtually all of them were superb. The staginess of the production was very evocative of a live performance. However,the production as a whole detracted from the art we should have gotten. We ordered the DVD in hopes of showing it to our grandchildren, but the score, story and name alterations were so disconcerting that we decided to not introduce them to the Nutcracker this way. Of course, inserting a non-dancer into a ballet is like asking Rosanne Barr to sing at the Met. It is sure to elicit the exclamation: "What WERE you thinking?!?!" and it did. The major complaint about the production as a whole is hard to pin down, but the DVD was disappointing nonetheless. It just lacked the essence of great art. We simply were not "swept away." In general, some performances leave you feeling they were not up to snuff, but this one left us with the feeling of having been affronted. I would love to see it re-shot with a standard plot line, all dancers (no current heartthrobs), and more drive via the editing. One final whine: as the music was the best part, why don't they include the names of the musicians in the end-title roll? It wouldn't take up that much time.The violin solo was one of the high points of the entire performance, yet we got the names of all kinds of tradesmen whose output was indiscernible to us, but not the names of the musicians.
this is no spoiler I think people have seen this movie The Nutcracker...it was good I loved it...in fact I loved The Nutcracker since I saw it live at the historic Jefferson Theater in Beaumont, Texas in December 1980 when I was 11....loved the music and the growing tree in fact everything in the film was what I remembered seeing live except it was in a movie and I don't understand that person griping cause Macaulay Culkin's outfit was pink it was a nice color....wonder what happened to Jessica Lynn Cohen who played Marie????!!!..is she not acting now????!!!....I know Darci Kistler turned 50 this year and quit the ballet...wonder if any of the other ballet stars who were in the film are still dancing especially Bart Robinson Cook who played Drosselmeier who was Marie's godfather who gave her the Nutcracker who became the prince...I would recommend this movie for anyone for Christmas it's fun and clean and can be seen by anyone
This 1993 Balanchine version is not as good as the 1985, 1989, 1994, 2001 and 2009 productions, all of which are just magical and entirely captivating. It is however superior to the self-indulgent Maurice Bejart, incoherent Mariinsky(the worst version) and dull 2012 Mariinsky productions. I found myself rather mixed on the whole on this version. There were things I didn't like, all of which have been said before. The sound effects really do distract from the music and quite frankly were not needed. The Nutcracker's make-up and costume looked ridiculous, I actually asked myself was there any particular reason for it to be this particular colour scheme? Macaulay Culkin is rather stiff as the Nutcracker(and I do agree he overdoes the smirking too much), and there is some overacting from Drosselmeyer. However, I did like the rest of the costumes,- well maybe except for Sugar Plum Fairy's tights- the production is well lit and the sets were enchanting. The photography was fine I thought, I highly doubt there'll be a Nutcracker production as poorly shot as the 2012 Mariinsky version. The effects are not the best I've seen but are serviceable. The music has a lot of tinkering but is still timeless and beautiful, typical Tchaikovsky really. It is lovingly performed by the orchestra and the tempos are well chosen. I do love the story, always have, and on the most part the production is faithful to the ballet, with some touches like Marie sneaking downstairs, falling asleep on the sofa and then dreaming of Nutcracker and Drosselmeyer. The choreography is outstanding, with Balanchine's musicality and style all over it, the standouts being the Soldier Doll, Snowflakes, Arabian and Waltz of the Flowers dances. Culkin aside, the dancing was exemplary complete with an impeccable Corps De Ballet. Overall, problematic but does have a number of things to warrant it a partial recommendation. 6/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Nutcracker has always been a somewhat problematic ballet. It bears
little resemblance to ETA Hoffman's original story on which it is
In the ballet, the story is essentially over by the second-half when Clara (or Marie in this version) travels to the Kingdom of Sweets to watch a series of character dances.
There's an infinite variety of stage productions that re-interpret the story in myriad ways (not always successfully) to compensate for the ballet's weak libretto.
Balanchine's version doesn't really have any sense of drama or story at all (despite the fact that there is plenty of drama and mystery in Tchaikovsky's wonderful first-act music). The result is a completely forgettable first-half Christmas party where hardly anything happens and where even the dancing (the little that there is of it) isn't particularly memorable.
The pantomime over-acting, particularly of Drosselmeier, which might look passable on the stage, just looks silly filmed for the big screen.
Unfortunately, things aren't much better when we get to the Kingdom of Sweets (Act II in the stage version). Although there are a few choreographic highlights, most of the choreography is bland and uninspiring. This certainly isn't vintage Balanchine.
Balanchine is widely regarded as a master of abstract dance, but I have always felt he was less successful as a creator of narrative ballets. Watching this film version of his stage production of The Nutcracker has only re-affirmed this view.
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