The Nutcracker (TV Movie 1977) Poster

(I) (1977 TV Movie)

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The best-danced production widely available
Tug-326 December 2002
While other film and video productions of the Tchiakovsky classic emphasize pageantry, amazing sets, and holiday warmth, the American Ballet Theater's `Nutcracker' concentrates on strong dancing and intricate choreography. There is consequently much to adore in this production. Gelsey Kirkland, at the prime of her career, and before her drug addiction and battle with anorexia tragically destroyed her dancing talent, plays Clara as a young girl who matures over the course of the ballet. As such, Baryshnikov's version is less a story of a young girl's Christmas dream, and more a coming-of-age tale.

The party scene of `The Nutcracker' is usually a showcase for the children's classes of a ballet company. The Balanchine version, for example, does not really employ any serious dancing until the Waltz of the Snowflakes; most of the first act features children mulling about with their presents. Baryshnikov chose instead to concentrate on adult dancers, turning the Drosselmayer gift sequences in particular into amazingly intricate, well-danced pieces. The Moorish dance stands out as one of the finest, most exciting dances ever to be caught on film.

Unfortunately, this production does have a few weaknesses. The dancers reportedly complained that the television set where it was filmed was too cramped, and that the soundtrack was too slow. Indeed, the sound throughout is awful; there are many more vibrant recordings of the music that could have been used. These dancers are professionals used to working with a live orchestra, and they seem confined by the canned music. The sets are unspectacular and washed-out, making this version perhaps the least exciting for young children; both the NYC Ballet and the Sendak version are more visually stimulating.

Still, for fans of serious dance, this version must be seen. It is still a thrill to watch Baryshnikov and Kirkland perform.
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Always wonderful.
Hermit C-21 September 1999
As far as I'm concerned you can hardly see 'The Nutcracker' too many times. Here's your chance to see a couple of the greatest dancers of their time, Mikhail Baryshnikov and camera-shy Gelsey Kirkland, in one of the all-time classics. Plus the music of Tchaikovsky is glorious from beginning to end.
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A Lost Childhood Memory!!!! :o(
jewel09119 December 1999
The Nutcracker was shown on PBS for years...and I loved it. When it first came out I was 9 years old, and now I am 31. I thought this rendition of the Nutcracker was the most excellent piece that I have ever seen. I have seen other Nutcracker ballets, but nobody can touch this classic. Nobody can beat the pairing gracefulness and power of Mikhail Baryshnikov portraying the Nutcracker Prince and Gelsey Kirkland portraying Clara. After seeing this for the first time I wanted to become a ballerina. The ballet crew, music, and props were outstanding. You got very caught up in the story. I was very upset when PBS didn't show this anymore. It was a tradition every year for me and my family to watch. >
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A coherent story at last
carmi47-116 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The problem with "The Nutcracker's" original staging is that the story falls apart in the second act. The first act consists of a reasonable sequence of events, but after Clara helps the Nutcracker defeat the Mouse King & he turns into a handsome prince, they depart for the Kingdom of Sweets & the story line evaporates. After the pair arrive in the kingdom, Clara sits out the entire second act watching a succession of sweet treats dance us into diabetes, while the prince deserts her for the Sugar Plum Fairy. Baryshnikov transforms this incoherent sequence of dream images into a tale that means something. But as witness Celia Franca's "it makes me want to vomit" rant, Misha's vision is often misunderstood. Clara is not having an affair with Drosselmeyer, nor does he desire her.

Key to Baryshnikov's interpretation is the Mouse King. It is clear from the King's costume--a purple frock coat & short violet cape--that he is Clara's dream transformation of the drunken adult male party guest who wrenches off the Nutcracker's head. That guest is the only one wearing a frock coat; all other adult male guests wear tails except for an elderly general in uniform, & as the guests depart, the man who broke the Nutcracker ostentatiously swirls a violet cape onto his shoulders. The visual link between that guest & the Mouse King is unmistakable. In fact all the mice are Clara's dream transformations of adult male party guests, including the old general who re-appears as a mouse wearing the same uniform.

Adult males are, then, threatening to Clara, which pretty much rules out any idea that she has a thing for Drosselmeyer. Her dream, Drosselmeyer's gift as Baryshnikov's prologue explains, gently allows her to discover womanly feelings with which her dawning womanhood endows her. At the party, Clara is a girl among children, playing with toys including the Nutcracker. Baryshnikov stresses differences between adult & child by contrasting the adults' & children's experiences of the party, unlike productions of the ballet that showcase the children. The children's undisciplined, boisterous carousing interrupts the adults' carefully measured dancing, neatly demonstrating the difference between the worlds of children & their elders. Baryshnikov emphasizes the adult world's menace to Clara by having an adult male break the Nutcracker, not Clara's young brother as is common in traditional productions of "The Nutcracker."

Clara's tenderness for the Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer's gift, forecasts her feelings for the prince after she helps him defeat the Mouse King (who broke the toy at the party). Initially, however, her feelings are confused: note her efforts to run from the prince just after he has morphed from the Nutcracker, & the childlike way the pair skip along in the first act pas de deux. In the second act, Clara's feelings develop further. Baryshnikov banishes the Sugar Plum Fairy to make Clara the prince's partner in the second act. Their ecstatic solos & the second-act pas de deux reveal her growing ease with her feelings. But Drosselmeyer reappears to waken Clara: her transformation into womanhood must take place in the real world, not in a dream fantasy. (Drosselmeyer's face is often superimposed on a clock face: he is linked with the passage of time, which must really bring about Clara's transformation into womanhood. In the second act pas de deux, she is clearly hesitant when Drosselmeyer tries to hold her; in obvious contrast, she joyously leaps into the air when the prince embraces her.)

Baryshnikov omitted the Arabian variation to keep the film within time limits for TV broadcast. This is tragic; one can only imagine what he and Kirkland might have done with it. Otherwise the score is intact; the familiar Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy survives with its celeste accompaniment, here danced by Clara. Note her exquisite foot-dragging, wonderfully hesitant yet ecstatic, which was foreshadowed in the first-act pas de deux & is restated in pendulum fashion during the second-act pas de deux whenever Drosselmeyer seeks to hold her (suggesting, again, his association with the passage of time).

The production values in the film are high with the exception of the scenery, which could have been more literally rendered; it's often murky to the point of mystery. But uniformly outstanding dancing & excellent costumes go a long way to offset this minor liability.
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Well Enough, But Not Quite
Arwyn26 December 2000
Warning: Spoilers
(Note: Some things that could possibly be construed as spoilers contained in this review. But since there is no great suspense involved as the story and music are well known, I fail to see why this is of import.)

As a great ballet fan, I find myself compelled to comment on this particular piece of work. I shall start with the positive. The music is particularly nice, and I was very gratified to notice that the director didn't tamper with Tchaikovsky's arrangement of things. The orchestration is beautiful and it is fun just to listen to. The costumes are something to see, especially the fantastic Christmas party scene in the beginning. The grand waltz at the party is my favorite bit and is very well choreographed. The big advantage of this film is that it was intended to be a movie, not a filmed live production. Therefore you get some interesting camera angles, etc.

Now into the negative. I find the woman playing Clara to be utterly repulsive. She is a grown woman trying to play a little girl and her facial expressions and mannerisms are enough to turn one's stomach. She moves like a mechanical doll, and most definitely in the pejorative sense. Clara is always dangerously close to being a spoiled, vapid brat, but this rendition clinches the matter. Her relationship with Drosselmeyer comes across as semi-incestuous, particularly as he re-appears at the end and forcibly draws her away from the Nutcracker Prince. And my most violent objection is that the marvelous, gorgeous Arabian dance is completely deleted. They simply took it out, a circumstance which enraged me as it is my favorite number. I find this to be inexcusable.

So, get it to watch the party scene (the dances with the dolls are quite marvelous), and forget the rest.
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A festive bon bon
TheLittleSongbird13 June 2011
Although I am no dancer, I have always taken a big interest in ballet, because I love the music, the stories and the choreography. This is especially true of The Nutcracker and all of the Tchaikovsky ballets.

The story of the ballet is timeless, and I loved the decision they made here to make Clara go on a sort of journey character-wise, starting off as a young girl and maturing throughout. And of course Tchaikovsky's music is outstanding, very sparkling and elegant.

This Nutcracker is wonderful. The only disappointments for me are some muffled sound and some of the sets are rather murky-looking for my tastes, however some of them do look very nice.

Any small faults aside, the costumes are gorgeous, and the camera work and editing are excellent. But what makes this excellent production are the dancing and the leads. This production puts a lot of emphasis on intricate dancing and choreography as has been said before, and this was a decision that paid off and was entirely successful, not just in the duets and group dances but especially in the solo performances, my favourites being the grand party and Kirkland's dance involving jingling bells. As great as Mikhail Barishnikov is here, and he is, very, the star of the show is Gelsey Kirkland, who nails Clara's character and her dancing is just breathtaking.

Overall, a real festive bon bon. If in the want of lavish sets maybe this is not quite the production to sink yourself into first, but if in the want of fine performances and some of the best attention to choreography and dancing you'd want, look no further than this. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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Of all the "Nutcrackers," this shines brightest... like a star... like the sun...
abyoussef29 August 2007
by Dane Youssef

Perhaps the best interpretation of "The Nutcracker" ever made. Baryshnikov's finest hour. And as even the most ballet-ignorant know, that bar's set pretty high.

I have seen Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in the much-praised chick-flick "The Turning Point." And I have seen him dance his own interpretation of "Don Quixote." Good. Great, even. But not as much as fellow Russkie ballerino Nureyev's stab at "Quixote." And I have seen much more of him dancing. The man defies gravity, as well as many other laws. A ballet dancer, in the country of America, has been treated like a movie star. But this may very well be his best work, artistic-wise.

Mikhail Baryshnikov is man who hardly needs an introduction, as he is a man who is synonymous with ballet. The man is a household name, Baryshnikov is at his best here, which is more than difficult, even for him. Celebrated USA ballerina Gelsey Kirkland (who was a regular partner and even girlfriend of dear Misha at the time) actually proves to be a credible match. And even takes it to a higher level than he does in HER solo scenes.

This was the first "Nutcracker" I've ever seen. I have seen several interpretations of "The Nutcracker" since then, and this one still stands as the best of the lot. There are no real children in this cast. The children's roles are played by adults in adolescent-looking wigs.

The idea to make this a movie rather than a live stage piece kind of works. It allows for more visual effects than a straight live piece would have.

There is a moment where Ms. Kirkland dances a solo all by herself, that sequence actually left be breathless. When she shakes her pointed feet like bells, the music jingles in pitch-perfect sync. She doesn't seem to be following the music at all. The music seems to be following her.

It's so beautifully and perfectly done, that as someone who takes ballet and has danced on the stage, that it actually hurt to watch.

The day that I can move as gracefully and exquisitely (on her worst day, I mean) may never come. Kirkland actually, in that one scene, manages to steal the movie away from Baryshnikov. Baryshnikov's leaps, turns, jumps and pirouettes are as breathtaking as always, and somehow never seem to get old. Misha's striking presence and Peter Pan-like mobility just.. well, makes you want to get up and dance. Or just jump around. He doesn't so much leap as much as soars.

Baryshnikov puts some little touches of humor here and there. There's a lovable old man at the Christmas Party who attempts to dance and hurts himself, as well as a toy soldier who stubs his toe. Baryshnikov has always seemingly had the soul of a child and the heart of a clown.

The Arabian Coffee Dance has been deleted for running time, I'm sorry to say. As has Mother Gigogne. Not to mention The famed "Waltz Of The Snowflakes" is a powerhouse, the ballet corps sway to the music so beautifully, for the briefest moment, we actually forget about Baryshnikov and Kirkland.

Is Baryshnikov trying to give himself more screen time, Clara or the ballet itself? Alexander Minz proves to be invaluable as a supporting player in the role of Drosselmyer. I was reminded of Fred Astaire. He moves around with his long, willowy limbs in a way that seemed almost inhuman. I seriously doubt ever got half the credit he deserved throughout his life.

He had an effective, amusing cameo in "The Turning Point." Baryshnikov continues to prove time and time again what we already know--the greatest ballet dancer of any generation will always be a Russian.

The choreography is riveting, some of the best I've ever seen. Although, the honor for "World's Greatest" go to "Singin' In The Rain." Maybe the Russian could put dances together now. He's reportedly a great teacher of dance as well.

While many of the special-effects look a bit outdated, it remains a riveting experience. After all, most ballet movies are just filmed dancing and this one takes the effort to actually be something of a movie.

The acting is not much, nor is there as much plot as is traditional, a as this "Nutcracker" focuses more on the dancing and music. The pyrotechnics (the dancer's rapidly-moving muscular limbs and the way they and the music truly gel).

Despite Mr. Baryshnikov in the title role and given prominent first billing, the star of "The Nutcracker" is Gelsey Kirkland as Clara, as this is all Clara's story.

Mnay movies have attempted to translate this legendary dance story to the screen, usually with disastrous results. For example, the mistake the 20th Century Fox movie "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" made was if they were going to made the ballet into a movie, they should have done something for the movie that they couldn't do for a live production. Alas, they did not. It moved so slowly and the whole movie was so badly-lit, it looked like somebody boot-legged the whole thing with a camcorder.

The solo duets are just as enjoyable. The dancers, are in fact, so good that they almost threaten to outdo the leads.

It's a beautiful story, more with flair and style in it's depth. It's a revised fairy tale.

When Misha and Gels prance together, their body movements almost in perfect parallel... it's beautiful and breath-taking. They seem to be connected internally somehow. These are two people brought-en together by dance. It's every little girl's dream... and that's exactly what the "Nutcracker" should be.

--For Baryshnikov, Kirkland, "The Nutcracker" and Ballet Itself, Dane Youssef
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Baryshinikov's and Kirkland's solo and duet dancing brilliant in this best of all possible and produced Nutcracker ballets!
texallennyc26 December 2017
The Nutcracker (1977) ballet starred then 29 year old Michail Baryshnikov who, in 1977, could out do Michael Jordan and Disney's Peter Pan (1952) in the "flying effortlessly" department. Baryshikov and his 1977 dance partner and muse, Gelsey Kirkland, defied gravity when this classic ballet was produced on monster, empty, no-audience TV sound stages in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The camera didn't lie. Those two really did what viewers can still watch and admire, can still gasp at while smiling in delighted amazement.

Ballet is all about human beings who can fly ......... defy gravity when all is said and done. The best ballet dancers (Baryshikov and Kirkland in the 1977 version of The Nutcracker ballet) do it better than others ...... fly higher, longer, and smoother.

Not many ballet dancers (or people generally) can fly. That was true of the National Ballet Company of Canada supporting dancers who fill out the parts of this show when Baryshikov and Kirkland are not on stage, busy mesmerizing viewers.

Baryshikov and his management staff produced The Nutcracker in Canada on the cheap for TV broadcast. They went over the USA border to Canada where union problems and costs which encumber producers in USA ballet cities (New York City and Los Angeles) were not present, and where a very large, detailed, and gaudy background stage setting could be built on one of Toronto Canada's then huge sound stages.

The result was that Baryshinikov and Kirkland's amazing flying abilities were provided with a much more spacious venue than normal stages in the USA ever offer. The setting in the Nutcracker (1977) was spacious and wonderfully decorated, and the very space and stage decoration of this show became co-stars with the amazing flying dance abilities of the two major stars.

Michail Baryshikov was 29 years old in 1977, and was at the height of his airborne talents.

Baryshikov's choreography in the Arabian dance, Russian dance, Chinese dance segments of the presented ballet is absolutely unparalleled.

The action slows down when Baryshikov and Kirkland are not dancing.

National Ballet Of Canada dancers (probably not paid or rehearsed much for this thrifty dance show) perform for Michail Baryshikov and Gelsey Kirkland.

They are adequate. They are not brilliant or memorable. Not at all as good as the two main stars.

These secondary National Ballet Company Of Canada dancers perform by turns a Spanish dance, an Arabian dance, a Russian dance, a Chinese dance, each performed by a male and female duo. These secondary dancers are not gifted with the sort of precision and therefore the grace of the star dancers, and the contrast is noticeable.

Not to worry, not to gripe.

The chance to see Michail Baryshikov and Gelsey Kirkland dance (fly effortlessly) at the height of their dance careers and abilities is worth the price of admission and the time invested in watching their incredible performances. Never mind about less than ideal "fill in" parts of the show unavoidable because material resources (money!) was limited, and because spectacular dance talent is hard to find, manage, recruit. It's never cheap when it is presented, and the quest for "cheap" explains the shortcomings of this show.

"It's a waste of time to worry over things that they have not! Be thankful for ....................... the things they've got!" (There Is Nothing Like A Dame song from the broadway stage musical 1949 classic, South Pacific). -------------------------- Written by Tex Allen, SAG/AFTRA actor and movie historian. More about Tex Allen and his 119 IMDb movie reviews (as of December 26, 2017) by visiting IMDb.Com and using Tex Allen as search terms. --------------------------------------
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Unparalleled Choreography
klasikvhs29 November 2015
They rarely show this on TV anymore, but it is by far the best of them all! Misha is at the height of his airborne talents. and his choreography in the "arabian dance, Russian dance, Chinese dance, etc..." is absolutely unparalleled. it's become an obsession to see it every year at this time. i suppose they never air it on TV anymore is because it's just the best one there is out there and they want you to spend the money and rent it or buy it. but if you're a ballet fan, i'd say buy it. and if you're not a ballet fan... set your DVD and JUST WATCH THE SEQUENCE where the duo's of internationally ethnic dancers perform for Misha and Kelsey. there's a Spanish dance, an arabian dance, a Russian dance, a Chinese dance, a Russian dance and a milliton dance. each performed by a male and female duo.
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Forget it
Bill13 January 2011
If you are only interested in ballet and not storyline or sets or costumes, then watch this version. Otherwise, it looks like a high-school production with crudely painted backdrops and lackluster costumes. There is no narration and you can't tell there is a story line, just people dancing around on a stage. Drosselmyer is an expressionless drone. The Spanish Hot Chocolate Performers are indistinguishable from the Arabian Coffee Performers who are indistinguishable from the Chinese Tea Performers who are indistinguishable from the Russian Candy Cane Performers who are indistinguishable from the Danish Marzipan Shepherdess Performers. For a great visual performance of this ballet, see Nutcracker: The Motion Picture.
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