This actual performance of Tchaikovsky's beloved ballet was filmed at the Bolshoi in 1989 by a Japanese crew. The production is a fairly traditional one - the action has not been transferred to an orphanage, for example, or to F.A.O. Schwartz - yet choreographer Yuri Grigorovich has made many relatively minor changes to the original scenario - some of them confusing. (a woman dances the title role in the first scene of Act 1, to be replaced by the taller Mukhamedov in the transformation scene. At the very end of the ballet, the Nutcracker takes on a third incarnation: a garish cloth doll.) Clara dances the Sugar Plum Fairy numbers, for example, and becomes more of a central figure in Act 2 than she otherwise is. Drosselmeyer also is given more to do than usual; he returns in the second act to spur the plot along. When you have a Clara and a Drosselmeyer as engaging as Arkhipova and Vetrov, respectively, there's no great harm in giving them more exposure! She is a fluid, supremely graceful dancer with a warm personality, and she visibly matures through the course of the ballet. He flavors the magic and awkward charm of Drosselmeyer with a teaspoon of the grotesque - perhaps even the sinister. On the other hand, some of the numbers feel dusty. In the "Dance of the Mirlitons," for example, a rococo shepherd and shepherdess lead around a "roll-away" sheep, if you will, with long ribbons. Even the sheep looks as if it has seen better days.
Mukhamedov, superb in the title role of Spartacus as seen in a production taped a year later (Arthaus Musik 101115), is emotionally cooler here. Although he is given the opportunity to show off his athletic ability at many points - and he clearly is an audience favorite - his demeanor seems, if not entirely blasé, then at least a bit bland. The remaining dancers range from passable to excellent. Nobody embarrasses the Bolshoi's reputation, but a sense of occasion is not always present. If some of the dancers could perform The Nutcracker in their sleep, that doesn't mean that they should! The "autopilot" effect isn't entirely absent in the orchestra pit, either, and children's chorus in "Waltz of the Snowflakes" turns the last note into an ugly squawk.
The sound quality is good, as is the video - the camera is more intimate here than it is in the same production team's Spartacus. A curious (and annoying) metallic buzz can be heard over the audience's applause, but it fades into the background when the orchestra resumes playing.
This is a good "typical" Nutcracker in the traditional style. It doesn't offend, yet it leaves one hungry for the adrenaline and magic it lacks.
Copyright © 2005, Raymond Tuttle