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DVD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

The Nutcracker

  • Damaas Thijs (Bim, the son)
  • Elisabet Ros (Elle, the mother)
  • Gil Roman (Marius Petipa/Mephisto)
  • Juichi Kobayashi (Félix, the cat)
  • Yvette Horner (Accordionist)
Béjart Ballet Lausanne
Orchestre Colonne/Edmón Colomer
Choreography by Maurice Béjart
EMI Classics DVD 2-16586-9 99:00
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This is a Nutcracker without a Nutcracker. There's no Clara either, nor a Mouse King, nor even a Sugar Plum Fairy, although there are two bearded men who look like they might be Glinda the Good's relatives. Instead, this Nutcracker is choreographer Maurice Béjart's rather self-indulgent Christmas present to himself. The central character, Bim (nicely interpreted by boyish Damaas Thijs) represents the young Béjart, whose mother "went off on a long journey" (that is to say, died) when he was seven. The ballet becomes a sometimes creepy exploration of love between a mother and a son, the formation of sexual identity, control, and the will to dance. And oh yes, there's an accordionist. French institution Yvette Horner is brought in at several to points to tootle along with Tchaikovsky's melodies, and to play a sentimental French chanson in act II. That will make many a traditionalist's hair curl. So will the frequent intrusions, by voice and video, of Béjart himself, and at one point, even his grandmother.

Béjart, who died in 2007, was a gifted, risk-taking artist whose best work is very good indeed, and who seldom failed at least to be interesting. This Nutcracker will disappoint your eight-year-old daughter, but it's not a total loss, although it helps to be a Béjart fan. Lead dancers Gil Roman and Juichi Kobayashi are exciting – the former for his flexibility and his kicks, the latter for his cat-like leaps – and there are some inspired moments. Include among these are the transformation scene in act I, which here becomes an overnight "camp"-out for a troop of bare-chested boy scouts. Most of the genre dances from act II are fairly weak, however. Gil Roman portentously announces that the great Pas de deux from that act will be danced with Petipa's original choreography, which is interesting, because it is believed by many that Petipa didn't choreograph it at all! Several reviewers have commented that the dancers in this Pas de deux are pointedly (so to speak) under par. I don't see it, and if it's true, what would Béjart have to gain by encouraging dancers in his own company to dance badly?

This performance, which was recorded in the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2000, has appeared on DVD before. The prior incarnation offered a bonus documentary about this unusual production. This reissue dispenses with that, although we do get a 30-minute "showreel" highlighting other EMI Classics releases on DVD. Worse, this DVD – my copy anyway – didn't even come with a booklet. If you're going to rewrite The Nutcracker, at least you should help unwary viewers figure out what is going on! Colomer conducts the score nicely, but the Orchestre Colonne – I wanted to make "colon" jokes – sounds rough.

This Nutcracker is too freakish to recommend generally, although it will appeal to devoted Béjart fans (who probably have it already!) and to those whose open-mindedness is even more exaggerated than mine!

Copyright © 2009, Raymond Tuttle