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Nureyev's Nutcracker

Even those who don’t like Rudolf Nureyev as a choreographer (and this writer is among them), cannot fail to appreciate his “Nutcracker,” returning this season to La Scala after a sixteen-year absence. It was foreseeable that the director of the ballet, Manuel Legris, a pupil of the dancer-choreographer and a great performer of his ballets, would dust off the production, allowing few regrets for the previous versions that have passed on the stage at La Scala without leaving a mark: from the bad edition by Nacho Duato to that sadly staged by George Balanchine. The return to a ballet by Nureyev keeps the company’s technical level high: undeniable, given the effort to which the often uselessly complex, if not cumbersome, choreographies subject it. Luckily the new generation of La Scala’s dancers have qualities of plasticity and virtuosity such as to make even the most unmusical passages amiable in terms of style. All the more in the “Nutcracker,” created by Nureyev at the end of the sixties, when his choreographer’s hand was happier.

Performance

La Scala Ballet: “The Nutcracker” by Rudolf Nureyev

Place

Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy, December 15, 2022

Words

Valentina Bonelli

Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko in “The Nutcracker” by Rudolf Nureyev. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano ļTeatro alla Scala

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Nureyev’s reinterpretation of the libretto which in 1892 in Petersburg, when Petipa and Ivanov’s ballet made its debut, did not satisfy the audience, due to the inconsistency of the synopsis and the boredom aroused by mice, toy soldiers and various sweets, as Christmas ballets for children weren’t still in question, is an undeniably interesting one. Without defining it “psychoanalytic” as many do hastily today, Nureyev’s dramaturgy is well thought out and works in the new characters given to every role and in their transformations. First of all, Clara, who on the threshold of adolescence recognizes the turmoil of the season of love in the godfather Drosselmeyer. Who, in turn, seems to reciprocate her no longer innocent looks, until he transforms, in Clara’s dream, into her Prince who will accompany her to a kingdom other than that of sweets. So, it is a pity that in the current restaging we have found Drosselmeyer as a good-natured and affectionate grandfather, while we remembered him as a disturbing and fascinating godfather, despite the eye patch and the limping gait. Who knows, maybe the character was reshaped because it would look “incorrect” today?

La Scala Ballet performs “The Nutcracker” by Rudolf Nureyev. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano ļTeatro alla Scala

Also, parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins, as well as the group of always petulant children who, not even with Nureyev, lose their caricature character, take on symbolic features after the first act, in the divertissement where all references to sweets and drinks have disappeared. For example, grandparents return to the Arab dance where the patriarch dressed as a pasha is divided between the grandmother as the first wife and four aged favorites who compete for him. While all the adult relatives, clad in black and with bat wings, appear to Clara to disturb her youthful boldness.

Timofej Andrijashenko and students of the La Scala School of Ballet in “The Nutcracker” by Rudolf Nureyev. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano ļTeatro alla Scala

Fortunately preserved, the historical staging by Nicholas Georgiadis, a close collaborator of Nureyev’s first ballets, contributes to the success of the show. The scenography, without any pastry inspiration, chooses the Biedermeier interior of the first scene, austere and even gloomy, as the centre of the story. Here the entire ballet takes place with just a few changes: from the Christmas party to the battle of mice and toy soldiers, from the snowflake waltz to the divertissement with national dances, from the grand ballabile to the final pas de deux, until again the initial familiar scene. The two sets conceived for the corps de ballet are still elegant and effective: the waltz of the snowflakes in a ghostly winter garden with statues in the background, and the waltz known as “of the flowers” (but here there are not even flowers) in the hall of a decadent palace. Nor have the costumes lost any of their sumptuous elegance, who knows with what effort they have been recovered after so many years in the theatre storage: with rhinestones more glittering than ever, the ones shine with icy whiteness; in eighteenth-century courtly style, the others stand out in ocher nuances.

Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko in “The Nutcracker” by Rudolf Nureyev. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano ļTeatro alla Scala

Regarding the performers, the cast list opened with the most beloved couple of Italian ballet, Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko, perfect in the roles imagined by Nureyev. Manni, with a crystalline and sure technique, is an adolescent Clara without affectation, ready to fall in love with Drosselmeyer, and then a Fairy (no longer Sugar Plum) who embroiders on her steel pointes, displays long balances, shows off triple pirouettes. If, as Drosselmeyer, Andrijashenko does not find the correct key of the original conception, in terms of features and elegance he embodies the ideal prince of fairy tales, and while lovingly gazing at Clara, he reinterprets Nureyev’s complex variations in a current style. In the pas de deux under the snow as in the final pas de deux, the latter already danced in two shows at La Scala, Manni and Andrijashenko performance makes even those Nureyev’s strange figures, which it is even difficult to name, original and harmonious.

La Scala corps de ballet in “The Nutcracker” by Rudolf Nureyev. Photograph by Brescia e Amisano ļTeatro alla Scala

The corps de ballet is admirable in the ensemble dances and the students of the Ballet School are very lively in the first act. While the Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky’s score conducted with a Russian impetus by Valery Ovsyanikov.

Other debuts are scheduled in “Nutcracker” following performances: Claudio Coviello with Agnese Di Clemente, Alice Mariani with Navrin Turnbull, Jacopo Tissi with Martina Arduino, Virna Toppi with Nicola Del Freo. A guaranteed success with sold-outs at every performance.

Valentina Bonelli


Valentina Bonelli is a dance journalist and critic based in Milan, and a longtime contributor to Vogue Italia and Amadeus. She is a correspondent from Italy for international dance magazines such as Dance Europe and Dance Magazine Japan. As a scholar her main interest lies in the XIX century Russian ballet, in its connections with the Italian ballet school. She has translated and edited Marius Petipa’s Memoires (2010) and Diaries (2018) into Italian, and she is currently writing essays and biographies about La Scala ballerinas dancing at Russian Imperial theatres.

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