United Kingdom Tchaikovsky Trilogy (Part 3), The Nutcracker: Irek Mukhamedov with dancers of the Peter Schaufuss Ballet, London Coliseum, London, 27.7.2012. (JPr)
Since this was advertised as the Tchaikovsky Trilogy (and on its last day of the Peter Schaufuss Ballet’s weeklong residence at the London Coliseum all three ballets would be performed consecutively) my reviews should be read together to provide the full background to this quirky, yet ultimately disappointing, enterprise. For the very young people in the audience it will all be quickly forgotten but the adults accompanying them will think twice next time before paying out considerable amounts of money and coming to London expecting a ballet they are very familiar with – and getting something only tangentially associated with it. An evening with only a little over 60 minutes of dance is not good enough for London’s West End or anywhere for that matter, let alone Olympics Opening Week!
Peter Schaufuss had the opportunity to introduce his concept for his reworking of Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballets when he appeared before the start of this performance – though what he did was only to offer a rather sparsely-filled theatre the opportunity to obtain a free signed poster. This was by way of a ‘thank you’ for coming out on the evening when most people’s attention was on the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. In fact, many of London’s other theatres were ‘dark’ this Friday night, though despite a 90 minute journey home I was still back in time to see most that iconic event’s most important moments!
Perversely, I enjoyed The Nutcracker much more than the previous two instalments mainly because the choreography was often less abstract than before and often more recognisably ‘classical’. Then again if I expected Peter Schaufuss to tie up some loose ends then I misled myself. When Sleeping Beauty ended a few nights before, the Dream Master left Aurora and Florimund together on the now-familiar magic couch/bed, presumably leading to the conception of Clara who we would now see in The Nutcracker – otherwise, the ‘Happy Dream’. I assumed these were the two figures that we saw on the bed at the start of this the last of the three ballets, but that was not entirely clear.
The Dream Master – who was virtually onstage throughout this Nutcracker – wakes Clara, clearly a younger version of the Swan Girl and Aurora. She quickly settles down to watch – no not the Olympic Ceremony – but her favourite TV programme about the astronaut, Nut ‘Sky’ Cracker. His ‘action figure’ is the year’s most wanted Christmas present. The TV is soon switched off by her stern parents who are expecting soberly-dressed guests to arrive for what is the annual office party. Blackboss arrives and stomps around in her high heels, this character previously ‘was’ both the Black Swan and Carabosse. Clearly there to make trouble she engineers Clara’s inelegant fall to the floor causing all the guests to laugh at her when it is probably apparent (to them) she has an underwear malfunction.
At least this neglect and embarrassment provides some motivation for Clara to retreat to her ‘happy place’ assisted by the arrival of her Uncle (also the Dream Master) and a life-sized Nut ‘Sky’ Cracker cyborg whose antics entertain the guests. Alone together later the same evening Clara takes off his space helmet to reveal the handsome young man of her dreams who takes her off to the Land of Snow. There are more hints of ice-skating as Clara enters on rollerblades. Later surrounded by the Snowflakes – fourteen men and women who earlier entertainingly scattered ‘snow’ from fluffy cotton wool-like wigs – the young couple (Megumi Oki and Johan Christensen) perform a wistfully romantic duet while constantly being shadowed by the supportive Dream Master (Stefan Wise). This at least allowed Christensen a bravura solo that showed him off to better effect than anything his more illustrious compatriot Alban Lendorf was given earlier in the week.
In Act II as Clara’s ‘Happy Dream’ takes her and Nut ‘Sky’ Cracker to the Land of Wishes she is reunited with her parents who now seem happy to meet her. They have become the Sugar Plum Fairy (Zoe Ashe-Brown) and her Cavalier (Irek Mukhamedov) – here rather peripheral figures – who are given pantomime costumes to wear. However good it might have been to see the great Mukhamedov in tights once again there is the realisation that time has passed for him when you see how much his centre of gravity has sunken south (as is the case with the author of this review). Even though his feet were mostly floor bound he still remained eye-catchingly stylish in all he did.
Then comes the party Clara always wanted as the earlier guests return paired up and determined to enjoy themselves in fancy dress with the Spanish, Arab, Chinese, and Russian dancers we had seen separately in Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Although the Arabian couple (Tara Schaufuss and Yonas Jameel Meshaima) just might be shown engaged in tantric sex, the generally exuberant dances of the four couples are the most ‘traditional’ moments we have yet seen – and it cannot be any coincidence that they generate the only significant applause the dancers received during the three ballets. There is another charming trio between the three central characters and a glittering finale before the recorded Tchaikovsky highlights abruptly stops for a short while and the Dream Master is shown once again on his own, centre stage.
What do we learn from the denouement where the Dream Master (Stefan Wise) – Tchaikovsky himself? – dances an elegant duet full of emotional nuance with Yoko Takahashi (previously Blackboss) now in a chic white gown. Was she responsible for the composer’s hallucinations, his confused sexual identity … or his music? It all ended somewhat better than it had begun a few nights earlier though I was no less confused as the man lies down on the bed totally spent while the woman is at its head, arms outstretched and seeming to imitate a swan.
Further details about the Peter Schaufuss Ballet can be found at http://www.schaufuss.com/.
And as the perfect antidote for this Tchaikovsky Trilogy English National Ballet will perform Derek Deane’s traditional Swan Lake from 3 August onwards at the London Coliseum, and The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty on tour and during their Christmas season at the London Coliseum – for more information visit http://www.ballet.org.uk/.