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Is this ballet for you?

Go If: You can’t resist a tragic love story. New Moon is your favorite book of the entire Twilight Saga and you can quote a certain passage from Act II, Scene VI of Shakespeare’s play by heart (don’t worry we won’t tell anyone). You’ve never been to the ballet and want to start with a tale that’s easy to follow in dance form.

Avoid If: Get thee gone, thou artless idle-headed pignut! (Ok, so you’re not a fan of The Bard)

Dream Casts

We asked our twitter followers and they said:

Juliet – Gelsey Kirkland, Yevgenia Obraztsova, Maria Kochetkova, Miriam Ould-Braham, Silvia Azzoni, Julie Kent, Alessandra Ferri, Alina Cojocaru

Romeo – Anthony Dowell, Vladimir Shklyarov, Igor Kolb, Jason Reilly, Friedemann Vogel, Angel Corella, Robert Fairchild, Steven McRae

Background

The Leonid Lavrovsky version

The idea for Romeo and Juliet as ballet came originally from Sergei Radlov, the Artistic Director of the Kirov (now the Mariinsky) around 1934. He developed the scenario together with theatre critic Adrian Piotrovsky and commissioned the music from one of his favorite Chess partners: Sergei Prokofiev who had never before composed for a full-length ballet.

Prokofiev finished the score on September, 1935 but the production was stalled when the communist regime demanded it be given a happy ending. Having shaped his score to match Radlov’s interpretation of the Shakespearean play Prokofiev was unhappy with this imposition.

Mariinsky's Vladimir Shklyarov and Yevgenia Obraztsova in Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Natalia Razina / Mariinsky Theatre ©

Further political problems saw the project shelved and transferred to the Bolshoi where it was deemed unsuitable. The ballet was eventually salvaged by the Kirov and on January 11, 1940 Romeo and Juliet finally received its premiere, with choreography by Artistic Director Leonid Lavrovsky. Legendary Galina Ulanova was the original Juliet and Konstantin Sergeyev her Romeo. The ballet was hailed a success but it only became a phenomenon six years later when it was staged in The Bolshoi Theatre (December 28, 1946), resulting in Lavrovsky’s appointment as Artistic Director of the Bolshoi.

The Bolshoi toured London for the first time and staged Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet in the Covent Garden Stage (October 3, 1956) to great acclaim. Margot Fonteyn expressed she had “never seen anything like it” and budding choreographer John Cranko was so inspired by the ballet that he soon started to plan his own version.

Mariinsky's Viktoria Tereshkina and Yevgeny Ivanchenko in Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Natalia Razina / Mariinsky Theatre ©

The John Cranko version

Cranko’s first staging of Romeo & Juliet was for the ballet company of La Scala in Milan in July 26, 1958. It was danced in an open amphiteatre in Venice. Designs were by Nicola Benois and the role of Juliet was danced by then 21 year-old Carla Fracci. Further revising the ballet Cranko staged it  in 1962 for his own company, The Stuttgart Ballet. Jürgen Rose was in charge of the designs and young Brazilian ballerina Marcia Haydée, soon to become Cranko’s muse, was cast in the role of Juliet, with Richard Cragun as Romeo.

Cranko’s staging is renowned for its strong corps de ballet dances, which set the atmosphere. The first scene takes place in the cramped streets of Verona, so both Montagues and Capulets are incapable of avoiding each other. In Act II the fight erupts amongst peasants on a harvest festival, with everyone involved and fruits being spilled around. At that time Cranko’s company were still developing their technique and identity so the choreography is relatively simple. When it comes to the various pas de deux one can see Lavrovsky’s influence in the very Soviet style of partnering with lifts and tosses.

Cranko’s version of Romeo and Juliet remains very popular and besides being a regular staple at the Stuttgart Ballet, it is also in repertory at The National Ballet of Canada, The Australian Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, The Joffrey, Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet, and Pensylvannia Ballet, among others.

The Kenneth MacMillan version

Kenneth MacMillan, a close friend of Cranko’s from their dancing days in the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, was inspired to create his own version for The Royal Ballet after seeing it staged by The Stuttgart Ballet. An opportunity came when The Royal Opera House failed to secure a deal with the Bolshoi to exchange performance rights for Ashton‘s La Fille Mal Gardée against Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Ninette de Valois had also asked Sir Frederick Ashton to stage the version originally choreographed for The Royal Danish Ballet in 1955 but he feared that something created for a smaller theatre would look modest compared to the scale of the Russian production. Ashton, then Artistic Director, suggested to the Board of Directors that MacMillan should undertake the task of creating a new version.

Steven McRae and Alina Cojocaru in The Royal Ballet's production of MacMillan's Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

MacMillan had devised a balcony scene pas de deux for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable for a feature on Canadian television and once he received the go-ahead he started working on his first full-length ballet, nowadays one of Romeo and Juliet’s most definitive versions.

Designer Nicholas Georgiadis was inspired by Franco Zeffirelli‘s production of the Shakespearean tragedy for the Old Vic, in which the Capulets lived in a big fortress-like mansion. MacMillan wanted his ballet to be more realistic than romantic, with added contemporary touches. He wanted the young lovers to die painfully and to drop the reconciliation between Capulets and Montagues at the end of the play providing a different angle from the Lavrovsky & Cranko versions.

The ballet was choreographed on Seymour and Gable as Juliet and Romeo. As usual, MacMillan explored the role of the outsider in his portrayal of Juliet, a headstrong and opinionated girl who breaks away from her family. He started with the pas de deux (the highlights of this staging) and drew on the full company plus extras to set the town scenes.

While work was in progress Covent Garden management delivered the blow that Fonteyn and Nureyev would be first cast Juliet and Romeo, a shock to MacMillan, to Ashton (who had expected them as a first cast for the US tour  only) and to dancers Seymour and Gable who had to teach their roles and resign themselves to a lower spot on the bill.

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Dee Conway / ROH ©

MacMillan’s pleas to Covent Garden management to keep Seymour and Gable in the premiere were in vain. His Romeo and Juliet premiered on February 9, 1965, with Fonteyn and Nureyev taking 43 curtain calls over a 40 minute applause. In the US it quickly became the best known version of the Prokofiev ballet. Besides the Royal Ballet, the ballet is also part of the regular repertory of American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Swedish Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet (with designs by Paul Andrews).

Story

You probably don’t need our help with this one. Regardless of version the storyline remains more or less the same:

Act I

Scene 1. The Market Place in Verona

It’s early hours in Verona. Romeo unsucessfully tries to woo Rosaline and is consoled by his friends Mercutio and Benvolio. As the market awakens and street trading starts a quarrel breaks out between the Montagues and the Capulets. Tybalt, Lord Capulet’s nephew, provokes Romeo’s group and the sword fighting begins with both Lord Montague and Lord Capulet joining in. Escalus, the Prince (or Duke) of Verona, enters and commands the families to cease fighting and issues a death penalty for any further bloodshed.

Scene 2. Juliet and her Nurse at the Capulet House

Lord Capulet’s only daughter Juliet is playing with her nurse. Her parents enter her chambers and inform Juliet of her impending engagement to the wealthy noblement Paris to whom she is to be formally introduced at the evening’s ball. In MacMillan’s version Juliet’s introduction to Paris happens at this point.

Scene 3. Outside the Capulet House

Guests are seen arriving at the Capulets’. Romeo,  still in pursuit of Rosaline, makes his way into the ball in disguise accompanied by Mercutio and Benvolio.

Scenes 4 & 5. The Ballroom & Outside the Capulet House

At the ball all eyes are on Juliet as she dances with her friends. Romeo becomes so entranced by her that he completely ignores Mercutio’s attempts to distract him. As Juliet starts to notice Romeo his mask falls. Juliet is immediately bewitched but Tybalt recognises Romeo and orders him to leave. Lord Capulet intervenes and welcomes Romeo and his friends as guests. At this point in MacMillan’s staging we see inebriated guests leaving and Lord Capulet stopping Tybalt from pursuing Romeo.

Scene 6. Juliet’s Balcony

Later that night Juliet is unable to sleep and stands on her balcony thinking about Romeo. Just then he appears on the garden below and they both dance a passionate pas de deux where they express their mutual feelings.

Mariinsky's Vladimir Shlyarov and Yevgenia Obraztsova in Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Natalia Razina / Mariinsky Theatre ©

Mariinsky's Vladimir Shklyarov and Yevgenia Obraztsova in Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Natalia Razina / Mariinsky Theatre ©

Act II

Scenes 1 & 2. The Market Place & Friar Laurence’s Chapel

As festivities are being held at the marketplace Romeo daydreams about getting married to Juliet. His reverie is broken when Juliet’s nurse makes her way through the crowds bringing him Juliet’s letter with the acceptance to his proposal. The young couple is secretly married by Friar Laurence, who hopes the union will end the conflict between their respective families.

Scene 3. The Market Place

Tybalt enters interruping the festivities. He provokes Romeo, who now avoids the duel, realising he is now part of Juliet’s family. Mercutio is willing to engage with Tybalt and, in vain, Romeo attempts to stop them. Mercutio is fatally wounded by Tybalt. Romeo seeking to avenge his friend’s death finally yields to Tybalt’s provocations and kills him. Romeo must now flee before being discovered by Prince of Verona. Curtains close as Lady Capulet grieves over Tybalt’s dead body and her breakdown is particularly emphasised in Cranko’s staging.

José Martín as Mercutio and Thiago Soares as Tybalt in The Royal Ballet's production of MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Dee Conway / ROH ©

Act III

Scene 1. Juliet’s Bedroom

Romeo has spent his last night in Verona with Juliet but as dawn arrives he must flee for Mantua despite her pleas. To Juliet’s dismay Lord and Lady Capulet appear together with Paris to start preparations for the wedding. Juliet refuses to marry Paris and Lord Capulet threatens to disown her. In despair, Juliet seeks Friar Laurence’s counsel.

Scenes 2 & 3. Friar Laurence’s Chapel & Juliet’s Bedroom

Juliet begs Friar Laurence for help. He gives Juliet a sleeping potion that will make her fall into a deathlike sleep. This will make everyone believe Juliet is dead while the Friar will send for Romeo to rescue her. Juliet returns home and agrees to marry Paris. She drinks the potion and falls unconscious. Her friends and parents arrive the next morning and discover her lifeless.

Scene 4. The Capulet Family Crypt

Romeo has heard of Juliet’s death (in the Lavrovsky version we see Romeo break down in grief as the news are delivered to him) and has returned to Verona without having received Friar Laurence’s message. He enters the crypt disguised as a monk where he finds Paris by Juliet’s body. Stunned by grief, Romeo kills Paris (this is absent from Lavrovsky’s staging). Still believing Juliet to be dead Romeo drinks a vial of poison and collapses. Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead beside her. She stabs herself to join Romeo in death.

Epilogue (Lavrovsky version)

Both Montagues and Capulets gather together and reconcile before their children’s bodies.

Lauren Cuthbertson and Edward Watson in The Royal Ballet's production of MacMillan's Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Dee Conway / ROH ©

Videos:

Other versions

Prokofiev’s masterful composition for Romeo and Juliet is now better known than any other but a number of earlier and later productions of the ballet have been set to different scores and choreography:

  • Antony Tudor‘s Romeo and Juliet for Ballet Theatre, now ABT (1943), set to various pieces of music by Frederick Delius.

  • Sir Frederick Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet for The Royal Danish Ballet (1955). This is a signature Ashton piece with none of Lavrovsky’s influence (as Ashton had not yet seen that staging). Clips of the revival by London Festival Ballet with Katherine Healy as Juliet can be found here [link]

  • Maurice Béjart‘s  Romeo and Juliet (1966). Set to the music of Berlioz this version was presented at the Cirque Royal, Brussels. A video featuring Suzanne Farrell as Juliet and Jorge Donn as Romeo can be found here [link]

  • Rudolf Nureyev’s version for the London Festival Ballet (1977). Nureyev later reworked this same version for the Paris Opera Ballet (1984). The ballet is available on DVD with Monique Loudieres as Juliet and Manuel Legris as Romeo. Clips can be seen here [link]

  • John Neumeier‘s for the Frankfurt Ballet (1971). This version was restaged for his own Hamburg Ballet in 1974. It has also been further revised and staged by The Royal Danish Ballet. Clips can be seen here [link]

  • Yuri Grigorovich‘s version for the Bolshoi (1982) set to Prokofiev’s score. This version is still danced by the company.

  • Jean Christophe Maillot‘s Rómeo et Juliette for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo (1996). This version has been staged by other companies, most recently by Pacific Northwest Ballet. A trailer can be found in PNBallet’s YT channel [link]

  • Peter Martins’s Romeo + Juliet for NYCB (2007). A series of videos following the ballet’s creative process can be found on NYCB‘s channel [link]

Music

Prokofiev’s score for Romeo and Juliet is considered one of the four greatest orchestral compositions for ballet (together with Tchaikovsky’s scores for Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker). He originally conceived the score as 53 sections linked by the dramatic elements of the story, each section named after the characters and/or situations in the ballet.

Like Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev developed leitmotifs for the characters. There are 7 themes for Juliet varying from her playful/girlish side in Act I to romantic and dramatic themes which follow her development into a woman in love and foreshadow the impending tragedy in Act III.

A quintessential Spotify / iPod playlist should include the three orchestra suites (Opus 64bis, Opus 64ter and Opus 101)

  1. Suite No 1. Folk Dance, The Street Awakens, Madrigal, The Arrival of Guests, Masks, Romeo and Juliet, Death of Tybalt.
  2. Suite No 2. Montagues and Capulets, Juliet the Young Girl, Dance, Romeo and Juliet before parting, Dance of the Girls with Lilies, Romeo at Juliet’s Grave.
  3. Suite No 3. Romeo at the Fountain, Morning Dance, Juliet, The Nurse, Morning Serenade, The Death of Juliet.

Mini-Biography

Choreography: Leonid Lavrovsky
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Designs: Pyotr Williams
Original Cast: Galina Ulanova as Juliet and Konstantin Sergeyev as Romeo
Premiere: January 11, 1940, Kirov Theatre, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

Choregraphy: John Cranko
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Designs: Jürgen Rose
Original Cast: Marcia Haydée as Juliet and Richard Crangun as Romeo
Premiere:December 2, 1962, Stuttgart.

Choreography: Kenneth MacMillan
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Designs: Nicholas Georgiadis
Original Cast: Margot Fonteyn as Juliet and Rudolf Nureyev as Romeo
Premiere:February 9, 1965 at Covent Garden, London.

Sources and Further Information

  1. The Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet (Kenneth MacMillan) Programme Notes, 2007/2008 Season.
  2. Romeo & Juliet entry at www.KennethMacmillan.com [link]
  3. Wikipedia entry for Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet score [link]
  4. Romeo and Juliet Notes (John Cranko) from National Ballet of Canada [link]
  5. Notes from Tbsili Opera and Ballet Theatre [link]
  6. Ballet Met Notes [link]
  7. Stuttgart Ballet Performance Notes at Cal Performances [link]
  8. Dedicated Romeo and Juliet. Dance review by Anna Kisselgoff. New York Times, July 1998 [link]
  9. From London, a Poetic Romeo that makes others seem prosy. Dance review by Anna Kisselgoff. New York Times, 1989 [link]
  10. Romeo and Juliet, Theatricality and Other Techniques of Expression by Katherine S. Healy. Following Sir Fred’s Steps, Ashton’s Legacy. Edited by Stephanie Jordan and Andrée Grau. Conference Proceedings, 1994 [link]
  11. Opposing Houses: Judith Mackrell on visions of Romeo and Juliet from Ashton and MacMillan. Dance review, The Independent. August, 1994 [link]
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Is this ballet for you?

Go if: you want to treat your kids, godchildren, nieces and nephews or even perhaps the kid in you.

Skip if: Bah humbug!

Dream Cast

Sugar Plum Fairy: any ballerina who can do proper gargouillades

Alina Cojocaru as The Sugar Plum Fairy. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

Background

The Nutcracker is a major example of a balletic twist of fate. The very thing critics and audiences objected to at the time of its premiere 117 years ago – its appeal to children – is what turned it into such a bankable classic. From your local end of the year ballet school presentation to the most lavish productions for the big companies and every kind of thing in-between (even Nutcracker on Ice), Christmas season has now become saturated with Nutcrackers everywhere.

Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the same Imperial Theatre Director who had brought together Tchaikovsky and Petipa for his ambitious project The Sleeping Beauty had imagined a new ballet to be based on the book L’Histoire d’un Casse Noisette by Alexandre Dumas père. This was a story he knew from his time in Paris as a diplomat and which Dumas himself had adapted from Ernst Theodor Amadeus (E.T.A.) Hoffmann‘s Nussknacker und Mausekönig (The Nutcracker and the Mouse King) from 1816.

Vsevolozhsky managed to secure Tchaikovsky and Petipa’s collaboration again but Tchaikovsky only agreed to write for The Nutcracker on the basis that he would also be able to work on his opera Iolanta. Because Petipa had fallen ill he ended up working mostly with the choreographer’s assistant Lev Ivanov. Although Tchaikovsky’s music was appreciated (but again thought too symphonic for a ballet) the production was criticized, mainly for the lack of logic relationship between its two acts. The Nutcracker received only 14 performances initially. Some critics thought there was not enough complexity in the story and “no subject whatever”. To critics and audiences alike, the Nutcracker was a luxurious piece but one that was “made for children”.

The Nutcracker in the West

Although it was not considered much of a hit in Russia The Nutcracker kept being performed throughout the theatre year (at that time it was not yet heavily associated with the Christmas season). In the West, however, it boomed. First seen in scattered pieces, with the Arabian dance transplanted into the Ballets Russes’s Sleeping Princess and with Anna Pavlova‘s take on The Waltz of the Snowflakes, London audiences soon got the first full version.

Most versions have some links back to the original but by the time they were staged much of the choreography had been lost and/or changed. This meant that Ivanov’s original Waltz of the Snowflakes had to be reconstructed from notations (presumably incomplete) made in St. Petersburg before WWI.  Likewise, Ivanov’s Grand Pas De Deux in which Prince Coqueluche (Koklush) spread out a veil gently gliding the Sugar Plum Fairy as if she were on ice (or icing sugar) has been revised or scrapped in most versions although Balanchine’s Nutcracker still pays homage to it.

Elizabeth Harrod as Clara and Alastair Marriott as Drosselmeyer, in The Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker. Photo: Johan Persson/ ROH ©

Perhaps the biggest downside to so many different Nutcracker versions over the years has been the progressive watering down of E.T.A Hoffmann’s original story and its aura of mystery, rooted in the German Romantic movement. Hoffmann’s tales often include fantastic elements coexisting with folklore (another example being Coppélia) which are sometimes ignored in favour of the ballet’s child friendly aspects. However, some versions of the ballet seek to preserve the Romantic layers and its mystery, notably Nureyev’s version for the Paris Opera Ballet (POB) as well as Sir Peter Wright‘s for The Royal Ballet and for Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Versions

The first complete Nutcracker was staged in London by the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1934, based on choreographic notation by Nicholas Sergeyev. Ten years later saw the first US version by San Francisco Ballet (1944) and another ten years brought George Balanchine’s blockbusting version for NYCB (1954), now staged every year by several US ballet companies. By the 1980s, 300 separate productions were touring the US.

Sir Peter Wright’s versions

Sir Peter’s 1984 version of The Nutcracker for The Royal Ballet, still performed by the Company, stays close to Hoffmann’s original tale. It emphasises Drosselmeyer’s mission to find a young girl – Clara – who can break the curse imposed by the Mouse King on his nephew Hans Peter and thus restore him to human form. References to Nuremberg and German Christmas traditions are present in the settings, with a kingdom of marzipan featured in Act 2. Equally successful is his 1990 version for The  Birmingham Royal Ballet, this one closer to the Russian tradition of having Clara double up as the Sugar Plum Fairy, but with a slight twist: it is Clara’s alter ego ballerina doll who turns into the Fairy.

Jamie Bond as The Prince in Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker. Photo: Bill Cooper / BRB ©

The Odd Ones

Nureyev’s production for POB has a clear emphasis on symbology and the subconscious: Clara wanders down the stairs at midnight to find her family and friends turned into rats and bats while Drosselmeyer transforms into a handsome prince.

Mikhail Baryshnikov‘s 1976 popular version for ABT turns the Christmas dream into a coming-of-age tale. There is no Sugar Plum Fairy nor Prince Koklush, the focus being Clara’s encounter with the Nutcracker Prince as orchestrated by her Godfather Drosselmeyer. As the ballet ends so does Clara’s fantasy.

More recently the ballet has seen a flurry of ironic takes. In Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut (1991) the Stahlbaums are a suburban family with a fake Christmas tree, bad hairdos and too much to drink, the second act Arabian divertissement being a trio for oil sheiks. In Matthew Bourne‘s Nutcracker! (1992) Clara lives in an orphanage run by Mr. and Mrs. Dross and tries to win the heart of the hunky Nutcracker prince.

Story

These myriad versions make it impossible for us to list all the differences and twists in the various Nutcrackers around the world but the storyline is more or less always the same:

Characters

  • Herr Drosselmeyer
  • Clara (or Marie, or Masha)
  • Nutcracker Prince (or Hans Peter)
  • Sugar Plum Fairy
  • Her Prince Cavalier (Prince Koklush)

Act 1

A Christmas party is taking place at the Stahlbaums’, parents to Clara and Fritz. Drosselmeyer brings his goddaughter Clara a gift of a nutcracker doll.  Children being children, Fritz eventually grabs and breaks the Nutcracker doll much to Clara’s dismay. Drosselmeyer fixes it restoring peace amongst the youngsters. Guests depart and Clara suddently sees herself surrounded by a fantasy world, where the Christmas tree grows giant and dolls and soldiers come to life to battle with the mice who have also grown to Clara’s own size. She sees her Nutcracker doll leading the battle and being attacked by the Mouse King. She throws her slipper at the Mouse, liberating the Nutcracker who turns into a Prince. They embark on a magical journey, their first stop being the Land of Snow where snow flakes waltz around them in patterns, as if blown by the wind.

Act 2

Clara and her Nutcraker Prince arrive at the Kingdom of Sweets where they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince Cavalier. They are invited to watch a series of divertissements representing exotic travels and various different sweets: Chocolate (Spanish dance) Coffee (Arabian dance) Tea (Chinese dance), the Russian Trépak (Cossacks), Mother Ginger & the polichinelles (in certain versions), along with the dance of the little pipes/Mirlitons and the Waltz of the Flowers. The celebrations close with the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince dancing a grand pas de deux. The curtain usually falls on Clara waking up back at home wondering whether it was all just a dream.

Roberta Marquez and Valeri Hristov in The Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker. Photo: Dee Conway / ROH ©

Music

Tchaikovsky died in 1893 not knowing what a big success his work would achieve. He had been burned twice before writing for ballet (with Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty) so he was less than enthusiastic to do so again but Vsevolozhsky convinced him on the basis that he would also be able to write the opera Iolanta which interested him more and which premiered on the same day as the ballet. Paradoxically, his Nutcracker score became, over the years, the more celebrated of the two works.

Having received the joint commission, Tchaikovsky started on The Nutcracker writing to his brother Anatoly in March 1891 that “the main thing is to get rid of the ballet; as to the opera I am so fascinated by it that if I could have two weeks of peace I would be sure to finish it on schedule”. As he embarked on a trip to Berlin and Paris en route to an American tour that same year he heard of the death of his sister Sasha.  Perhaps for this reason a hint of sadness  and nostalgia permeates The Nutcracker‘s haunting score.

He finished composing the ballet on 6 July 1891 having added to it a novelty instrument which he had bought during his tour in Paris, the celesta, which he used to give The Sugar Plum Fairy her characteristic sound of heavenly bells.

An essential Nutcracker Spotify/Ipod playlist should include the below tracks:

Op.71 – Overture
Op.71 – Act 1 – No. 1 The Christmas Tree
Op.71 – Act 1 – No. 2 March
Op.71 – Act 1 – No. 6 Clara and the Nutcracker
Op.71 – Act 1 – No. 7 The Nutcracker Battles the Army of the Mouse King
Op.71 – Act 1 – No. 8 In the Christmas Tree
Op.71 – Act 1 – No. 9 Scene and Waltz of the Snowflakes
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 10 The Magic Castle on the Mountain of Sweets
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 12a Character Dances: Chocolate (Spanish Dance)
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 12b Character Dances: Coffee (Arabian Dance)
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 12c Character Dances: Tea (Chinese Dance)
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 12d Character Dances: Trépak (Russian Dance)
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 12e Character Dances: Dance of the Reed Pipes
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 12f Character Dances: Polchinelle
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 13 Waltz of the Flowers
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 14a Pas de deux: Intrada
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 14b Pas de deux: Variation I (Tarantella)
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 14c Pas de deux: Variation II (Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy)
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 14d Pas de deux: Coda
Op.71 – Act 2 – No. 15 Final Waltz and Apotheosis

Mini-Biography

Original Choreography: Marius Petipa/Lev Ivanov
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Original Designs: M.I. Botcharov with K. Ivanov wit costumes by I.A. Vsevolozhsky
Original Cast: Antoinetta dell’Era as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Pavel Gerd as Prince “Koklush” (also known as Prince Coqueluche or Orgeat), Nikolay Legat as The Nutcraker Prince and Timofei Stukolkin as Drosselmeyer.
Premiere: 6 December 1892 Mariinsky (also credited as 17 December 1892)

Where to see it in the UK

The Royal BalletThe Nutcracker is in repertoire at the Royal Opera House from November 26 to January 1st. For booking details visit the ROH website.

Birmingham Royal BalletThe Nutcracker is in repertoire at the Birmingham Hippodrome from November 27 to December 13. For booking details visit The Birmingham Hippodrome’s website.

English National BalletThe Nutcracker, with choreography by Christopher Hampson, is in repertoire at the London Coliseum from December 16 to January 3. For booking details visit the ENO website.

Sources and Further Information

  1. Royal Opera House Nutcracker podcast
  2. The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker Programme Notes.
  3. The Nutcracker History by Gerald Charles. Ballet Met Notes for The Nutcracker, November 1998 [link]
  4. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker/Swan Lake/The Sleeping Beauty Highlights. Naxos Recording with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. [link]
  5. The Refined Product of a Great Artist: Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta by Hugo Shirley. Opera Holland Park. [link]
  6. Nuts, Sluts, Rats and Bats by Judith Mackrell. The Guardian, December 2001. [link]
  7. How to Design the Nutcracker by Ismene Brown. The Arts Desk [link]
  8. Breaking Pointe: The Nutcracker is a Gift that Takes More than it Gives by Sarah Kaufman. The Washington Post [link]
  9. Wikipedia entry on The Nutcracker [link]

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While over this side of the channel we continue to bury ourselves in Mayerlings and other fall season balletic offerings, Paris Opera Ballet  has returned to the Palais Garnier from their summer break with the eternal Romantic classic Giselle. As they are just a couple of hours away by Eurostar, our friend Juliet Ashdown could not resist the lure of a daytrip. Here she shares some impressions of last week’s performance:

Mathias Heymann and Dorothée Gilbert in a rehearsal of Giselle. Source: Syltren.blogspot.com Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Mathias Heymann and Dorothée Gilbert in a rehearsal of Giselle. Source: Syltren.blogspot.com Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

It has often been remarked that the Paris Opera Ballet dancers might seem cold in their interpretation of ballet classics which prioritizes classical excellence over drama. It is true that in this Giselle, adapted by Patrice Bart from the original choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, the first act mime is not conveyed as clearly as in Sir Peter Wright‘s production for the Royal Ballet and it is also true that the dancers lack a certain warmth overall, but they more than make up for it with their stylish dancing.

Fortunately Alexander Benois‘s staging leaves them more room to display all this style, with the two huts set further back in the stage and a backcloth with a castle far in the distance, making the Royal Ballet’s sets seem cluttered by comparison.  The colours for sets and dancers are also brighter here, with creams, reds and greens.  The peasants’ dresses are longer and floaty, although it is a pity that the puffed sleeves should give them such an aristocratic air.

While Dorothée Gilbert‘s more reserved Giselle did not act out the most poignant mad scene I have ever seen,  she really came into her own in Act 2, so assured and elegant, her first développé into arabesque long held and rock solid. She dazzlingly travelled though her series of backward entrechats and in the main pas de deux with Matthias Heymann‘s Albrecht, she was enthralling, ethereal.

22-year old Heymann, POB’s newest (and youngest) étoile had only recently debuted as Albrecht. He was excellent, his grief totally embodied in the role, his dancing fautless. His jumps are very powerful but understated enough to show the grim situation he finds himself in whilst overpowered by the Wilis. However, there was nothing understated about his flawless series of over 30 entrechats-six, which earned him an enthusiastic  mid-performance ovation.

From left to right, Matthias Heymann, Dorothée Gilbert and Stéphanie

From left to right, étoiles Matthias Heymann and Dorothée Gilbert and Premiere Danseuse Stéphanie Romberg. Source: POB © Copyright belongs to its respective authors.

The 2nd Act of Paris Opera Ballet’s Giselle is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, not only because of the perfection of their strong corps who present us with a superb Wilis scene but also thanks to the gorgeous sets and costumes. The Wilis’ tutus are of the lightest fabric and look more shimmery than those worn in the Royal Ballet version, their veils disappear all at once thanks to crafty pulling from the stage wings.  In the background we see the ruins of an abbey and Giselle’s grave has a large cross from which we see her rise.

Yet, it is not just the stagecraft but the little details, like Myrtha’s (Stéphanie Romberg) chilling crown which looks like ice from the back of her head or the way she bourrées forward so silently, so ghost-like, that make this Giselle such an endearing production.

Juliet Ashdown

The Wilis in Paris Opera Ballets production of Giselle. Source: syltren.blogspot.com Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

The Wilis in Paris Opera Ballet's production of Giselle. Source: syltren.blogspot.com Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

This is a review for the matinée performance held on October 10, 2009 at the Palais Garnier. Giselle is in repertoire until the 12th of October. Casting available from the Paris Opera Ballet’s Website.

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This is the first post devoted to small jumps, the main components of what is known as petit allégro. Used in training they assist in the development of musicality, coordination, and quick footwork (stressing the use of the lower leg) while onstage, they are widely used in variations and/or character dances in full-length ballets, most prominently in Bournonville.

Soubresaut

A straight up jump from fifth, with both legs and arches extended. Starting from a demi-plié to gain impulse, the dancer springs into the air, being careful not to brush one calf against the other. In some schools, this may also be a travelling jump, ie. the dancer moves from its original departure point.

Temps de Poisson (or Sissone Soubresaut)

Means “fish movement”. This is a particular form of soubresaut in which the dancer bends its back at the height of the jump, feet placed together and pointes crossing to form a fishtail. The dancer lands in one leg in demi-plié (fondu) with the opposite leg stretched back in the air. This step, also referred to as sissonne soubresaut, are the distinctive soubresauts in act 2 of Giselle:

Bolshoi’s Nelli Kobakhidze performs a series of sissonne soubresauts in act 2 of Giselle. Move forward to 6:27.

Temps de L’Ange

If while performing a sissone soubresaut the dancer’s legs are bent in attitude, the jump becomes known as temps de l’ange.

Échappé sauté

It literally means a “jumping, escaping movement”. The dancer starts in fifth position and jumps to finish in a demi-plié in second position or fourth position, with both feet traveling in equal distance from the original centre.

Changement

A jump where the feet change positions. The dancer starts in fifth position and jumps straight up and down, getting impulse from a plié and changing feet in the air to land back in fifth, opposite foot in front.

Royale

It is a type of changement where one calf beats against the other before the feet change position to land in fifth. Because of this it can also be referred to as changement battú (ie. battú=beaten).

Here is a masterclass in allegro, featuring all the steps above described, although all of them – not just the Royales – are beaten, meaning that the calves touch before landing.

Johan Kobborg as James in Bournonville‘s La Sylphide. Notice the échappés around 1.20 (with a beat) and royales everywhere.

Entrechat

Stands for braiding (or interlacing). It is a straight up jump from fifth, in which the dancer crosses its legs rapidly while in the air by switching opposite fifth positions.

Each crossing counts as two movements and depending on the landing, one can have even-numbered entrechats (landing with both feet in fifth) or odd-numbered entrechats (landing on one foot), thus:

  • Landing on both feet: entrechats deux, quatre, six, huit, dix.
  • Landing on one foot: entrechats trois, cinq, sept, neuf.

Royal Ballet’s Johan Kobborg does the famous series of entrechats-six in the coda of Giselle Act II. Move forward to the 5:07 mark.

Pas de Chat

Means “Step of the cat”. The dancer starts in fifth position and the front leg is lifted through retiré as the other leg pushes off the floor and is also raised into a retiré. The first leg lands first, with the second leg following to close in fifth.

The Cygnets (small swans) in Mariinsky’s production of Swan Lake doing a series of pas de chats in a diagonal around the 1.36 mark. There’s also a series of entrechats-quatre before.

The Russian Pas de Chat is a variant of this step in which both legs are positioned in attitude derrière rather than retiré

Mariinsky’s Maya Dumchenko does some Russian Pas de Chats at 0:17, while dancing the Paquita 4th Variation.

Glissade

A small jump which is mainly used to power a big one, or to connect another step. Starting from fifth position, the dancer does a demi-plié and springs slightly upwards. Front leg glides along the floor towards second position, the whole body traveling towards this extended leg, while the back leg glides onto fifth position, so the dancer is again in demi-plié, ready for the subsequent step.

Glissades can be done in all directions (en avant = forward, en arrière = backwards, à la seconde, etc.), with the feet changing accordingly when closing into the final plié.

Assemblé

Assembler means “to put together” or “to assemble”. One starts from fifth position and plié. The back leg slides off to a 45 degree angle battement (beating) on the side, while the front leg (now turned supporting leg) pushes and extends off the floor. The working leg closes in front fifth position, with both legs coming to the ground at the same time. Done in this way, the assemblé is said to have been executed dessus (from the back to the front) but can also be done dessous (from the front to the back).

This step does not travel, ie. the dancer remains in its original position.

Paris Opera Ballet dancers Emmanuel Thibault, Nolwenn Daniel and Mélanie Hurel do assemblés around the 0:33 & 0:40 mark in this beautiful pas de trois from Paquita. Look out for glissades at 1.29 & 1:35, changements at 2:53 & 2:57, entrechats at 4:30 & pas de chats at 4:38 & 4.40.

Brisé

Brisé stands for “broken”. This step is like a “beaten and travelled” version of the assemblé. It can be done en avant and en arrière: en avant, the dancer starts from fifth, back leg brushing in effacé devant and supporting leg pushing from the floor to beat the other leg from behind and front, finishing in fifth position (demi-plié), body arched towards the front throughout. En arriére, all positions are reversed (now the working leg is thrown to effacé derriere), body arched towards the back throughout.

Royal Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru (with Johan Kobborg) in a series of brisés in a diagonal, at around 4:52 in this Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux.

Sources and Further Information:

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

Note: Whilst we have used widely known names for these jumps, note that terminology might vary slightly from school to school.

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In 1973 the Royal Ballet went on a historical tour to Brazil bringing 110 dancers including its star Margot Fonteyn to 85,000 people across the country. It was that year’s cultural highlight with tales of frenzied, roaring audiences and of scared, timid dancers who would not dare step onstage until Fonteyn’s reassurances that crowd commotions were entirely normal that side of the Atlantic. That one visit the Royal Ballet made to Brazil was a big deal and yet, you will have trouble finding any evidence of it (other than the very basic) online.

Fast forward to 2009. The Royal Ballet’s no less historical tour to Cuba (the first international ballet company to visit this ballet-addict nation in over 30 years) has  just drawn to a close. If you are interested in following its trail you can not only google content posted by conventional media from all around the globe but also pictures posted by local residents, blog, tweets, Facebook groups, web discussion forums. We might not have been there, but thanks to all of this we can share in the occasion. And, unlike what happened to the Brazil tour material, 40 years from now large chunks of this may still be accessible in one way or another.

In the dance world (and more generally in the arts world) we’ve come a long way since Arnold Haskell, eminent critic & balletomania’s “patient zero”, spoke against filming ballet for posterity. If it weren’t for the rich and diverse ballet content on YouTube (questions of copyright aside) we might never have had so much exposure to foreign and/or vintage ballet performances. Ballet companies are realizing the importance of educating and engaging with its audience through every trendy social media means at its disposal to preserve the future of this art, though as Philip Kennicott rightly notes in this excellent article (found via Opera blog Intermezzo) there is still much room for improvement, both in content and approach.

Does their investment in social media pay off? This Forbes article claims the Royal Opera House had no significant box office boost through its Facebook and Twitter crowds. However, the article does not clarify how they correlated Facebook use and ticket buying. One example: whilst we have not increased our  theatre bookings  because of Facebook and Twitter the fact that these channels are there and that through them we can find people who share common interests and passions has improved our cultural experience as audience members. And if we miss out on an interesting performance due to, for instance, geographical barriers it is now possible to feel as if we are “virtually there”.

Look no further than the recent Oregon Ballet rescue campaign, which reached fever pitch thanks to social media, for an example of its potential to be effective. Perhaps it’s too early to tell whether these new marketing avenues will lead to more ticket sales but it certainly will lead to a more cultured audience, breaking of geographical barriers and maybe turning a ballet microcosm into an universe. At least that’s what we would like to see happen in the near future.

Compare & Contrast

Because we are avid consumers of social media and keen “ballet networkers” we thought of comparing & contrasting, from an audience perspective, some international ballet companies and their approach to these new marketing channels. Below we opine on what works for us and what we’d like to see if we could call any shots. We’d also love to hear about what works for those reading this post so feel free to weigh in!

The Headstarters (in alphabetical order)

Picture 4American Ballet Theatre

What’s working: A great Facebook group with a library of pictures and interesting updates (that’s where we first heard of Veronika Part on Letterman). Very good ballet education content on main website including online dictionary and ballet synopses. They also have content rich micro sites for certain ballets.

What we’d love to see: ABT is not yet on Twitter or YouTube. Their website is more substance than form, we’re all for that but a little bit more styling would be welcome. The ballet “micro sites” can be hard to locate too.


Picture 10New York City Ballet

What’s working: Partnering with interactive agency AKQA in their social media project was a wise move. NYCB is “everywhere out there”: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the quality of the content is  good and generally in sync throughout all platforms. Their website strikes a great balance between style and substance, with heavy emphasis on education.

What we’d love to see: The biggest downside is the “no comment policy” on YouTube videos. Likewise, their Facebook page does not show Fan & NYCB’s wall postings on the same spot, which effectively means reader comments are not visible. There may be a wish to prevent flippant comments & rogue users (esp. those heated debates that take place on YouTube, we understand) but surely anything abusive can be easily deleted. Some DVD releases would also be extremely welcome.

Picture 2Royal Opera House

What’s working: Like NYCB, the ROH’s new media project is completely cross-platform with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They have a very stylish website and seriously eye catching marketing campaigns. The open air and cinema screenings are also a huge bonus and have viral potential.

What we’d like to see: They had started a Royal Ballet blog project last year during the China tour but this seems to have stalled. Perhaps blogging is too time consuming but we’d love to see more rehearsal material, pictures and short snippets of the artist’s & staff’s angle, perhaps elsewhere if not on the blog. The videos are fantastic if a little hard to locate, same with other educational content on their website. The FB and Twitter postings could also be juicier.

Other Notable Headstarters:

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Hamburg Ballet and Dutch National Ballet (all with high quality educational videos), Scottish Ballet, ENB & Houston Ballet (for their tweets), The Joffrey and San Francisco Ballet (for their tweets and great blog postings).

The “Catcher uppers”

Picture 13

The Mariinsky

Their recently developed new media initiative launched an English language (impressive!) YouTube channel and a Facebook group. We’d love to see them on Twitter and more educational content on their website. But perhaps our biggest wishlist item would be cinema screenings of selected pieces which they do not typically tour and which we cannot always travel to Russia to catch!

Picture 11The Royal Danish Ballet

They might not be fully social media operative yet but their website certainly looks the part with plenty of content in English and a great selection of press photos which are available to download. Their principal dancers have an official Facebook group. We’d love to see them on all platforms, the world needs to learn more about this treasure of a company.

The “Cozy Comforters”

Paris Opera Ballet, Bolshoi, La Scala

As far as we know, none of these companies have launched into social media despite their international visibility. POB banks mainly on their DVD releases and La Scala on cinema screenings. Both are honorable efforts but we would also like to see them boosting their multimedia and educational content, same goes for the Bolshoi. Even better if they all start a Facebook/Twitter initiative.

What’s next in new media and social media?

Tumbrl

Iphone Applications

Social Media Aggregators

Same time relays/IPlayers

DVD-on-demand

As all these ballet companies start to explore the opportunities of new media, what will it take to really be “Virtually There”? There is a maze of content in all forms which could be aggregated across the various media forms, in a centralized way to help the audiences find exactly what they are looking for. With many companies becoming increasingly innovative they should push the boundaries from a Tweet here, a Videoclip and a Facebook posting there to lead the way and make ballet increasingly more accessible (in all senses of the word) with dynamic multi -platform strategies.

See also:

Our note on the best dance pages on Facebook [Link]

Disclaimer: Logo & images copyright belongs to their respective owners.

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In this post we continue to look at some of the big jumps that have historically filled the vision of many choreographers and which continue to fill the eyes of an audience. Our focus is on a set of common jumps, which tend to occur in almost every classical variation rather than on the flashy jumps which we already covered in Part 1.

Tours en l’air

Propelled from a deep plié in fifth position, the dancer jumps, making a complete turn in the air, switching feet and landing back in tight (closed) fifth position.

ABT’s Daniil Simkin in a variation from The Sleeping Beauty, where he executes some tours en l’air around the 1.07 mark.

Tour de force

A bravura type combination of tours en l’air, pirouettes and spins. A true feat of technical prowess.

ABT’s Angel Corella does a tour de force in Ali’s variation of Le Corsaire (move to the 0:52 mark)

Poisson

Literally meaning fish, it is a jump where the legs are crossed in fifth and held tightly while the back arches throughout its execution, as in the following image:

NYCBs Gonzalo García in Poisson form. Photo: Paul Kolnik, NYCB ©. Source: Danser en France

NYCB's Gonzalo García in Poisson form. Photo: Paul Kolnik, NYCB ©. Source: Danser en France

And here we see the jump in action:

Legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov does poisson jumps in his diagonal of cabriolés during Albrecht‘s variation in act 2 of Giselle.

Saut de chat

Also called a développé grand jeté. The working leg passes through retiré and is thrown forward into a développé, so both legs end up extended forming a 180 degree angle.

Paris Opera Ballet’s Aurélie Dupont does some saut de chats at the beginning of Gamzatti‘s variation in La Bayadère.

Grand pas de chat (This step is also called Russian pas de chat or Pas de chat jeté)

As in a grand jeté the dancer starts by throwing the first leg into a grand battement but then pulls the second leg into passé and lands on the first leg, with the second joining in fifth or in an arabesque. Alternatively the dancer may throw the first leg as in a saut de chat (see above). As this step was frequently used by Balanchine, it is also informally known as “Balanchine’s jump” (see the entrance of Stars and Stripes or Theme and Variations).

NYCBs Miranda Weese doing a grand pas de chat, supported by Damian Woetzel. Photo: Paul Kolnik / NYCB ©. Source: Voice Of Dance

NYCB's Miranda Weese doing a grand pas de chat, supported by Damian Woetzel. Photo: Paul Kolnik / NYCB ©. Source: Voice Of Dance

And here we see the jump in action:

Legendary Kirov ballerina Alla Sizova doing some grand pas de chats in Medora‘s variation of Le Corsaire

Sissonne

This jump, from both feet onto one foot, looks like the action of crossing blades in a pair of scissors. The jump starts from fifth position and lands on the leg which the dancer jumped from, leaving the other leg extended in dégagé (pointed toe extended off the floor at 45 degrees, a la seconde or en arrière).

Grand Sissonne Ouverte

This literally means “big open sissonne. One jumps high from a deep plié in fifth position, landing on one foot in a pose such as attitude, arabesque a la seconde, etc. It can be performed en avant, de côté or en arrière. A video of this step is available here [link].

Sissonne Développé Assemblé or Sissonne Doublée

This is a compound step which starts with a sissonne ouverte de côté (see above), followed by a coupé and an assemblé. It can be done as part of a series, in which one travels in one or more directions.

Mariinsky’s Vladimir Shklyarov does a whole series of sissonnes. Starting at 3:00, he does a Grand Sissonne de côté, assemblé, sissonne doublée and repeats (There are also some beautiful tours en l’air on 3:23 and a tour de force around 3:25).

Sources and Further Information:

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

Note: Whilst we have used widely known names for these jumps, note that terminology might vary slightly from school to school.

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