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Publication Date : 17-01-2013
'The Nutcracker' makes its Malaysia debut
When the ballet fraternity heard that a two-week ballet festival was going to be presented by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), there was a buzz in the air. Tickets were speedily snapped up and extra shows were added. These, too, are almost selling out.
The festival marks the first time the MPO has collaborated with a ballet troupe for a production. The idea came about after MPO’s patron, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali expressed a desire to have dancers perform with the MPO upon hearing that the orchestra had played ballet scores in past concerts.
Hence, the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Kuala Lumpur was transformed into a “theatre” last weekend with the staging of "The Nutcracker", originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, with a score by Tchaikovsky.
Since its disappointing premiere at the Marinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia in 1892, the ballet has been re-choreographed and performed by various ballet companies around the world. It remains a favourite with children and adults.
Making its Malaysia debut, the Stars Of The Moscow Ballet is a troupe comprising leading ballet dancers from various Moscow ballet companies such as the Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow Classical Ballet, Kremlin Ballet and Russian National Ballet.
The group has toured internationally with its artistic director-cum-production manager, Mikhail Bessmertnov, a former dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet.
The two-act ballet begins in the home of the Stahlbaums, and it’s the annual Christmas party. Some of the cast members in this scene comprised local children and their proud families could be seen smiling away while secretly recording the scene on their cellphones. The colourful party gets underway before toy maker and magician Herr Drosselmeyer (played by dancer Dmitry Romanov) arrives bearing the Nutcracker Doll as a gift for his goddaughter Marie (also known as Clara in some versions). After a joyful evening, she goes to bed, the toys come alive...oh, you know the story.
My favourite part is always in Act Two which is the celebration in the Kingdom of Sweets – chocolate from Spain, coffee from Saudi Arabia, tea from China and candy canes from Russia. All these “sweets” dance for amusement and to honour Marie for winning the battle against the mice. They didn’t disappoint.
The Chinese dolls were the highlight of the night. They literally sprang to life and added zing to the performance. Vladislav Dubenko deserves special mention for his spectacular series of barrel turns and almost lost his footing as the audience went “Ooohhhh!”, but he caught himself in time. His partner Galina Sargaeva was equally exuberant in her petit allegro and facial expressions.
In most Nutcracker versions, the ballerina who dances in the Arabic section is usually tall and slender. In the version presented in Malaysia, the ballerina was also the troupe’s ballet master, Anna Nekhludova. Not only was she lithe and flexible, she had a touch of suggestiveness and was another delight to watch. Together with her partner, she ignited the stage and received much applause.
Also lending sparkle to the night was the ensemble in the "Waltz Of The Flowers" in the second act. Their rendition, especially the entrechat troix, was executed with such precision it was a sight to behold. Everything was in unison you could not tell one ballerina from the other. Their golden yellow tutus further accentuated the dreaminess of this scene.
To conclude the night, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier performed the romantic pas de deux. It oozed with grace, but the chemistry between principle dancers Alexey Konkin and Alexandra Lezina was somewhat missing.
Lezina who portrayed Marie was lovely to watch, especially in the grand pas de deux section. Demure and seemingly light as a feather, she hardly came up to the lanky Konkin’s shoulders. Konkin, on the other hand, fell short of my expectations as I had seen more dynamic principles in other ballet companies. His double tour en l’air could have been repeatedly performed to add more punch to this section but perhaps choreographer Vasily Vainonen had other ideas in mind.
The stage, meant for an orchestral concert, was adapted to house the full-length production but the limitations were obvious. To accommodate the orchestra, several rows of seats in front were removed. When the wings were added on stage, the space became smaller and at times, appeared crowded for the performers. The larger-than-life Christmas tree, which served as the screen backdrop, could have looked better. Even an artificial tree would have sufficed to bring out the festive element.
The MPO, under the batonship of conductor Robert Cole, enchanted with Tchaikovsky’s most famous composition, which seems so spontaneous and personal. From the overture, the audience were spellbound by the music. The dynamics were tastefully executed and despite the audience focusing their attention on the dancers, the orchestra never lost its poise. If you were to close your eyes, The Nutcracker’s score alone is enough to illuminate, create a sense of magic and transport you to the realm of fairyland.
The ballet festival continues tomorrow with "Swan Lake", another of Tchaikovsky’s compositions.