Chisinau National Ballet (Moldova): The Nutcracker, choreographed by Yuri Grigorivoch, late of the Bolshoi, at the Hammersmith Apollo for two weeks from February 5.
This is a small company and the dancers come in all shapes and sizes. There are some lovely soloists who were able to strut their stuff with some success in the second act where the choreography perked up a bit but overall the standard is not overwhelmingly high.
Grigorovichís choreography is pretty much the mixture as before and I not only renewed my lack of enthusiasm for women dressed in drainpipe trousers and frock-coats pretending to be little boys but gained an entirely new lack of enthusiasm for fully grown men, especially of the stocky type, pretending to be mice. On the opening night the leads were danced by members of the company. The first appearance of the big-name Bolshoi stars was scheduled for Tuesday. The leads did their best, but were unmatched physically ≠ he being tall and slender (strong though ≠ he managed some tricky lifts without a tremor) and she being shorter and stockier in build. The story has been altered so that the little girl (Maria) of the first act is the lead in the second act and the Nutcracker is the Prince. This actually makes dramatic sense (and of course saves on dancers!) but it did rob us of the wonderful treat of a Sugar Plum and Prince appearing and pulling out all the stops for a few minutes of bliss at the end. I must say that on this showing the Bolshoi stars will rather stick out like sore thumbs, but of course that may just be my prejudices showing. Far more knowledgeable fans than I have remarked in the past that it is a mistake to graft big stars on to an otherwise homely production and expect artistic integrity.
This version places heavy emphasis on dolls. The choreography for the national dances in the second act mixes ethnic elements with doll movements and this rather detracts from both. However the soloists tackled the steps with gusto and displayed considerable charm as well as ability. The mirliton dance was performed by two "French" dolls, who were encumbered by a papier mache lamb on wheels ≠ a drunkenly listing lamb at that. I presume the droopy, green Fu Manchu moustache the lamb was sporting was intended to represent him as nibbling grass, but the effect was deeply comic. The French dolls had to tow the lamb around by a rope fashioned from a couple of long silk stoles and I must say this production loses out in comparison with La Fille mal gardee which shows what can REALLY be done with ribbons.
The programme was very poor value ≠ no company list, only 6 CVís and two of those were for the Bolshoi guests. And only four photographs to go with the 6 CVís. The cast list is an all-encompassing one, so all the dancers appearing in the main roles are listed one after another with no idea of who is performing when. Without photographs it is impossible to say whom we were watching on Monday. There is also no mention of the orchestra ≠ theirs or a local one? The conductors were named however, so we knew it was Svetlana Popova who took the score at such a lick that Iím amazed the dancers were able to keep up the pace. I wonder if she is distantly related to Sir Thomas Beecham? Of the second act soloists I was particularly struck by Maria Poliudova as the Spanish doll. She had a great deal of presence ≠ quite the little star in the making. I notice that she is also named to dance the lead ≠ presumably a quick-change is called for on that occasion unless one of the listed "additional soloists" steps into her Spanish shoes. The Indian and Chinese female dolls were also impressive, and of the males, the French doll (Serghei Vasilita) was a cut above the average (despite that lamb).
The sets and costumes left a great deal to be desired. The transformation was a complete non-event and I feel it was unwise for the programme notes to remark that the children are mesmerised by the beauty of the tree. Pretty easily pleased, then! As for the hairpieces, well, words fail me. Clearly the wig-makerís art has not yet made much impact in Moldova. The lovely snowflakes pattered on stage looking as if they had accidentally forgotten to remove their shower caps ≠ it took quite a while to realise they were actually wearing (I suppose) platinum wigs. As for the cavaliers ≠ their wigs defy description and the fact that they had to dance with rickety chandeliers on poles did nothing to enhance the effect. I notice that although there are many, many photographs in the programme (all unnamed, of course) only one shows the cavaliers and for the most part they are hidden behind the corps with just the chandeliers on display.
Perhaps it was unwise to choose this production to bring to London so soon after the Royal Balletís run of their wonderful Nutcracker, not to mention all the other versions on offer over Christmas. Certainly the Chisinau National Ballet has a little way to go to reach international standards, but its dancers have considerable charm and display a commitment to and enjoyment of their art which are a joy to behold and make up for any limitations of the production.