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I’ve had a few too many Nuts in my life but I promised you to be on the lookout for Ksenia Ovsyanick who had her first appearance here and her debut as Clara yesterday so I went there and even splurged for a seat in the stalls.

 

Staatsballett Berlin ditched their opulently furnished and outrageously expensive “Russian” Nutcracker (Medvedev / Burlaka) - which was only two years old - for the rehashed Duato (Michailovsky, 2013).

 

All in all, it looked like a vegan diet after a luscious Christmas feast and I left with very mixed feelings. I like my first act to be very lively, a tad untidy, full of people and with a good portion of childlike excitement – this one looked like an expensive shop window in an art nouveau style, with well-behaved and gorgeously dressed mannequins (think Paul Poiret) posing as “Parents” and “Guests” who deign to dance a few steps now and then, and there were NO CHILDREN AT ALL, just corps members playing cutely with the occasional toy.

 

Drosselmeyer was neither scary nor funny, just a friendly middle-aged uncle who brought some presents – none of your ordinary hocus-pocus here, if you please. A neat box was brought in which contained a few dolls which did a few tricks, and away with them…!

 

Poor Ksenia Ovsyanick as Clara did what she could to fill the meagre choreography with life and emotions but there was never a moment where she and Michael Banzhaf as Drosselmeyer could develop this special magic between them which makes her to love her Nutcracker so much that she dreams about him and makes him her Prince.

 

When night falls over an empty stage, a few mice appear which essentially are big rowdy rats, mangy and mean (think Carabosse’s monsters) with a sleazy king who inexplicably takes a fancy in the Nutcracker doll and carries it here and there, and Clara is carried here and there, too, and then Clara is able to grab the doll and then carries it three times across the stage, each time the doll becomes bigger until it is live-sized Denis Vieira who then leads his small army in a thankfully short fight. Because then - at last! - some actual dancing happens! Not much and not spectacular, but for the very first time we were able to see some real joy and a continuous flow of movement. Strangely the choreography looked as if it was conceived for a much tighter space, it didn’t make much use of the (not too huge) stage. 16 Snowflakes came and went, also very tidily and the first act ended with Clara and Prince sitting on the floor, watching the snow fall.

 

Duato has not tried to connect the first and second act somehow or other – so the second act is entirely a revue with a few, short numbers in a sparse but nevertheless kitschy decoration (yes, that’s possible!), and it’s quite incomprehensible what happens here, and why. The flowers waltz in honour of a giant cupcake, looming in the background.

 

But then our heroes appear again, properly clad in tutu and tights, and FINALLY they get a chance to show what they can do – Vieira looks as if he’s relieved of a burden, he has a nice soft jump and partners Ovsyanick beautifully. The choreography is neither Ivanov nor Petipa (as far as I can judge it) but not bad and Ovsyanick’s solo is just beautiful, she has such a lovely back and arms and is remarkably musical.

 

If I had known she and Vieira are cast for Giselle next month I would have skipped this sad Nutcracker, there’s just not enough to see. I’ll gladly go and see this old “Giselle” for the umpteenth time, just because I’m curious how the newcomers handle the meatier roles.

 

All in all, I feel the Staatsballett has lost much of its lustre and nobody knows what will happen in the future. I’d love to love them more, but it’s difficult…!

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Lovely to read about Berlin - not been there for ages due to the lacklustre rep since Malakhov left.  Duato has not done the best job at Berlin imho me.  I loved the Patrice Bart Nutcracker (so that's the one before the one before this one I think!) as it had dark undertones - it was the first Nutcracker I liked as I can't be doing with the RB one.  So glad to read Ksenia is doing well at Berlin though.  I like the sound of that Giselle with her dancing.

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I'm sure she will be fine, and Vieira seems to be promising. Don't know about the Company... when I was watching the men in the waltz, my inner ballet teacher was screaming things like "stretch those feet!!"

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I haven't seen previous Nutcracker by Staatsballett, but I can compare it to a lot of other versions I have seen around the world and I have to say I loved it! Perhaps I have more minimal taste, but I thought the setting was very tasteful, the story telling very simple, which suits Nutcracker - after all it 's all a dream - it doesn't have to make sense in it's chronology.  And I found the choreography very musical and easy watching. They kept the tempos at original speed which kept the pace of the evening quite quick and easy. Coming from London I was also impressed by the quality of corps de ballet men in the company - it is so rare to see in most major companies! Both principal casts were wonderful.

In total I thoroughly enjoyed the evenings, and in the two shows i watched the audience seem to love it (in contradiction what they wrote in the newspapers!), with little laughs in humorous moments and great loud ovation at the end. 

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I’m very pleased you enjoyed it! Yes, the reviews (I only found two short ones) were quite dismissive, but usually the Berlin audiences don’t care about that. Although their relationship with Duato is very complicated, they love the dancers and don’t hesitate to show it!

 

However, with all the kerfuffle regarding the former, the present and the next artistic management, we cherish and appreciate the dedication and commitment of the people who put so much work and love into a production - any production!

 

I just wish they could get something more exciting to do.

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Just a small question: from where do we know what the "original speed" was for Tchaikovsky's ballet music - does he have metronome markins in the partitura?

 

Well, as every note has a time value you just need to peruse the original score.  Swan Lake is the ballet that is excruciatingly slowed own, perhaps worth while listening to a CD of the score played by a non-ballet conductor.  

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Staatsballett Berlin ditched their opulently furnished and outrageously expensive “Russian” Nutcracker (Medvedev / Burlaka) - which was only two years old - for the rehashed Duato (Michailovsky, 2013).

 

Assuming that a lot of State/City funding went into this, didn't the powers that be have something to say about this, in this cash-strapped age?

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Just a small question: from where do we know what the "original speed" was for Tchaikovsky's ballet music - does he have metronome markins in the partitura?

 

We don´t, because Tchaikovsky didn´t write down any metronome markings for Swan Lake (he did for Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker).

Take, for example, the first act waltz in Swan Lake. Tchaikowski didn´t prescribe a tempo as such, he merely wrote tempo di valse.

He apparently assumed that there was an agreement among conductors, orchestras and audiences on what is the "right" tempo for a waltz, and while he used metronome markings in Sleeping Beauty, he did not suggest any for the Grande valse villageoise (The Garland Waltz) in this ballet.

In Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky wrote the coda of the first act pas de trois as Allegro vivace, this is a fast tempo and according to the consens of today means it would be played at around 172-176 bpm (beats per minute). However in Sleeping Beauty he prescribes for the Allegro vivace in Aurora´s act 1 solo a metronome marking of 184 (this is right after the violin solo, the chainé turns if I remember correctly?).

Of course that is just a random example (and tempo is obviously not just robot bpm), but from my listening experience and reading about this topic I find that hardly anyone performs Tchaikovsky´s ballet or symphonic pieces at the tempo he suggested (nearly all performances and recordings are slower).

Tchaikovsky was not a regular ballet composer and wrote his ballets from the symphonic perspective, but maybe perfomance practice has changed in other ways as well. Some musicologists assume that strings in orchestras of the late 19th century did use little or no vibrato, and would maybe not have produced the thick sound textures we usually hear today in this repertory.

Edited by Katharina
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Thank you Katharina, I didn't know he used metronome markings in Nutcracker! Do you know if there is a recording that follows the original markings? I usually listen to the Gergiev version because I like Russian orchestras playing Tchaikovsky, but I never checked if the tempi are "correct". With Swan Lake, I like the recording made for the Matthew Bourne version - though it may not be the Berlin Philharmonic, it is very fast. Just my personal taste.

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The Nutcracker recording with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra is among the fastest I have heard and I think overall quite close to Tchaikovsky´s suggestions.

 

There is a recording of excerpts from the ballet with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Mravinsky (c. 1981) that I like a lot. This conductor (born 1903) startet his career as a ballet repetitor and conducted for the Kirov Ballet during the 1930s, he has a reputation for "cleansing of tempo".

 

With a metronome you can compare:

for example the waltz of the snowflakes according to the composer is to be played at 72 bpm for a dotted half note (in 3/4 time signature).

 

Online metronome here (or in Google):

http://a.bestmetronome.com/

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THANK YOU!! I was just thinking where to get a metronome - never knew there was one online! By opening 100 browsers, I could play Ligeti's Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes ALL BY MYSELF :lol:. Very sorry for the off topic. 

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