Friday, December 16, 2011

Nutcracker smackdown

Maurice Sendak's beautiful book cover of the classic Christmas fairytale

What's a Christmas season without seeing the Nutcracker Ballet, whether it's live in a theater or watching a film version at home?  E.T.A. Hoffman's story of a little girl named Clara who encounters wild and imaginative characters (including those oversized mice) is a Christmas classic... because nothing says "Christmas fairytale" like a giant Mouse King with seven heads, right? I jest of course—the waltz of the snowflakes alone more than makes up for the mouse bits. Then there's all the lovely twirling and  pas de deux-ing with the Sugar-Plum Fairy and the Prince...not to mention all the beautiful set backdrops and costumes... all set to the playful music of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Scrumptiousness! So which ballet company does the best rendition of the Nutcracker? The Ovation TV Channel is doing its fifth annual Nutcracker Ballet competition to try and find the answer.

Here are the five contenders this year: Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, London's Royal Opera House Ballet, Russia's Mariinsky Theatre's Ballet, the Berlin's State Ballet, and Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker (which is meant to be more funky and contemporary, though not quite as avant-garde as Mark Morris's Nutcracker Ballet). Each production has something different to offer and although they are all quite enchanting and delightful, for my money the 1986 Nutcracker: The Motion Picture film version—danced by The Pacific Northwest Ballet—is the very best version. They had me at the imaginative sets and costumes, which were designed my Maurice Sendak himself, and the cast includes a really wild looking Herr Drosselmeier (Clara's Godfather), with an eye patch and long white hair. If you love Maurice Sendak's Nutcracker book, you'll love this film because it's like a giant, pop-up-version of his book that comes alive!

Watch out for those giant mice Clara!

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