I’ve been to about a half-dozen live performances of the Nutcracker in my lifetime, and seen many more on television. Now, I don’t think that makes me a ballet expert or anything, but it does mean I have some pretty strong opinions about the ballet and how it’s performed, and so I was very curious to see how the St. Louis Ballet’s version would measure up. In general, my main comparison is to the San Fransisco Ballet Nutcracker, which, even though I’ve never seen it performed live, is my favorite.
I will say that of all the live performances I *have* seen, I think the St. Louis Ballet has been my favorite. I will have to admit that the first time I saw the Nutcracker was over 20 years ago in downtown Chicago, so while it was most likely the highest quality production I’ve seen, it is also the fuzziest in my memory. But compared to the more recent performances I’ve seen live, the Saint Louis Ballet definitely gets my vote.
I loved the costuming of the Saint Louis Ballet. I’m guessing their budget isn’t as great as, say, the San Fransisco Ballet, and I think they did an excellent job with what they had. The snowflakes had my favorite costumes, especially the queen, whose white dress was accented with blue gems, and I also liked the purple Sugar Plum Fairy costume. I will say, I was not a fan of the Arabians costumes, particularly the man’s, as he was shirtless, and that seemed really out of place in a family performance.
I did not care for the narration that accompanied the performance. I don’t know if that’s a standard for the St. Louis Ballet, of it was something they added because it was a school performance, but I really don’t think it had any place in the ballet. The dancing should tell the story without using words, and I think even children can figure out what’s happening in the Nutcracker, without someone having to give a play-by-play. I found this especially disappointing because, if this was many of the children’s first introduction to the ballet, as is kind of the point of having the school performance, they totally missed the concept of letting the dancers tell the story through their movements.
My favorite part of this performance was the “Waltz of the Snowflakes.” In general, this is always one of my favorite parts of the Nutcracker, and the St. Louis Ballet was no exception. Between the beautiful costumes, and the dancing, I thought this was the highlight of the ballet.
The sets of the St. Louis Ballet were nothing spectacular, and were actually rather bland. Again, I realize the budget is probably pretty small, but they almost felt like something you would expect to see at a high school or college production, not the sets of a professional company. I found them to be pretty uninspiring, and they certainly didn’t add to my enjoyment of the performance.
I had mixed feelings about the Russian dance. They did a hoop dance, which may actually be more traditional to the Nutcracker than the Cossack dance, but I really prefer the Russian Cossack dance. This change of dance styles affected the costuming, which I also had mixed feelings about. The candy cane costumes were kind of charming, but they were covered in bells, which I found kind of fun and distracting at the same time. I never realized how much noise so many small bells could make when they’re all ringing together!
I did prefer the polinchelles in the St. Louis Ballet, even to those in the San Fransisco Ballet. Again, the costumes were charming–very colorful and fun. And the dance was also very playful and entertaining to watch. But, best of all, there was no Mother Ginger in this dance. For some reason, that’s the one, (and only!), thing in the San Fransisco Ballet Nutcracker that I don’t like. I much prefer the polinchelles on their own than accompanied by the giant circus tent skirted Mother Ginger.
I will say that the overall dancing in the ballet was a bit sloppy. The timing appeared to be off in many instances, and the quality of the dancing was second-rate compared to the San Fransisco Ballet. I guess I’m really comparing apples and oranges, but San Fransisco will always be what I use to measure other ballets, and in the end, as much as I enjoyed the St. Louis Ballet, it will never be as magical as the San Fransisco Ballet Nutcracker.