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Nutcracker: The Story of ClaraGraeme Murphy, Kristian Fredrikson and the Australian Ballet


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#1 innopac

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 01:03 AM

I have just watched a dvd of a wonderful piece of ballet theatre called Nutcracker: The Story of Clara.

Nutcracker: The Story of Clara was choreographed by Graeme Murphy with Kristian Fredrikson as the designer. The dvd is of a 1994 performance of the Australian Ballet. It is now available in NTSC format through Qualiton. It is also available in PAL format from Australian sites.

Nutcracker: The Story of Clara tells the moving story, though memory and dream, of the life of an aging ballerina. As a child Clara is taken into the Imperial Conservatoire and then as a young woman she is accepted into the Imperial Ballet. Later, after the 1917 revolution, she joins the Ballet Russes and finally in 1940 - as a member of the De Basil Ballet Russe - she arrives in Australia where she is forced to remain when war breaks out.

When the ballet begins there is no dancing at all... first we see children playing out in the street on a hot summer's Christmas Eve in Australia, with Clara struggling home with her shopping. Once home she starts to prepare for the arrival of a her Russian friends and turns on the radio to hear Tchaikovsky's music and the memories slowly begin to come. And so it develops from here.

I will not comment on the choreography or the the quality of dancing and leave that for others better qualified than I. But I found this ballet a moving memorial to the past from the very beginning with its poignant evocation of the memories of migrants - memories of loss, love and joy. And it is truly a celebration of ballet... a ballet about ballet.

#2 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 09:32 AM

I found this ballet a moving memorial to the past from the very beginning with its poignant evocation of the memories of migrants - memories of loss, love and joy.

Thanks for this information, Innopac. I'm looking forward to get the DVD. I'm sure some of us relate to this story, and it makes perfect sense to place it in Christmas time, when the past and the memories of your homeland hunts you more than ever.

#3 bart

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 11:19 AM

Nutcracker: The Story of Clara tells the moving story, though memory and dream, of the life of an aging ballerina. As a child Clara is taken into the Imperial Conservatoire and then as a young woman she is accepted into the Imperial Ballet. Later, after the 1917 revolution, she joins the Ballet Russes and finally in 1940 - as a member of the De Basil Ballet Russe - she arrives in Australia where she is forced to remain when war breaks out.

Sounds like a very interesting story, and one which might have been based on the experience of a number of real-llife ballet dancers from that time and place.

I was wondering how such an elaborately detailed story is actually conveyed in terms of dance. Is the narration purely visual, or does it rely on non-dance elements? For example, how do we know the details of time, place, variious companies, etc.? Is there a voice-over? Are different scenes introduced by explanatory captions?

I ask this because, so often, narratives like this fall back on story-telling techniques that are essentially NOT danced, or by requiring you to read program notes which, in effect, tell you what you can't actually pick up by watching the dance. :bow:

#4 innopac

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 12:29 PM

Sounds like a very interesting story, and one which might have been based on the experience of a number of real-llife ballet dancers from that time and place.

I was wondering how such an elaborately detailed story is actually conveyed in terms of dance. Is the narration purely visual, or does it rely on non-dance elements? For example, how do we know the details of time, place, variious companies, etc.? Is there a voice-over? Are different scenes introduced by explanatory captions?

I ask this because, so often, narratives like this fall back on story-telling techniques that are essentially NOT danced, or by requiring you to read program notes which, in effect, tell you what you can't actually pick up by watching the dance. :bow:


This is not a production for someone who wants a traditional Nutcracker danced by POB with young dancers. We see Clara at three different ages and the aging Clara is performed by Dame Margaret Scott who was, at the time of recording, the 69-year-old founding director of the Australian Ballet School. Her Russian friends in Australia are performed by dancers who were 50+.

I would describe it as ballet theatre because there are a couple scenes without much dancing, where the dancers speak, where film is used... techniques that you don't find in traditional ballets. Kristian Fredrikson, the designer, was a real artist because the sets and costumes evoke the time and place so beautifully. I would be happy to type out the synopsis if that isn't breaking copyright law.

This ballet certainly wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea and because of that I hesitate to recommend it. I can only say that it moved me deeply. Cubanmiamiboy touched the centre of this ballet by writing "when the past and the memories of your homeland hunts you more than ever".

#5 bart

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 01:09 PM

Innopac, than you for your answer. I did not mean to suggest that there was anything wrong or inferior about performances which integrate dance with other forms of communication, and I apologize if this is how my questions came across.

What you describe sounds fascinating, and terribly moving. Especially since it reflects real experiences of dancers (and so many other artists) tragically uprooted by the dreadful political and cultural upheavals of the 20th century. This is definitely a dvd that I will be seeking out.

My questions were aimed, not at the kind of piece you are describing, but,at the kind of "dance theater" (sometimes callead "director's theater" in the opera world) which is only comprehensible to the audience membere with the aid of program notes.

Has anyone else come across this version of the Nutcracker story? It would be great to hear more about it.

#6 innopac

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 01:27 PM

Innopac, than you for your answer. I did not mean to suggest that there was anything wrong or inferior about performances which integrate dance with other forms of communication, and I apologize if this is how my questions came across.


No need for an apology Bart - I certainly didn't take your question that way. My response was dictated mainly by another post I have read criticizing the taking of a traditional work and "bastardizing" it. I feel in this particular case that the use of the music and references to the traditional Nutcracker give this work another level, partly because the Nutcracker ballet and music already mean something to us. If Murphy had used a newly composed score he would have lost that potential.

#7 volcanohunter

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 01:30 PM

For my part, I didn't object to the dance theatre aspects of the production, which I've only seen on video. However, I couldn't quite get used to the complete reordering of the score. Sure, I'm used to hearing Swan Lake rearranged every which way, but I've always thought of the Nutcracker score as pretty much perfect as written. I still have trouble getting used to the placement of the Sugarplum Fairy's variation in Balanchine's version, or his interpolation of music from The Sleeping Beauty, beautiful though it is. In Murphy's version the music is not at all in the familiar order, and for me it's strange to hear the lushest and grandest music from Act 2 being used for something other than the ballet's finale, so ultimately I found the production to be anti-climactic because of it.

#8 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 04:41 PM

For my part, I didn't object to the dance theatre aspects of the production, which I've only seen on video. However, I couldn't quite get used to the complete reordering of the score. Sure, I'm used to hearing Swan Lake rearranged every which way, but I've always thought of the Nutcracker score as pretty much perfect as written. I still have trouble getting used to the placement of the Sugarplum Fairy's variation in Balanchine's version, or his interpolation of music from The Sleeping Beauty, beautiful though it is. In Murphy's version the music is not at all in the familiar order, and for me it's strange to hear the lushest and grandest music from Act 2 being used for something other than the ballet's finale, so ultimately I found the production to be anti-climactic because of it.

I totally agree with you in the aspect of taking music liberties while rechoreographing a ballet. I do certainly have problems if i don't see the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing the "SPF PDD" adagio , but rather Clara in her nightgown, for what i've always considered a good to be respectful to both the choreography and the score, (and i know this is Ballet Talk, and not Classical Music Talk, but still), and that's why ( :) ) i've always had some problems accepting the "original" status of the 1895 Tchaikowsky-truncated Swan Lake production rather than the 1874 one :wink: )There, i finally said it!. But back to "The story of Clara", i haven't seen this DVD, but for what i've read , i believe this is not another "Nutcracker" production, but rather a theatrical work with incorporated dancing elements telling a complex story that takes the Tchaikowsky ballet as a centerpiece, powerful leid motif and inspiration.

#9 redbookish

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 11:46 AM

I saw this production in its first Sydney season live, and found the whole thing an entirely credible and refreshing reinterpretation of the Nutcracker. You have to realise, also, that there isn't the huge tradition of the Nutcracker at Christmas in Australia or the UK to the same extent as it appears to be in the US (from the evidence of this board and BT4D!). Indeeed, I rarely saw the Nutcracker in 20 years of dance spectatorship in Australia. - well, I saw it as frequently or not as any other ballet from the classical repertoire.

One of the very moving things about the opening scenes of the original season of Graeme Murphy's re-interpretation was the appearance of Dame Margaret Scott, then recently retired from her headship of the Australian Ballet School, preceded by a pioneering career as a dancer in Australia. A formidable woman (she taught my sister at the ABS & I met her a few times), but still an extraordinary performer and presence in Murphy's production.

Live, I didn't find the opening scemnes problematic in their dance content or ability to tell the narrative -- but I've never been the kind of spectator who expects a certain type of performance as "ballet." I appreciate the way choreographers like Murphy and Forsythe (and I'd put them together in what they do & the quality & originality of their work) are re-making ballet through a re-interpretation of the classical repertoire and vocabulary.

#10 innopac

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 10:50 PM

Found a review of Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker today and thought someone else might also find this interesting....

All the while Murphy's own eclectic but highly original idiom parallels the tessellation of events and influences in the plot he has so seamlessly grafted on to the music. If I have a slight grumble it relates to the musical consequences of that tesselation.... [The reviewer gives several examples here.]

And besides, the brutal cuts and reshufflings are par for the course in much more traditional stagings of the classics, as for example, Petipa's reformulation of the "Black Swan" pas de deux, and the D major skirls that, through the suppression of the G major intrada, usher in the grand pas de deux in Act III of The Sleeping Beauty. And what one allows to Petipa, one must allow to Murphy, a choreographer, in my opinion, of entirely comparable genius.

Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker by Rodney Stenning Edgecombe. Brolga. December 2002. Pages 23-32.



#11 bart

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 04:07 AM

There are two quite different points here:

And what one allows to Petipa,one must allow to Murphy

and

[ ... ] a choreographer, in my opinion, of entirely comparable genius.


I can't speak to the second point, not being familiar with Murphy's work.

But the first point ... (well) ... has a point. From a US perspective, Nutcracker is so entirely familiar and iconic that the work will certainly survive choreographic and musical manipulation, rearrangement, and even parody. The same with certain plays of Shakespeare. The only sad part would be if this were the ONLY Nutcracker available to an audience. And if, as happens with local productions here in the US, audiences were obliged to see it year ... after year ... after year ... without ever knowing the real thing.

#12 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 04:24 PM

And besides, the brutal cuts and reshufflings are par for the course in much more traditional stagings of the classics, as for example, Petipa's reformulation of the "Black Swan" pas de deux, (...) And what one allows to Petipa, one must allow to Murphy, a choreographer, in my opinion, of entirely comparable genius.

Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker by Rodney Stenning Edgecombe. Brolga. December 2002. Pages 23-32.[/indent]

Thank you.

The only sad part would be if this were the ONLY Nutcracker available to an audience. And if, as happens with local productions here in the US, audiences were obliged to see it year ... after year ... after year ... without ever knowing the real thing.

Good point, bart. But well, being the case that "The story of Clara" was the only Nutcracker reference that certain local audience could have access to, i guess we would be talking about the only town in America where there's not at least a little school performance of the "real thing", (and that would be another controversial topic, of how "real" some "classical" Nutcrackers are out there...). In that case, if NOTHING is offered, isn't it better to have the chance to see SOMETHING, even if it doesn't apply for "The Real Thing" title...?

#13 volcanohunter

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Posted 05 August 2008 - 09:30 PM

I've watched the ballet again recently. I've gotten over my shock at the re-ordering of the music, so I can honestly say that I enjoyed it this time around. And I see that Kultur will issue it on DVD on October 28.

http://estore.websit...ail.bok?no=1341

#14 volcanohunter

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Posted 09 August 2008 - 07:34 AM

The Story of Clara can now be pre-ordered at Amazon. The product code to be entered in the Amazon search box is B001E181X2.


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