"THE NUTCRACKER" (1977): A MOVIE REVIEW
by Dane Youssef
"THIS NUTCRACKER SHINES BRIGHTEST, LIKE THE SUN"
Perhaps the best interpretation of "The Nutcracker" ever made. Baryshnikov's finest hour. And as even the most ballet-ignorant know, that barre' is set pretty high.
I have seen Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in the much-praised chick-flick "The Turning Point." And I have seen him dance his own interpretation of "Don Quixote." Good. Great, even. But not as much as fellow Russkie ballerino Nureyev's stab at "Quixote." And I have seen much more of him dancing. The man defies gravity, as well as many other laws. A ballet dancer, in the country of America, has been treated like a movie star. But this may very well be his best work, artistic-wise.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is man who hardly needs an introduction, as he is a man who is synonymous with ballet. The man is a household name, Baryshnikov is at his best here, which is more than difficult, even for him. Celebrated USA ballerina Gelsey Kirkland (who was a regular partner and even girlfriend of dear Misha at the time) actually proves to be a credible match. And even takes it to a higher level than he does in HER solo scenes.
This was the first "Nutcracker" I've ever seen. I have seen several interpretations of "The Nutcracker" since then, and this one still stands as the best of the lot. There are no real children in this cast. The children's roles are played by adults in adolescent-looking wigs.
The idea to make this a movie rather than a live stage piece kind of works. It allows for more visual effects than a straight live piece would have.
There is a moment where Ms. Kirkland dances a solo all by herself, that sequence actually left be breathless. When she shakes her pointed feet like bells, the music jingles in pitch-perfect sync. She doesn't seem to be following the music at all. The music seems to be following her.
It's so beautifully and perfectly done, that as someone who takes ballet and has danced on the stage, that it actually hurt to watch.
The day that I can move as gracefully and exquisitely (on her worst day, I mean) may never come. Kirkland actually, in that one scene, manages to steal the movie away from Baryshnikov. Baryshnikov's leaps, turns, jumps and pirouettes are as breathtaking as always, and somehow never seem to get old. Misha's striking presence and Peter Pan-like mobility just.. well, makes you want to get up and dance. Or just jump around. He doesn't so much leap as much as soars.
Baryshnikov puts some little touches of humor here and there. There's a lovable old man at the Christmas Party who attempts to dance and hurts himself, as well as a toy soldier who stubs his toe. Baryshnikov has always seemingly had the soul of a child and the heart of a clown.
The Arabian Coffee Dance has been deleted for running time, I'm sorry to say. As has Mother Gigogne. Not to mention The famed "Waltz Of The Snowflakes" is a powerhouse, the ballet corps sway to the music so beautifully, for the briefest moment, we actually forget about Baryshnikov and Kirkland.
Is Baryshnikov trying to give himself more screen time, Clara or the ballet itself? Alexander Minz proves to be invaluable as a supporting player in the role of Drosselmyer. I was reminded of Fred Astaire. He moves around with his long, willowy limbs in a way that seemed almost inhuman. I seriously doubt ever got half the credit he deserved throughout his life.
He had an effective, amusing cameo in "The Turning Point." Baryshnikov continues to prove time and time again what we already know--the greatest ballet dancer of any generation will always be a Russian.
The choreography is riveting, some of the best I've ever seen. Although, the honor for "World's Greatest" go to "Singin' In The Rain." Maybe the Russian could put dances together now. He's reportedly a great teacher of dance as well.
While many of the special-effects look a bit outdated, it remains a riveting experience. After all, most ballet movies are just filmed dancing and this one takes the effort to actually be something of a movie.
The acting is not much, nor is there as much plot as is traditional, a as this "Nutcracker" focuses more on the dancing and music. The pyrotechnics (the dancer's rapidly-moving muscular limbs and the way they and the music truly gel).
Despite Mr. Baryshnikov in the title role and given prominent first billing, the star of "The Nutcracker" is Gelsey Kirkland as Clara, as this is all Clara's story.
Many movies have attempted to translate this legendary dance story to the screen, usually with disastrous results. For example, the mistake the 20th Century Fox movie "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" made was if they were going to made the ballet into a movie, they should have done something for the movie that they couldn't do for a live production. Alas, they did not. It moved so slowly and the whole movie was so badly-lit, it looked like somebody boot-legged the whole thing with a camcorder.
The solo duets are just as enjoyable. The dancers, are in fact, so good that they almost threaten to outdo the leads.
It's a beautiful story, more with flair and style in it's depth. It's a revised fairy tale.
When Misha and Gels prance together, their body movements almost in perfect parallel... it's beautiful and breath-taking. They seem to be connected internally somehow. These are two people... brought together by dance. It's every little girl's dream... and that's exactly what the "Nutcracker" should be.
--For Baryshnikov, "The Nutcracker" and Ballet Itself, Dane Youssef