Movies & Videos
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

    Related Item
‘George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker’

By Susie Linfield
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 24, 1993


Emile Ardolino
Macaulay Culkin;
Darci Kistler;
Kyra Nichols;
Wendy Whelan
General audience

Marketplace Online Shopping

Compare prices
for this movie

Find local video stores
WP yellowpages
More movie shopping

Save money with NextCard Visa

Is there a child anywhere in America so stupid that, when watching a close-up of a little girl lying in bed with her eyes closed, must be advised by a narrator that the character is sleeping? Evidently the producers of "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" think so, and their imposition of an inane narration on this ballet was their first mistake.

Or, rather, their second. The first blunder -- in artistic, if not commercial, terms -- was the casting of 13-year-old superstar-superbrat Macaulay Culkin as the Nutcracker Prince. It's not so much that he can't act or dance; more important, the kid seems to have forgotten how to smile. From his very first close-up, in which he should gaze shyly but adoringly at the film's heroine, Marie (Jessica Lynn Cohen), we know that something is amiss: All little Mac can muster is a surly grimace. He certainly could not have been thinking of his reported $8 million salary.

Balanchine's version of "The Nutcracker" is essentially a fairy tale about a young girl's romantic awakening, and the Nutcracker Prince must therefore be both heroic and gentle. At a Christmas Eve party, Marie is given a nutcracker by her magician godfather and meets his nephew. Later, in a dream, the Nutcracker (who is also the nephew) metamorphoses into a prince by saving Marie from a many-headed Mouse King and, in Act 2, takes her to the Land of Sweets. Twelve-year-old Cohen is a naturalistic and relievedly unsaccharine Marie, but it is clear that, in falling for this Nutcracker, she is a smart girl who has made her first foolish choice. This is decidedly not what Balanchine had in mind.

Still, Wordsworth urged us to treasure "what remains behind." And in this version of "The Nutcracker" -- directed by Emile Ardolino ("Sister Act"), who died of AIDS a few days before the film's release -- there's plenty: Balanchine, Tchaikovsky and an invigorated-looking New York City Ballet.

Tchaikovsky's soaring score and Balanchine's choreography (especially in the "pure dance" section of Act 2) are hard to ruin even by commercial pandering, which is perhaps what we mean when we say these men were geniuses. Ardolino, an original producer of PBS's "Dance in America" series, generally has the good sense to leave the camera in one place and let the audience view the action from a wide perspective, much as it would in a live performance. And despite reports from various critics about the diminished dancing of the NYCB in the past few years, the corps -- especially in the "Snowflake" and "Waltz of the Flowers" scenes -- looks strong, fresh and in perfect sync.

Kyra Nichols makes for a gracious, crystalline Dewdrop. Most of all, though, there is Darci Kistler -- whom many consider the best dancer of her generation -- as the Sugarplum Fairy. Like Allegra Kent and Gelsey Kirkland before her, Kistler now embodies the Balanchinean ideal of a romantic, seemingly fragile beauty combined with a technique of almost startling strength, speed and knifelike precision.

Word has it that the men behind this production added the narration (recorded by Kevin Kline) because they feared the story was confusing. But all beautiful things are complex and mysterious. Anyone wondering about the meaning of "The Nutcracker" need only focus on Kistler's arms and hands whenever she's on screen; they tell you everything you need to know about simplicity, grace and magic.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top

Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar