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Culture news
Circus cracks 'the nutcracker'
06.18.2004 13:51

nutcracker E.T.A. Hoffman's tale "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," was written in 1816, while the Tchaikovsky ballet (itself based on a revision by Alexandre Dumas) dates from 1892. One of the first experimental readings of both the tale and the ballet was the controversial version put together by Mikhail Shemyakin for the Mariinsky Theater in 2001. Shemyakin, a sculptor and painter, paid attention not so much to choreography and music, but to visual effects, costumes and stage decorations.

Now comes a new production staged at the Circus on Fontanka, which premiered last week. Called "Krakatuk" after the nut in the tale this contemporary version turns the traditional "Nutcracker" on its head. Compared to Shemyakin's work, which challenged traditionalists' notion of what Tchaikovsky's ballet should be, "Krakatuk" is more radical and, at the same time, a more independent artistic undertaking.

Indeed, "Krakatuk" is not dominated by the traditional, ballet genre by being placed in the new context of the circus - but not only that. The show, much in the same way that the Canadian troupe Cirque de Soleil revolutionized circus in the West, represents something of a new genre. "Krakatuk" is a performance that lies on the borders of theater, circus, and ballet and which makes full use of new multimedia technologies.

The official "Krakatuk" web site states that the idea for the show came from Monaco's culture minister who suggested that producer Oleg Chesnokov make a show that mixed "great Russian ballet, theater and even circus."

That was in December 1998.

According to Chesnokov, the idea of combining "The Nutcracker" with circus, as well as the idea of inviting the well-established St. Petersburg director Andrei Moguchy, came later. In all, it took around 5 1/2 years to develop and realize the idea.

The troupe considers the main influence on the show's unusual form to be the theater and its conventions, which gives the performance a narrative and puts multiple tricks into context.

Going back to Hoffman's original Christmas story, with its world of toys, dreams, heroes, miracles, and transformations, fueled the artists' imaginations, prompting a wide range of artistic experiments with modern media. "The only thing unchanged will be the romantic old story," the troupe says on its web site.

But from the ballet "Krakatuk" obtains the soundtrack, on which a DJ remixes the Tchaikovsky score with electronic music by local musicians, and also the libretto, which, as in the original ballet helps you follow the story. Finally, to a lesser degree, the circus acrobatics seen in "Krakatuk" uses choreography itself - the main language of ballet.

Circus elements in the performance include acrobatic tricks on a superhuman scale that bring to "Krakatuk" a whole new dynamic dimension - theatrical action in three dimensions - which leads to a new level of emotional experience from the old story. Probably, the most interesting scene using circus methods is the attack and battle of army of the Mouse King against Masha's toys. Chesnokov said that "Krakatuk" is "a sort of response to the tendency of virtualization of contemporary life," and offers us, with its physicality an antidote to virtual reality.

Another, integral part of "Krakatuk" is its special effects. Some of them come from the circus, some from Moguchy who is well known, perhaps even notorious, for using them in his theater productions, and others from the uses of multimedia pieces and video art works by local video artist Alexander Malyshev.

Moguchy avoids anything that is banal or boring, his every step is balanced, and every scene is unpredictably and interestingly resolved by techniques from the circus, video art, ballet or all three together. The spectacle holds your attention through what is quite a long performance. In its interactions between traditional genres "Krakatuk" is a good example of how they can benefit from each other.

In this way "Krakatuk" is completely unprecedented in St. Petersburg, if not in Russia. According to its organizers, after its current schedule of daily performances, "Krakatuk" is not going be seen in St. Petersburg again for a long time because it is going on a Russian and then a world tour. So, catch it while you can.

"Krakatuk" is performed daily (except Monday) until July 4 at the Circus on the Fontanka (Fontanka, 3). Tickets from 50 to 1,300 rubles.


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