Alice Mariani and Navrin Turnbull © Brescia-Amisano, Teatro alla Scala

Nureyev’s The Nutcracker is back at La Scala

The most psychoanalytic version of the beloved classic is revived in Milan after sixteen years


After Nacho Duato’s version drew sharp criticism and some were not convinced by George Balanchine’s one (even in a new production with sets and costumes by Margherita Palli), La Scala decided to bring back on stage Nureyev’s psychoanalytic version of The Nutcracker this holiday season. With no surprise, in a way, considering the company director Manuel Legris’ Parisian background.

Alice Mariani (center) © Brescia-Amisano, Teatro alla Scala

Nureyev’s first version of this festive favourite was not created in Paris, actually. The première of his new production was held in Stockholm back in 1967, and the ballet was restaged in London, Milan, Buenos Aires and Berlin before landing on its final version at the Paris Opera in 1985. Watching it in Paris at the Opera Bastille, in fact, is an enveloping experience – I have always loved seeing this ballet performed by the French dancers with Nicholas Georgiadis’s sumptuous decor which contrasts with the stunningly modern architecture of Bastille.

La Scala’s production is quite similar to the Parisian one. Georgiadis’s sets are often identical; there’s just some details missing, such as the giant masks that look like caricatures of Clara’s parents and relatives, and a few costumes are different.

As everyone knows, Nureyev gave his Nutcracker a Freudian dimension: with Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer and the prince danced by the same dancer, the story becomes a sort of coming-of-age tale in which Clara herself dreams of her ideal man, resembling Drosselmeyer. And it definitely seems as if Nureyev moved away from Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 adaptation of the novel, clearly more similar to an idyllic Christmas tale, to take inspiration from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s shadowy short one, published in 1816 in Berlin – Clara’s dreamlike adventure develops into a projection of the fantasies of an adolescent girl who is ready to leave her childhood, somewhat racked with guilt by her budding female desires.

All this was evident in First soloist Alice Mariani’s performance. As Clara, she is overly playful at the beginning of Act One, when her demeanour may look too childish, yet her sense of wonder in the winter garden, when the nutcracker takes on the appearance of a prince, is ravishing. Mariani is a vibrant and glamourous performer and has a wide range. Moreover, she is a solid technicienne: in Act Two pas de deux she sets the bar high, moves her arms with gentle rigor and dances her tricky variation with solid precision, holding the poses as in a picture and impressively mastering the complex and intricate manège.

Soloist Navrin Turnbull is a promising presence in the double role of Drosselmeyer and the prince. He is an ardent actor but at times emotion seems to make him lose strength when partnering Mariani: it’s hard to hold the arabesque at the beginning of the grand pas de deux, as an example, and his dancing has joy and enthusiasm but hasn’t always consistency and sprightly qualities.

Alice Mariani and Navrin Turnbull © Brescia-Amisano, Teatro alla Scala
Nicoletta Manni and Nicola Del Freo © Brescia-Amisano, Teatro alla Scala

Just a couple of nights later there is sparkle also in First soloist Nicoletta Manni’s dancing. She looks a more mature Clara in Act One, even though there is no much oneiric amazement in the snowy winter garden, and in the final pas de deux she gracefully executes delicate balances and controlled turns. Someone in the audience whispers she would just need to be slightly less glacially correct and more warmly involved. However, she can bring a real sense of control and sheer exactitude to the role.

Her prince is First soloist Nicola Del Freo. His appearance and attitude are more similar to the ones of a Conan Doyle’s villain, and this makes him an ideal Drosselmeyer, in a way. As the prince, then, he has a slightly ambiguous charm that gives a different reading to the role, maybe unwittingly: is Clara having a good dream or a nightmare? In Act Two, as the show goes along, Del Freo increasingly becomes more similar to your typical fairy-tale hero. He looks tense in the adagio of the pas de deux; he is definitely better in his vigorous variation.

The performances boast a hard-working supporting cast. Soloist Alessandra Vassallo gorgeously moves in the Arabian dance. The corps depicted the whirlwind and softness of snowfall to good precision.

By Alessandro Bizzotto