When George Balanchine choreographed in Hollywood during the 1930s and '40s, he utilized every kind of movie trickery--from fancy optical and editing effects to substituting a dance double for a non-dancing actor. His interest in how the camera could extend the fantasy of ballet affected even those sequences supposedly taking place on a theater stage.
Made a decade after his death, the stagebound "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" (movie review, F13) can't begin to suggest his creative fascination with film. Indeed, its origin and destiny are in television. The director, editor and others on the creative team work in the same style they pioneered on the PBS "Dance in America" series beginning in the mid-'70s, while the co-producers head a record company with a growing dance-video catalogue.
One hopes that the eventual Elektra laser disc (already mentioned in the film's credits) allows viewers to switch off the plot summaries spoken on top of the music by actor Kevin Kline. Unfortunately, it's too late to do anything about the music itself: a relentlessly fast, high-pressure performance led by David Zinman that doesn't resemble anything Balanchine sanctioned in his lifetime so much as the approach to Tchaikovsky that Peter Martins enforced in his production of "The Sleeping Beauty."
Local balletomanes with cable could see seven different productions of "The Nutcracker" last year on television alone. This version will do as well as any other for people who merely want a holiday dance-fantasy about a little girl with a big doll. For those with a taste for inspired choreography, however, it's pretty near the only choice.
Balanchine and Tchaikovsky, Balanchine and New York City Ballet: These are pairings that opened new chapters in dance history not so long ago. Led by the radiant Darci Kistler and the buoyant Damian Woetzel, the sunny, all-American principals here make it easy to see why.