Behind the scenes of the “Nutcracker” ballet at the Palais Garnier

A wooden soldier whose crooked jaw serves as a nutcracker

Behind the scenes of the “Nutcracker” ballet at the Palais Garnier

A wooden soldier whose crooked jaw serves as a nutcracker. Leaning against a mirror in a studio at the Palais Garnier, in Paris, Wednesday November 22, this funny toy, which gave its name to the famous classical ballet, is waiting for its turn to waltz. Three entrechats later, in the arms of Inès McIntosh, 21 years old, principal dancer of the Paris National Opera, who takes on the role of young Clara, he soars, flies and transforms into a fiery, charming prince crazy in the teenager's imagination.

This initiation story, inspired by a fantastic tale by Hoffmann, has become, since its creation in 1892 by Marius Petipa, the favorite choreographic Christmas log of the public, particularly Anglo-Saxon. With its mountains of gifts around the tree, its rounds of excited children, its snowstorms and other exotic delicacies, The Nutcracker, to the music of Tchaikovsky, remains a spectacular summit that is passed down from dance school. “I played one of the little girls in the ballet when I was 12, and it’s a very beautiful memory,” says Inès McIntosh. Today, I dance Clara and I really like the journey she takes from childish naivety to the discovery of the first romantic feelings. »

In the “psy” version imagined in 1985 by Rudolf Nureyev, the treat that is usually the Nutcracker is spiked with acidity. Between illusion and nightmare, enormous rats appear, while hydrocephalus bats resembling Clara's parents disturb her sleep. Hello, Dr. Freud? “Nureyev’s vision is very interesting, with two possible registers,” underlines José Martinez, dance director of the Paris Opera. One works great for kids; the other, for adults. »

Double hero

As in most of his rereadings of classic monuments, Nureyev portrays a dual hero. Here, Clara's magician and godfather, old Drosselmeyer, takes on the features of the prince in the girl's dream: he is performed by the same dancer, who passes in the space of two hours from the age of 80 well dented at 20 all costs. “The dual role of Drosselmeyer and the prince makes for exciting work of theatrical composition,” Martinez continues. As for Nureyev’s well-known technical requirement, it is here, according to him, “particularly strong”.

This combination of acting and pure virtuosity proves to be a pursuit of high intensity. Six castings are on display for the two characters. On all floors of the Palais Garnier, things get hot, people jump, they grit their teeth, they put work back on the job, they sometimes laugh. For eight out of twelve soloists, this Nutcracker is a “first time.” This is the case of star dancer Paul Marque, partner of Inès McIntosh. In the Franchetti studio, ridiculously tiny for its size, he seems on springs as he races through a circle of great, impeccable jumps.