The first video (1968) portrays a classic version featuring the phenomenal Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev as the Nutcracker Prince and the very great Merle Park as Clara. At the time, they were both dancing for the Royal Ballet of London. Her performance in The Nutcracker earned her international acclaim and assured her a place among history’s greatest ballerinas.
What I appreciate about this flawless performance, in addition to its beautiful choreography (by Nureyev) and emotional quality, is the athleticism and laser precision of the dancers.
The second video (1977) is Mikhail Baryshnikov’s version for American Ballet Theatre in which he performs with Gelsey Kirkland. It created a sensation when it was presented at the Kennedy Center in 1977. This highly artistic and deeply psychological interpretation adds all kinds of novel elements. For one, he puts Clara in the pas de deux, whereas in other versions she is merely a spectator of this dance. Then he also adds Herr Drosselmeyer into the dance, which adds all kinds of layers of meaning and a novel dimension, really creating a pas de trois!
With its fluid choreography and drama, and the wispy costume and flowing coiffure of the delicate Ms. Kirkland, the intensely emotional, dream-like performance is full of mystery and beauty, conjuring up all kinds of musings about love, coming of age, strength and vulnerability, and even desire and sensuality. (The pas de deux begins at 3:43 in this video.)