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Watermill

OBT's Balanchine Nutcracker

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Well, it took 49 years, but Mr.Balanchine's childhood memory has finally drifted over the Rockies and found a West Coast home. With Artistic Director Christopher Stowell shepherding the massive but well rehearsed cast, it looks like a happy home as well.

Having not seen this Nutcracker for many years, it held some suprises for me: The over balance of children's roles, the creepiness of Drosselmeier, some strangely passive choreography during some thrilling musical passages, the feeling that the ballet doesn't start until the Snowflakes appear, minutes before the end of the first act. Having watched Canfield's Nutcracker for 6 years, I'd have to give the first act to James, the second to Mr. B.

Gavin Larsen shone the brightest as Sugar Plum. She is an exquisite dancer who, if given the chance, could grow to major ballerina status. The pas was off and on due to some unfortunate partnering. Could be opening night jitters.

Yuka Iino a wonderful Dewdrop. I love it when a dancer makes such difficult steps look not only easy, but a joy to perform.

Kathi Martuza a splendid Marzipan, with such lively jetes. Can't wait to see more of her.

Alison Roper's Coffee very strong. Canfield handled this better.

Apprentice Magrielle Eisen kept catching my attention as a Snowflake.

The mixed company, apprentice and student corps was solid, well rehearsed and in need of polishing... which may or may not happen. Canfield would have had a fit. Don't know Stowell's style of "growing the show". Yet. We'll see how it looks Sunday.

I positively loathe the sets and backdrops by Peter Farmer. Ghastly colors, little artistry, distracting from, not serving the dance. And the show curtain that greets the audience prepares one for the crass commercialism of Rockettes, not the delights of George Balanchine's Nutcracker.

His costumes, however, are lovely. (With the exception of the Angels who are sacked with halloween-discount quality robes, plastic wings and Dee Snyder wigs.)

The orchestra played well under Niel Deponte's moderate tempi. The violin solo's difficult harmonics were well bowed by Lorely Zgonc. As I listened and watched the orchestra, I found myself saddened to know that audiences will be listening to taped music for five performances. Hopely that will change next year.

The audience, which was 75% full, loved it. It's going to be fine. Christopher Stowell has acheived his second important task: a crowd pleasing Nutcracker.

OBT is on it's way!

Watermill

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One of my big concerns with this ballet being transplanted was the technical aspect of it. That the "big music" (transformations) didn't seem filled by "stage magic" suggests a shortage thereof. How was the tech handled?

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The technical production was well done. The clock was spooky, the tree grew, the bed and boat floated around nicely, the sliding arabesque worked as well; it all came off without a hitch. If I take your question correctly, Mel, I was refering to some transitions that it appear Balanchine himself had not really lived up to. There's a horn driven crescendo that saw Marie asleep in her lazily floating bed. By contrast, in Canfield's version, that same music was the Nutcracker Prince's great arrival to save the day. It always received hearty applause. There were a few odd moments like that.

Anyone else go? Please share!

Watermill

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Not having seen the Canfield version, I'm sort of at a loss to know which moment you mean, but I can think of the moment when the "big" transformation happens and the stage changes from the parlor to the pine forest and the snow starts. That's got horns and trumpets doing fanfare-like things behind the melodic line on the strings. During this transformation, the Nutcracker Doll transforms, too, onstage, into a real boy, so is that where you mean?

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His costumes, however, are lovely.  (With the exception of the Angels who are sacked with halloween-discount quality robes, plastic wings and Dee Snyder wigs.)

Dee Snider? Oh my.

I have to say that I always thought the NYCB angels looked pretty architectural, though.

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Mel, the section I'm referring to happens earlier: Marie is floating around the stage asleep asleep in her porto-bed while Tchaikovksy is heralding the what sounds like the birth of the universe...later the Fritz/Nutcracker Prince transformation happens. Is it possible they moved things around? Not likely with the B-Trust in charge. At this point I'm as confused as you probably are. On Sunday I'll try to pin it down.

Sandik: there seems to be some latitude given to designers on copyrighted Balanchine material. These angels are very different from NYCB's. The cast is younger and cuter, however!

Watermill

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Did Fritz get to dance with his mom?

Did the Nutcracker=Prince cut the crown off the rat king and crown Marie with it? If so, did not that not seem important? Could they not sustain hte mood of wonder while hte bed swept around the stage and out into hte night?

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Sunday matinee: B cast. House 90% sold. Lots of families. Audience absolutely glowing with joy by the final bows. This Nut is going to fly, Orville!

Gavin Larsen, this time as Dewdrop, again the outstanding performance. Won't quibble about some minor things which should improve with more performances. I can see why Suzanne Farrell chose to work with her. There's a spirit to her dancing that shines from the stage to the depths of the auditorium. A total dancer. What a gift!

Finally getting to see more Kathi Martuza (Hot Chocolate solo). She displays an energy and quickness which should be emulated by not a few other cast members, whether company, apprentice or student. She dances it as if it were Balanchine and seems to know the difference.

Kester Cotton has a soft attack that just takes my breath away. He presented the least acrobatic and most "danced" Candy Cane I've ever seen. Feels the music: makes you feel the music. Mr. B would strongly approve, I think. Having seen Christopher Stowell as Puck in PNB's MND, I think there's a kindred spirit there. It should lead to some exciting collaboration.

Is it just me, or is it getting hot in here? Must be Tracy Taylor Brand Coffee, with that unmistakable hint of Canfield eros. Very nice.

Paul DeStrooper showing good partnering skills.

Yuka Iino not in the matinee.

There was little evidence of polishing, but with all the cast rotations, perhaps too much to ask for. Snowflakes seemed more together.

Apologies, Mel re the music referred to in my first post: it happens when the Nutcracker is wheeled on in the bed. It's still quite a passive moment compared to the power of the music. I think Balanchine may have been going against the current, letting the appearance of a life size Nutcracker Prince carry the magic of the moment. It just doesn't for me.

Paul: Yes to all your questions.

Hope to hear some other opinions!

Watermill

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There does appear to be allowences from the Balanchine Trust on things like costumes. I've been looking at photos from several different productions of Balanchine's Nutcracker and the costumes are different than the ones at NYCB (or even the older ones from photos of the original production). The costumes for the production at Penn Ballet are very soft.

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I went down to Portland for the opening night performance, grateful for an opportunity to see the "real" Nutcracker once again. I enjoyed it a lot and felt that overall OBT did a good job. I have seen the NYCB production many times, and I agree that the sets and curtain used here were rather undistinguished. The second act took place in more of a forest setting, rather than in the Land of the Sweets. My friend wondered whether or not this was a PC touch--a subliminal PSA: kids, don't eat too much candy! We also both thought that the star that appears in the final scene was a little too cruciform, sending an overtly Christian message that seems absent from the NYCB version (although, frankly I never saw that star in all those years of sitting up in the fourth ring; it came as a bit of a surprise to see it the first time I saw a performance from the orchestra). I wasn't that crazy about the costumes either, especially the muted palette of the second act.

I'm glad that I got to see one of the performances at which the orchestra played. I hadn't realized that there wouldn't be live music at all the performances. That is a real shame. I had attended OBT's October program and I felt that the taped music marred the performance of Rubies. I thought the orchestra sounded decent, though the tempi seemed a bit fast.

I liked Gavin Larsen. Her entrance as Sugar Plum was particularly lovely, though the variation seemed to lose momentum as it progressed. I thought Artur Sultanov had a nice manner, although he was technically a bit wobbly. I don't care for Yuka Iino. I had found her performance in Rubies to be very mechanical. She seemed to show a little more sensitivity to the music as Dewdrop, but it was just sort of a blah, reasonably competent performance. The moment where Dewdrop shoots down that diagonal, for example, had no real impact. I couldn't really make out any individuals in the corps, but there were several Snowflakes who danced very well. I also liked Larke Hasstedt as one of the lead Flowers.

I agree that the technical aspects proceeded without a hitch, but I think that because some elements of the set appeared to be scaled down, the impact of some of the great moments of the production was definitely muted. The tree, for example, was definitely disappointing. I kept expecting it to get bigger, but it just didn't. I also think that the moving bed did not come off as well as it should have either. I think that the vast expanse of the Keller Auditorium (which is very wide, much like the pre-McCaw Hall Opera House in Seattle) may have contributed to squashing the stage picture. I also was disappointed that they brought Marie and the Prince on and off in a Sleeping Beauty type of boat. The lack of the flying sleigh in the closing scene made the ending less magical.

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Saw the show for the third time...and watched the children this time. Loved the Marie on Sunday night; she was quite comfortable on stage and very animated whilst on her throne. How old is she? Does she attend OBT's school? Was there not a taller prince for her?

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Hello WhenPigsFly! Thanks for joining in. Get 30 posts logged so that you can send & receive private messages.

You must be refering to Macy Sullivan who has lots of sparkle. Yes, she is a student of OBT School as is the other Marie, the prodigious little jumper Katherine Minor. The height difference obviously was not a factor for those casting the role of the Nephew/Prince.

So what did you like about the rest of the production? Any favorite company members?

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Nyala, Welcome to Ballet Talk...How ab/fab that you make the trip from the Emerald City to watch the Rose City Ballet send forth some new buds. Your car should be called the Stowellmobile! Hope it gets 32 fouettes to the gallon...

You seem to be an ex-NYC ballet fan, too. I lived there from "75 -'96. Perhaps we share some performance memories.

I'm so glad you mentioned the need for live music. Sometimes I think I'm the only one who cares and it depresses me...

I understand your technical disappointments. Everything worked, but not in a high quality way. I think that this was the best they could do this year. The previous Nutcracker cost $1.3 million. This one cost .3 million. You DO get what you pay for...

Looking forward to hear what you think of Firebird.

Watermill

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Just thought I'd keep this thread fresh so other OBT fans will remember to log in with their thoughts. I'll be away til Jan 5 and not sure what my computer access will be.

I heard that Stowell has been rehearsing...it should begin to clean up nicely this week.

Come on... de-lurk and share your feelings about this historic premiere!

Flying out of the rain (19 days straight) and into the cold,

Watermill

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Sandik: there seems to be some latitude given to designers on copyrighted Balanchine material.  These angels are very different from NYCB's.  The cast is younger and cuter, however!

I've never seen one of the contracts for restaging a Balanchine work, but it's my understanding that the copyright extends to the choreography, and that issues of design are indeed up for negotiation. Pacific Northwest Ballet has many Balanchine works in its repertory, and (caveat -- this is off the top of my head) with the exception of the leotard works and Serenade they've all been redesigned.

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Yesterday I borrowed a "Mommy Van" and drove with friends and their three children to Portland to see the matinee performance of Balanchine's The Nutcracker. I've seen scores of performances by NYCB, and while some of my expectations for the ballet were revived and shaken up after seeing Suzanne Farrell's company dance "Waltz of the Flowers," most were formed by several decades of watching one company perform, with few exceptions, the same version of the ballet. I thought that the only question would be whether the dancers and ensembles of OBT were up to the roles, but I had underestimated what a new production on the West Coast would mean. At NYCB nearly every dancer from the children to the principals has seen the production, often for decades, has grown up or is in the process of growing up in the ballet, and has a context for each role. That is not true for the OBT dancers, only three of whose bios list School of American Ballet, two of whom studied in the summer program. They may all have been familiar with the film version, but the way the shots were assembled doesn't give a sense of ensemble, especially during the multi-faceted first act.

It was a revelation to see details that have been blurred over the years in NYCB's production and smaller parts danced as if they were jewels. I was especially impressed with the Act I party scene ensemble, from children to adults. (Especially the latter, who acted like engaged adults, albeit light-hearted ones, not like dancers on contract duty.) Artur Sultanov and Tracy Taylor played Dr. and Frau Stahbaum as charismatic, but young and lighthearted parents who had a life beyong their children. They were helped by the costumes; the men in white tie and the women in dresses that could have been transplanted from a production of The Merry Widow had they been black, the opposite of Karinska's stodgy costumes for the adults. That they were cast for their obvious dramatic gifts -- he was awarded "Best Character Dancer" upon graduation from Vagaonova Academy and her attention to detail is probably a reason she's also a Rehearsal Assistant -- was a mark of a very fine eye and a commitment to the scene as unified drama. (Usually the roles are cast as an anonymous revolving door of dancers who usually portray the parents, with varying dramatic success.) Taylor was the hostess with eyes in the back of her head, aware of all of the goings on around, and the gestures she used to summon the maid to pick up the hobby horse was reflected in the Sugarplum Fairy's gesture summoning the angels in Act II; there wasn't a gratuitous movement in her performance. Kevin Poe's Drosselmeyer was a combination of dignity and enchantment. While I like the slow, short waltz that Dr. and Frau Stahlbaum dance alone at the end of the party scene in Kent Stowell's production, I had forgotten how effective the same part is in the Balanchine version, where Frau Stahlbaum and Drosselmeyer say goodbye with a tinge of bittersweet tenderness as Marie and the Nephew also part, and in Taylor's performance, the sophistication dropped for a moment as a beloved uncle was appreciated.

The Snowflakes Dance had a lot of energy and sweep. Without the dated 50's Karinska costumes, the Petipa backbone of the piece was clearer. This was remarkable, since the corps girls run the gamut of shapes and sizes and training background, yet they still managed a sense of stylistic unity and precision. The dance really cleared the palate for Act II.

Conductor Niel Deponte kept the tempos brisk but musical, and never loosing the arc and sweep of the music. Concertmaster Lorely Zgonc played the Act I solo passionately. The OBT orchestra played the score as a shining orchestral suite, even in the second-to-last performance of the season, and not as a prison sentence.

Ansa Deguchi as Columbine was one of the soloists who danced the role as a precious gift. Her movements were very clear and finished; her performance was very bright. Tracy Taylor also danced Hot Chocolate, a role that is usually the "warm-up" for the rest of Act II, and she transformed the dramatic impetus and detail in her mime role as Frau Stahbaum into a dancing role in the second. Gavin Larsen started well as the lead Marzipan Shepherdess, with light and clear phrasing, but she started to stumble a bit, losing articulation in her feet, and to favor one foot. Louis Phillipe Dionne in the short role as Tea was light and full, but his costumer hurt rather than helped. What set them apart from other soloists was the fullness of their movement through their performances. And the four "girl" polichinelles each looked like a little dancer, not just like a very talented student.

Before Act II there was an announcement hat Kathi Martuza, who had also been listed as a snowflake, would be replaced by McKenzie Fyfe as Coffee. Fyfe, who makes Wendy Whelan look zaftig, has looooong legs, which she used to fine effect to create images, but not shapes. Her performance was more light than sensuous. She was also helped by the costume, long pink harem pants.

Two of the male performances were disappointing, because both were danced small: Karl Vakili's Candy Cane, the least dynamic one I've ever seen, started out with an unusual lightness, but then just seemed to run out of steam. Paul DeStrooper invested Cavalier with fine mime moments, like his graciousness to the Sugarplum Fairy and to the children, and his landings were very light. But most of his dancing was not fully stretched and complete, and in places it almost looked marked.

I have mixed feelings about Yuka Iino's performance as Dewdrop. While she has terrific technique -- for example, in her fouettes, her thigh is at a 90 degree angle and fully turned out after the "whip" -- and a light style, there wasn't much weight to her performance. She really was like a drop of dew, a little flourish sitting delicately on the flowers. My first thought was that I was just used to tall dancers in the role, but checking the list, I found Heather Watts, Lisa Hess, Melinda Roy, Kelly Cass, and Margaret Tracey among the Dewdrops I've seen, and while none of them are tall dancers, they didn't dance like small dancers. And I'm comparing her to the "stage eaters" in Suzanne Farrell's Ballet, Bonnie Pickard and Shannon Parsely. Iino seemed happy enough to be dancing the role, but she didn't seem to be taking her place as the center of the dance, and she didn't seem to "need" to be there.

Alison Roper's Sugarplum Fairy started out very strong, with a beautifully articulated variation. She has superb feet, with a high arch, but since they are a bit "hoof-like" and she is very muscular, she looses a bit in length and line. (She also does supported pirouettes with her foot crossing her thigh above the knee, I position I don't like very much.) In the variation and the solo parts in the pdd coda, this wasn't an issue, because of her energy and clarity of movement. In the pas de deux and the reprise, this became more obvious. As she started the pas de deux, she could have been the poster child for presenting the foot, which never seemed to stop stretching. She also had wonderful amplitude in the supported developees that open the pdd, again always extending. But as it went on, she became more contained and she lost the sense of contraction and expansion in her phrasing.

I would love to see more of Roper, though, and hopefully she'll be cast prominently in the Facade/Duo Concertante/There Where She Loves/new Julia Adam ballet program in May 2004, because her high points were very high. And my friend Peter, who sees ballet only occasionally was entranced by the pas de deux; every half hour or so on the way back, he would wonder at the emotional tug it had for him.

Balanchine could use the "big" music counterintuitively, examples are when he gave the big, sweeping music from Raymonda and the second reprise of the theme in the fourth movement of Serenade to the corps couples. In the NYCB production during what I think is the most beautiful part of the score, the Nutcracker walks through the giant French doors at the back of the stage and gestures for Marie to follow, as the scenery sweeps away, the huge tree is lifted into the wings, and Marie is alone on the vast stage being moved around in her bed. When the forest appears, it seems to fill the stage quickly from all directions, a world first voided and then transformed. To me these have always been a moving images, but the scene didn't work so well at Keller Auditorium on this set. First, I don't even remember where the Nutcracker left, but it wasn't upstage center, and he wasn't the focus of attention. Second, the tree and the sets, while much more realistic-looking, weren't as dwarfing and kind of faded into the flies and wings. And at the end of the music the snow forest appears, it drops slowly from the flies. No magic at all.

The sets were rather dark, but I was happy not to see Ruben Ter-Arutunian's candyland confection on the sets for Act II. For a production done on the relative cheap, except for the transformation scenes in Act I, I was happier to see the money spent on the costumes. There were a lot of ideas and energy invested in their design, and in some dances, transformed the look of the dance for the better: costumes for the adults in Act I, snow flakes, harem pants and no ankle bells for Coffee, the cotton candy blue bodices turning to cotton candy pink tulle skirts for the Flowers, a lovely contrast in green for Dewdrop, beautiful light silks for the "Parisian" Shepherdesses instead of those hideous, fabric-less pink and yellow wire "tutus" over corsets that Karinska designed, and the lovely pink tutu for the Sugarplum Fairy. The dresses for the polichinelle girls were also very lovely and detailed. On the whole, the costumes enchanced the choreography, which is why when Farmer failed, it was all the more distressing.

It seems that Farmer found metalic fabric in copper -- the kind used so effectively by Karinska as underlayers for the skirts in Hot Chocolate -- and used it for the angels costumes, which were gaudy. The angels also wore wigs that I can only describe as long blond nightmare hair, tightly waved and about to frizz into Pirlipat hair at the first sign of humidity. Pretty scary. For some reason, the Candy Canes were dressed as French circus performers. Candy Cane was dressed in beige tights with rolls, and the little gymsuit-like bloomers on the corps were unfortunate: the girls were clearly in the teenage awkward stage, and they looked like they were in a local year-end dance recital. I think Farmer's biggest issue had to do with pants; the harem pants in Coffee were the exception that proved the rule. He doesn't seem to like them. While it does make some thematic sense to dress the Act I Soldier doll, the Nutcracker, the little Prince, and the Cavalier in tights, not pants, the Nutcracker/little Prince looked naked, especially during the battle and the mime scene in Act II. The stiffness of the soldier doll choreography was countered by seeing the preparation in the dancer's legs. The Candy Canes' legs needed to be covered. Unfortunately, the ones he designed for Tea -- billowing to the knee, then tapering -- obscured the dancer's line in the wonderful split jumps he does twice in the downstage right corner. But Farmer did give the mouse pants of a sort, albeit made of fur!

The company, stager Elyse Borne, and children's stager Darla Hoover really earned their stripes. I really look forward to seeing more of OBT.

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Um, I have performed in Balanchine's Nutcracker and probably will this year, and I have danced the role of a girl polichinelle. I like others just love the blue dresses and the striped silky capri like bloomers, the peach boy polichinelle outfits aren't as cute. I thought all candy canes wore the white pink-and-green striped outfits with bells?

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If they're not using the Karinska costumes, then they could be dressed in anything.

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