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OBT's Balanchine Nutcracker


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#1 Watermill

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Posted 11 December 2003 - 11:33 PM

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

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 December 2003 - 03:52 AM

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?

#3 Watermill

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Posted 12 December 2003 - 02:31 PM

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!

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#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 December 2003 - 08:34 PM

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?

#5 sandik

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Posted 12 December 2003 - 09:21 PM

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.

#6 Watermill

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Posted 12 December 2003 - 09:49 PM

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!

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#7 Paul Parish

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Posted 13 December 2003 - 12:49 AM

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?

#8 Watermill

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Posted 14 December 2003 - 05:18 PM

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!

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#9 Dale

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Posted 14 December 2003 - 06:50 PM

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.

#10 Nyala

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Posted 15 December 2003 - 11:12 AM

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.

#11 Guest_WhenPigsFly_*

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Posted 15 December 2003 - 05:43 PM

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?

#12 Watermill

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Posted 15 December 2003 - 07:26 PM

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?

#13 Watermill

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Posted 15 December 2003 - 08:18 PM

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.

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#14 Watermill

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Posted 17 December 2003 - 04:31 AM

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,

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#15 sandik

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Posted 17 December 2003 - 10:01 AM

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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