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Nutcracker in DC

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I will be in DC over Thanksgiving and the Joffrey Ballet will be dancing The Nutcracker at Kennedy Center. It looks wonderful, but I can't find anything on BT about it. I know some of you have seen it - what's it like?

Also - is it a production a toddler would enjoy or is it simply inappropriate to bring a toddler to the Kennedy Center Opera House?

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It's a traditional production. The subtitle is "An American Nutcracker," and it has an American setting. I think the first act is especially good, and there are some excellent, Ballet Russe era social dances in it. (Always very well-performed when I've seen it.) The divertissements will depend on the cast you get, I'm sure -- there's a King of the Snow rather than a Snow Queen, lots of very colorful flowers, etc.

I'm not a parent, so I'm not the best to advise on toddlers. I think any child who isn't old enough to sit still for two hours is best left at home! But there's certainly nothing in this production that would frighten a child or offend his or her parent. There are lots of kids in the audience - and after the Nuts we've had the past few seasons, I think parents will be heaving one huge, audible sigh of relief for this one!

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Much depends on your particular toddler. Two hours of dancing (plus an intermission) is a lot for any youngster to sit through. If you can bring yourself to do it, you might have a fallback plan of leaving after Act I. The ending (with Clara and the Prince being waved offstage by the assembled Snowflakes and Snow Winds, as well as the Snow Queen, King, and Prince) works well as an evening-ender, and the child would be none the wiser. You, however, might regret the "waste" of money if you have to leave early.

(I'll be in DC, though, and if you'd like to pass off your ticket to me at intermission, I'd take your seat ... :P I'd offer to take the kid and let you stay, but even though we're all apparently friendly here at BA, that seems just a little TOO funky.)

As for the production itself, I couldn't be fonder of it. I think it's a great one to bring kids to. The first act party scene is very lush, the battle scene is crowded and hard to follow but exciting nonetheless, and the snow scene is quite magical. If your youngster does not like flashes or loud noises you might prepare them for the cannon shot during the battle, and the flash during the Nutcracker's transformation to the Prince (which is done very well and truly seems like magic).

Act II can drag in places -- I dislike the Arabian variation, which goes on too long, and even thought Waltz of the Flowers is gorgeous it has the potential to drag too -- but the other variations are exciting and short. Chinese, Spanish, and of course Russian are all quick crowd-pleasers. I happen to like the Prince's mime at the opening of the act, and it would probably be worth tipping off the kid ahead of time as to what he's doing. It could get lost as "just more dancing", but if the child knows ahead of time it's a recap they can watch for familiar bits. The corps serves as a sort of chorus during the mime, and their rendition of the mice -- fingers twitching in front of their mouths -- is hilarious. I happen to think that the Prince's lingering glance on Clara as he points to her, then his own shoe before miming its removal and use to conk the Mouse King is one of the glorious moments of the ballet -- seconded by the Prince's retelling of his own fall and triumphant rebirth. But, that's just me.

Something that would help a child of any age enjoy the production is to tell them what to expect, in terms of plot (if you can call it that) and characters. Let them know that some parts will drag, and it's okay to lie across your lap then (quietly), and promise to wake them for the exciting bits. Speaking of which, I forgot Mother Ginger, who is a huge puppet (made by Kermit Love of Muppets fame)! Her Polichinelles, who are the oldest child dancers, are also fun to watch. I also can't say enough about playing the music ahead of time. Recognition is a great tool for keeping a kid's interest. That might be a key to keeping them engaged through Act II.

Let us know what you decide, and let us know how it turns out if you go!

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Treefrog wrote:

Much depends on your particular toddler. Two hours of dancing (plus an intermission) is a lot for any youngster to sit through. If you can bring yourself to do it, you might have a fallback plan of leaving after Act I. The ending (with Clara and the Prince being waved offstage by the assembled Snowflakes and Snow Winds, as well as the Snow Queen, King, and Prince) works well as an evening-ender, and the child would be none the wiser. You, however, might regret the "waste" of money if you have to leave early.

My favorite Nutcracker performance, back in the days when ABT brought Baryshnikov's production for two weeks every year, was the matinee the day after Christmas, when the smallest children came, each bringing a toy that they thought might enjoy "Nutcracker." Once, I remember a small boy of about three, proudly handing the tickets to the usher and saying, in the loud, clear, confident voice of a future politician, "NEXT year I'm going to stay for THE WHOLE THING!!!"

One act is a good plan. I've once did an article about children's reactions to "Nutcracker," which involved accompanying the kids and a parent. Children under six tanked midway through the divertissement, the three year old screaming at the site of Sugar Plum and her cavalier. (I don't think she objected to them personally, just couldn't take one more pas de deux.)

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Thanks for all the advice. It sounds like a great production. I think we'll go - and fallback plan will be husband and son leaving after Act I leaving poor little me to 'sit through' Act II. :P:wub:

Treefrog - are you planning to support your local company and going to see them in DC? It would be great to meet you even if you aren't going to babysit for me!!

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Jury's still out on that one, but probably not. DD will surely want to go to two shows here (gotta see BOTH children's casts, with friends in each). On the other hand, she has a friend, a one-year transplant from Chicago to DC, who will be a Polichinelle in DC ....

Add to that the need to satisfy TWO extended families hungry for our company in a limited time frame ... plus a couple of friends from when we lived there ... and the likelihood diminishes.

But, I'll let you know if we do go. It would be fun to meet up.

Incidentally, Alexandra, the Joffrey used to do school matinées with just Act I. What a great idea to have a "family matinée"!

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FWIW, my then-almost-4-year-old niece barely made it through last year's local winter performance (one short work + abbreviated Act I + Act II) and was extremely squirmy at the end. She did much better at the spring performance.

Sooooo, much does depend on your particular toddler.

As for the Kennedy Center itself, there are many children at most matinees and, better yet, the place is huuuuuuge, so there are lots of places to escape _to_ with a child who has gone around the bend.

I'll be at the Sun matinee.

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It might be worth checking with the Kennedy Center before you buy the tickets to see if they have an age minimum for admission. I imagine they expect children at performances of Nuts but they may draw the line at babies. Just a thought.

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Ari posted these reviews on Links today. Did any Ballet Alertniks go? If so, please post your reactions (whether you went with kids or not :D )

The Joffrey Ballet performed its Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center in Washington last night.

It may feel too early for a Christmas party -- considering the Thanksgiving bird is barely out of the oven -- but the Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker," which opened a five-day run at the Kennedy Center Opera House last night, is always welcome in my book. It is steeped in values both moral and artistic. It is gorgeous to look at and brightly danced. It throws its arms open to the little children in the audience, and satisfies their parents, too.

And after several seasons of strange and misguided "Nutcrackers" -- those would be the Kirov, Bolshoi and American Ballet Theatre versions -- the Joffrey's wholesome, standard take on the 112-year-old ballet feels exceedingly fresh.

Robert Joffrey's version of "The Nutcracker," being danced by his company at the center this weekend, is crammed with charming nostalgic touches. Staging it was a labor of love, and it was the last ballet on which he worked before his untimely death.

Mr. Joffrey, who lived in New York City, haunted Greenwich Village shops for years, collecting antique dolls and toys for his own pleasure. He used some of them as inspiration for the quaint party scene of his first act.

    His staging of "The Nutcracker" was the first major version to be given an American locale; other versions were set in one European country or another, but Mr. Joffrey chose a Midwestern setting in the middle of the 19th century for his Victorian-era production.

    Now the country is awash in local settings. There is a Pittsburgh "Nutcracker" using the city's historic architecture, a "Nutcracker" with an American Indian setting, and one using Cincinnati as a locale. Coming up this year is a new Washington-based version by the Washington Ballet.

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I was surrounded by toddlers at the Saturday matinee. They were pretty well-behaved, and in any case it's part of the Nutcracker experience :D

Standouts at this performance were Julianne Kepley (Arabia), John Gluckman (China), and Jennifer Goodman (Sugar Plum Fairy). This was the first time I've seen Goodman dance, and I was captivated by her amazing balance, lightness, and artistry.

Another thing I noticed was that the dozen or so kids on stage were *very* well-trained in mime, step, turns (some en arriere!), etc. According to my program, their Ballet Mistress is Rhodie Jorgenson - one of the great teachers, from what I saw on stage.

I hadn't seen the Joffrey for quite a while, and this performance reminded me how much I missed them. I hope we can get them back to DC for other ballets, as well!

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I saw Saturday night's performance, and thought it was lovely! It's really a nice production, and I enjoyed the lovely sets and costumes and the livliness and energy throughout. Loved the ending with the balloon! Wonderful dancing by a number of soloists, particularly Julianne Kepley (Sugarplum), Masayoshi Onuki (Snow Prince), the dancers in the Arabian and Russian, April Daly and Masayoshi in Chinese, Maia Wilkins (Spanish), and Erika Edwards, a corps dancer who captivated me with her personality as well as strong dancing.

The children in the producition were brilliantly rehearsed by Rhodie Jorgenson and they were just wonderful!

My only problem with this production is the use of adult dancers as Clara and Fritz. It just doesn't work for me when the other children are "real" children, no matter how well the roles are danced or how small they are. They still just don't look like children when surrounded by children. Masayoshi was very good, but still, just not a child. As Snow Prince he was excellent. Stacy Keller also very good, but I still wanted to see a real child in that role.

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I'm so glad you liked Erica Edwards! I have been watching her for some time, and she always catches my eye with some little extra sparkle, presence, extension.

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Yes, she had a lot of things to do last night, and she caught my attention every time she was onstage. :D

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I went to the opening on Wednesday night & enjoyed the 'holiday experience' of this pretty production, replete with VERY well-rehearsed children. Many of the dancers were wonderful, e.g., Emily Patterson's slinky & slender Coffee from Arabia...Calvin Kitten's infectously 'obnoxious' Fritz (somebody get that 'kid' some valium!)...and the beautiful, promising Victoria Jaiani among the corps girls. It's too bad that the excellent, technically-strong ballerina who danced Sugar Plum that night was made-up to resemble, in her face, a Joan Rivers on pointe (I was in the front half of the Orchestra section; maybe she didn't look so grotesque from further back).

I enjoyed the 'American' toys in Act I that become larger versions in Act II, such as Clara's wooden hobby-horse becoming the large horse that carries her to the celebrations at the Land of the Sweets. This is a very rich, detail-filled production.

My Russian husband was surprised at the large use of children in this production, as the Russian tradition is to cast smallish-framed adults in the dancing children's roles. He was also fondly surprised to see a number of children in the audience who came 'in costume'! No...we're not in Moscow anymore!!!

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Just want to agree that the production was a joy, especially after last year's Kirov "dark" interpretation. The children were very well rehearsed, however am I the only one who thinks there were too many of them? My daughter and I felt the Party Scene was overcrowded and at times company dancers were obscured by the little ones.

Snow scene was magical, although we would have appreciated the fog lifting a little earlier to reveal the Snow Queen's feet. Thought the corps work was excellent -- precise and energetic. Emily Patterson as Arabian Coffee was a highlight in Act II.

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