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sandik

Nutcracker Reports

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Many of us will be seeing Nutcrackers soon and I thought it might be interesting to have a spot where we could talk about them together, rather than separately in threads for different companies. This might not be the right place to put if -- if not, could a moderator please move this thread -- but let's compare notes. Whose are you seeing, what did you like about it, what did you think was distinctive about it, what do you think it could be doing differently?

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Amongst all the hubbub here about the incoming artistic director, current director and choreographer Kent Stowell will be performing Drosselmeyer a few times during the run, including the opening performance this weekend.

I know that Nutcracker often has a plethora of guest performers -- in Seattle we've had local celebrities (including sports figures) as parents during the party scene. What kind of special guests does your local Nut include?

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Thanks for starting this, Sandi -- I hope some of our shy Frequent Posters will chime in!!

DC has about 79 Nutcrackers (give or take a baker's dozen) at last count. Two biggies are the Joffrey Ballet's, which opens Wednesday at the Kennedy Center, and a brand new production by the Washington Ballet. Haven't heard of any guest stars yet. One might think that some enterprising Senator (or ex-Senator) might want to take the part of Drosselmeyer -- How about Senator Byrd of West Virginia? But no one ever does.

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Marcello Gomez is guesting with Houston Ballet. He'll be dancing opposite Kelly Myernick (Snow Queen) and Mireille Hassenboehler and Sara Webb (Sugar Plum Fairies).

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It would be great to see Marcelo and Sara together again. I do not think they have danced together in 10 years since their graduation from Harid in 1995! It should be a very special show!

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One of the many Nutcrackers in the D.C. area is being presented by Abigail Francisco School of Classical. This Nutcracker will star Sascha Radetsky, soloist with ABT, as the Cavalier & Stephanie Walz, soloist with Maximum Dance Company, as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

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I saw Boston Ballet's Nutcracker this weekend at the Colonial Theatre which is less than half the size of the Wang (their usual theatre). I felt like it was also half the performance. What a disappointment. It was sparse, choppy and sterile. It didn't flow very well, with awkward pauses scattered throughout the second half. And for some reason they cast a fully grown male and female to play the roles of Fritz and Clara. I know some ballet companies do that but I don't know why. Clara and Fritz are supposed to be children and they looked ridiculous next to the actual children who played their peers in the party scene. Fritz was a foot taller than the other party boys and I felt embarrassed for him. Hopefully it will improve when they move in the new bigger venue next year.

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Thanks for these -- and welcome, greyhound!

Georgia, I've been curious about the Boston Ballet's new "Nutcracker" -- I agree with you about adults playing kids. Especially when you have real kids next to them, I think it looks silly. How was the second act?

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The second act was as disappointing as the first act. They have been advertising the new choreography all fall but all I noticed is how sparse it looked. They had fewer dancers in the snow and flower scenes, which, for some reason, made it seem less professional. There were uncomfortable pauses between scenes that made me think that someone wasn't ready, but who knows. I feel bad, like kicking them when their down, but they really need to do better if they are going to compete against the Rockettes. The dancers seemed like they were on autopilot. The Sugarplum Fairy was flawless. The Dewdrop Fairy was annoying for some reason. My daughter (a young dancer) thought she had "no form." Arabian and Russian were excellent, they were the highlights of the night and big crowd pleasers. The Nutcracker has BIG competition from the Rockettes for the first time this year and I think they have their work cut out for them.

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Thanks! The pauses may be just part of the settling in process, and the dancers may look more engaged, too, when they've had a few performances. Fingers crossed!

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It would be great to see Marcelo and Sara together again. I do not think they have danced together in 10 years since their graduation from Harid in 1995! It should be a very special show!

Hopefully if someone here sees that cast they'll report back to tell us how it went! I won't be able to catch them dance (I'll be out of town again), but I might get to see him with Mimi.

Quoted from Houston Chronicle:

"He's a generous partner, and I thought he and Mimi would make quite a power couple.  She's just returning from surgery, so it's nice to have him here to help give her a big 'arrival.'  He does his final set of shows with Sara, which will be fun for them because they've known each other a long time." [Welch]

HB Nutcracker Casting

A few corps girls will have the opportunity to dance leading roles. Lisa Kacsmarek will be the Sugar Plum Fairy for one matinee performance, and Bridgett Zehr, Jaquel Charlesworth, and newcomer Nao Kusuzaki, who I have yet to see, will be Snow Queens.

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And for some reason they cast a fully grown male and female to play the roles of Fritz and Clara.  I know some ballet companies do that but I don't know why.  Clara and Fritz are supposed to be children and they looked ridiculous next to the actual children who played their peers in the party scene.  Fritz was a foot taller than the other party boys and I felt embarrassed for him.  Hopefully it will improve when they move in the new bigger venue next year.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's production walks a middle path, with a child Clara in the first act, and an adult in the second (who gets the Sugar Plum Fairy music). The child comes back at the very end, when she wakes up from her dream.

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The Stevenson production casts adults in the role of Fritz and Clara. Some dancers can be quite convincing as children; usually the shortest dancers are cast in the parts. Sometimes it's intended that Clara is portrayed on the verge of womanhood, as she is in the HB, Royal Ballet, and Baryshnikov Nutcrackers.

I do agree, though, that I prefer seeing actual children in those roles.

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I'm jumping on the bandwagon against adults playing children, too. It rarely works. But what really drives me up a wall is Drosselmeyer appearing after the transformation. Don't people read the background when they stage these things? The Nutcracker is a doppelganger for Drosselmeyer, and when the scene transforms, he's supposed to be changed into the Nutcracker Prince.

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Don't people read the background when they stage these things?  The Nutcracker is a doppelganger for Drosselmeyer, and when the scene transforms, he's supposed to be changed into the Nutcracker Prince.

No.

They don't.

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It must be a struggle to come up with something new to say about a production a critic has been reviewing for decades, like Balanchine's Nut (or Swan Lake, for even longer)....

Jack Anderson makes an admirable effort:

Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard were the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier who presided over Friday's festivities. Ms. Kowroski made the simple raising of an arm a sign of regality. And when she lowered it, the action was proof of the Sugarplum's benevolence. In the pas de deux, she and Mr. Askegard let phrase after phrase of movement flow forth in a steady stream of lyricism.
- Mon, Nov 29th NY Times.

Even fresh talent... I mean, after all, how different can the umpteenth - no, make that umptieth - Sugarplum interpretation be? There's a trivia question... how many different Sugarplums has NYCB had?

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Just to comment on Georgia's response to the Boston Ballet Nutcracker. I, too, was a bit disappointed with the Nut this year. I really loved the scenery they were able to use at the Wang. I do feel that the scenery was a bit sparse, however one must understand that the Colonial Theatre is a much, much smaller space than the Wang. Even just a bit of scenery takes away the dancing space for the dancers. The choreography in the second act was actually almost the same as last year's. They just had to pare down the numbers because of space. We must also take into consideration that this a new stage for the dancers. My daughter, who dances with the company, says even the lighting was so different from the Wang that it has made a difference in the dancers' approaches to their dancing. I do believe that this week we will see an improved Nutcracker because the dancers will have grown accustomed to the newness of their surroundings.

I think Boston Ballet-goers will have to understand the differences this year and try to see the positives. Yes, the party scene is sparser, but the dancing was good. Snow is much smaller, but it enables one to see each individual dancer. The Snow Pas, Sugar Plum Pas, and Arabian Pas were still beautiful. Russian was still exciting, Mother Ginger still funny. I also applaud the company for still endeavoring to get so many of the Boston Ballet School children involved.

In the end, I hope that the city of Boston will arise and support the art institutions of its own city - the Ballet, the Pops, etc. If I want to see the Rockettes (which I don't), I will go to New York to see them.

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its the mom, Do you know what their thinking was in casting a grown Clara and Fritz in at least one of the casts? Also, why was Drosselmeier sitting with Clara during the whole second act? That was confusing. Where was the prince, especially with such a grown up Clara?

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There are several press releases and articles on the Boston Ballet website that explain the thinking behind this Nutcracker. I am also not used to seeing Clara played by an "adolescent" girl, as I have always seen the Balanchine Nut. I don't think this is the only Nutcracker that has Clara as an older girl. He chose to use two girls from the company and two from the school. I know the one girl from the company, Misa Kuranaga, had to have looked just about as young as the girls from the school. She is tiny and very adolescent looking, although she is twenty-one. I don't know about the other. I also don't know why Drosselmeier was kept through the second act. I am not anywhere near a ballet historian (just a mom), but as Mel pointed out, he is not supposed to be there. Again, if I were to choose Nutcrackers, I would bring back last year's because of the company's ability to use their big and beautiful scenery and to have more people in each scene. However, I am going to see it again, and hopefully, it will grow on me. That is often the case for me - first time around I am trying to take everything in, and each time after that I can sit back and enjoy more.

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Royal Ballet's Nutcracker has an adult Clara and Prince and also kept Drosslmyer through out the second act, Clara also danced with the diffrent diverts.

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Daughter thought BB's Nutcracker needed "more snow." The former snow scene choreography was our favorite!

She wasn't so bothered by adult Clara (except it took opportunity away from a kid) BUT she thought the giant Fritz was ridiculous!

If I remember correctly RB has an adult Clara who dances with kids and a younger smaller brother.

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“But let's compare notes. Whose are you seeing, what did you like about it, what did you think was distinctive about it, what do you think it could be doing differently?”

O.k. – I will take the challenge here and write what I will call a “report from the audience” about Ben Stevenson’s Nutcracker under the direction of ….. Ben Stevenson. Therefore this is a report on the performances of Texas Ballet Theatre. The company is mid-run now at Bass Hall in Fort Worth, moving to Dallas after Dec 19, though the Christmas Eve matinee.

I have a special fondness for the group of young dancers that graduated in recent years from the Houston (now “Ben Stevenson”) Ballet Academy, so that is my bias and also why I’ll give some special mention of them, ignoring other TBT dancers of whom I hope to become equally fond in future years! My other disclosure is that – alas – I generally find the first act of Nutcracker boring and the second act a bagful of tricks that after seeing it enough times, I thought enough was enough.

However – I actually love the Stevenson version, and it allows me to understand why other people look forward to seeing Nutcracker year after year – even if I don’t quite understand why they look forward to those other versions year after year.

The dancers that I chatted with after one evening’s performance were unanimous that Ben Stevenson’s Party Scene is the Number #1 Party Scene out there. And I have to agree that it is pretty terrific. The ballet as a whole has the feel of a beloved children’s book, gorgeously illustrated (loved those lush and intricate backdrops – (is that what they are called?)) with a fantastic tale moving through the pages, and some of the “pages” – like the party scene, having so many other fascinating and funny bits happening to the side, and the back, and across the stage, that there is always more to look at, and a sense that you may have missed something really good (and you probably have).

The party scene is more theatrical and comedic than the usual, and is chocobloc full of characters that one would imagine convening in a storybook Christma: elders who have been carrying on with a spot of mischief for generations, young parents always slightly behind the ball in containing the high spirits and hijinks of their children, and scads of girl and boy cousins, who in the face of such gaiety and anticipation cannot behave too well for too long. It is a rich and inviting tableau in constant motion (intricately blocked out as much as it is choreographed), full bits and business, characters and comedy.

The rotation through seven casting combinations adds to the fun for an audience member with any familiarity with the dancers. The company’s assistant artistic director, Tim O’Keefe can be seen as the scene stealing grandfather, various company members turn in bravo death scenes as the King Rat, and Carolyn Judson, for example, who shone in one performance as the Sugar Plum fairy, had appeared the day before as the party scene “Fat Girl” who, possessed of a rambunctious and jealous character, is always on the move to thwart the pretty interactions of others. Andre Silva made a marvelously naughty and oft-chastised Fritz, the day before he brought cheers from the audience doing the Russian “Gopak.” And so on.

The transition from Party Scene to the Land of Snow was particularly beautiful. I have always thought the “rising of the Christmas tree” to be the showcase effect of Act 1, but, this scene change was the visual highpoint for me. From colorful and lively interior scene, to absolutely serene blue and white beauty. And then, to our delight, as the act closed, those techies were generous enough to make it snow on the whole audience, which seemed to delight children and their grown-ups equally. And was a first for me.

Now, after being so long winded I will skip over the second act (leaving something for someone else to write about. “Skip over to WHAT????” you might ask. Well how about the orchestra and the hall – if we are going to comment about things that are a little different and that we liked?

Not being the “real musician” in my family – the one who gets paid to write music reviews, I can’t tell you why – but I can say that somehow the orchestra was just right and especially pleasing. My impression was confirmed by the very warm round of applause for conductor Jack Buckhannan from the company (they brought him on stage the first evening I attended) and audience alike. This is clearly a company and community that is aware they have someone special wielding that baton (and as company rehearsal pianist) and they like to show their appreciation.

Bass Hall: Seats with leg room! Gracious and welcoming ushers! More ladies room stalls per audience member than in other theater in Americal (o.k – I haven’t done and actual study, but) – and how’s this?? – a music staff painted all the way down across the front of all those ladies room stalls with the treble clef. I just had to wonder whether the men’s room is decorated with the bass clef.

Having followed the dance lives of some of the Houston students entering their professional careers, it was a particular pleasure for me to see Carolyn Judson as Sugar Plum Fairy, Peter Zweifel as Nutcracker Prince, Jayme Autrey Griffiths as Snow Queen, Robin Bangert as Clara, Justin Urso in Chinese, Andre Silva as Gopak – not to speak of former Houston Principal dancer, Julie Gumbinner as Sugar Plum Fairy and Lukas Priola as Arabian and King Rat.

Well, I bet you can guess by now that I could go on and on, but I won’t. Except to give my apologies to any cast members I failed to mention (which is most. How far could I push that nepotism-like slant to this report, after all?). And apologies to all you dancer/readers for not making one comment about technique – but what do I know? Ultimately this Nutcracker is an ensemble piece. It absolutely succeeds in the those featured highlight solos, but in my opinion, what sets this version apart is how well it succeeds as a fantastical story and an entrancing, entertaining, often comedic, colorful, lively, very special, holiday ensemble production. :)

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Regarding Houston Ballet:

I heard a wonderful interview on the local NPR station with Marcello and Sara. They were delightful in the interview, and made me really want to see them dance together. Our family has discussed the schedule, and hope we could make the Monday night performance....

mc

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Ballet Chicago Studio Company presented their modestly named Highlights of the Nutcracker, which omits only a couple of numbers from the full score, three times this past weekend, and the surprise for me, considering that BCSC's Artistic Director, Daniel Duell, is a former NYCB dancer from Balanchine's time, is that his production doesn't owe more to Mr. B's than it does.

The little angels file about the stage in the beginning of Act II as in Balanchine's version, some of "Dewdrop", and much of the "Sugar Plum" adagio (after the beginning) and the coda are familiar, but Duell is his own man: His biggest innovation is a lovely "Snow Pas De Deux", set to the "Pine Forest" music, with its surging crescendoes, beautifully danced with her simple purity Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon by Kaia Tack (15!) with William Miglino (17). And late in Act II, the "Sugar Plum" Pas De Deux follows the classic four-part pattern. I liked best Alicia Fabry Saturday evening, especially for her consistently strong line and good turnout, and she was superbly partnered by Ariel Cisneros, a guest from the Joffrey Ballet, whose variation included a step I remembered from the rarely seen Balanchine one I saw many years ago when Peter Martins and Violette Verdy opened the annual run of Nutcracker otherwise by Ruth Page at Arie Crown Theatre.

Sunday afternoon Fabry was a little less sparkling, and Saturday afternoon Tack (with Miglino's fine partnering again) made this a different, simple pleasure to see.

That Ballet Chicago is more school than performing company shows in Duell's imaginative use of his limited resources: The matinee casts of the Dream scene included "Baby Mice", some of whom looked not much larger than real mice and not long out of their diapers, but who could crawl, join hands in lines of wildly uneven height, and jump in ways less coordinated than making the whole proceeding look at some moments like teetering on the brink of chaos, which produced an appropriately frightened effect in this onlooker.

Probably owing to the chronic shortage of men in American dance, there were no little boys in the party scene, and in particular, no Fritz, and so it fell to Marie (aka Clara) to horrify the Sugar Plum Fairy and her retinue early in Act II as she retold the battle story, as well as to lead the children's games numbers in the party scene. (I especially liked little Becky Thode in this role.) Nor was there a tall, strong male Mother Ginger for the Polichinelles in Act II. And when Jose Angel Rodriquez took on the role of Nutcracker Prince and defeated the Mouse King (with Marie's help), he wore the Karinska costume for the Stars and Stripes pas de deux.

But Duell's stage action, always under Tchaikovsky's direction, never flags or sags, Rodriquez's crisp, controlled energetic dancing as the Soldier Doll in the party scene and as one of the Russian Cossacks in the Act II divertissements was good to see, and Fabry's one elegant Dewdrop was a particularly memorable pleasure, in addition to the two pas de deux. And Margo Ruter's taut phrasing of the "Arabian" (or "Coffee") dance made her performance the most effective of the three we saw, for me.

Edited by Jack Reed

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