Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
sandik

Nutcracker Reports

34 posts in this topic

I saw Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker last week, and went home depressed, undecided as to whether I disliked the performances or the choreography. When my friends took me to this afternoon's (Thursday's) performance when an extra ticket materialized, I realized that it was neither: I had been simply exhausted after a long week and in a foul-tempered mood. It probably didn't help that at one point the woodwinds sounded so sour I thought they had interpolated a bit of Messaien in the middle of the Tchaikovsky. Nonetheless, there were three performances that intermittently took me out of my funk: Carrie Imler's luminous Flora (lead in "Waltz of the Flowers"), whose beats in the reprise were suspended in air, Daniel Melese's Fritz, and Laura Anne Wallace's Young Clara.

To give context to the performances of the young dancers, in Stowell's version of Nutcracker, while Fritz can be a feisty boy, there is a pair of young children, called "Little Girl" and "Little Boy" in the cast list who do most of the overt fighting and teasing that Fritz and Clara enact in Balanchine's version. While there is sibling tension between the young teenaged Clara and her little brother, most of the stage action between them is ignited after Clara recoils from Drosselmeyer's greeting, and Drosselmeyer spends most of the rest of the party inciting Fritz to tease and attack her. Like nearly all of the relationships in Stowell's vision, there are parallels throughout that range from overt to just under the skin: Little Girl/Little Boy and Clara/Fritz. Princess Pirlipat/Nutcracker/Mouse King in the prologue and Masque performance at the party, Clara/Nutcracker/Mouse King and Clara/Nutcracker/Warrior Mouse in the fight scene, and Clara/Prince/Pasha in Act II, and Clara/Drosselmeyer and Clara/Pasha. So while Daniel Melese's Fritz was as frisky as any young boy when the action called for it, at the same time he was not out of character as a remarkably attentive partner to his mother in the Act I group dance -- and to his young partner in the Act II Toy Theater -- perhaps a Cavalier in the making.

Act I is a very long act for Young Clara, and in this production, she never has a moment when she isn't either in the center of the action, or reacting to the people and situation around her. Unlike the Adult Clara, who needs only one take on Pasha, Young Clara must, if out of nothing more than politeness, approach and re-approach the rather creepy Drosselmeyer, who has gone out of his way, with one exception -- to give her the Nutcracker Doll -- to ruin the party for her. And each time, she must interact with him and make her reaction fresh and real. Laura Anne Wallace did. I was sitting in the last row of the second tier boxes, yet her every expression and gesture reached the back of the auditorium. I honestly hadn't paid very close attention to the role or the young dancer portraying it in past years, but she made me sit up and take careful notice.

While most of the cast changed or cycled into different roles in this afternoon's performance, I was happy to see that Wallace was again cast as Young Clara. I was sitting in the eighth row this time, on the side in Gallery Upper. It was hard to imagine that a performance that had been so clear to the back of the house could remain natural so close up, but Wallace accomplished this, too. Although the dancing parts for Young Clara (and her two friends) aren't extended passages, it is a real dancing role, and she shone in dance as well as in her portrayal of Young Clara.

Wallace's adult counterpart was Jodie Thomas, whom Wallace resembled, which was a nice touch. Thomas' "awakening" in Act I through a pas de deux with Jonathan Poretta's Nutcracker-turned-prince embodied the building passion of the glorious music used for Marie's journey to the Land of Sweets in Balanchine's version. I think that when she is cast in classical roles that really move like this one, she shines bright, and while her shapes and movement are very clear, she also has good legato quality that makes her dancing seamless.

Porretta added a wonderful detail to his portrayal of the Prince: he too is transformed from being the Nutcracker in battle, and he used his face to express the realization that something monumental had happened, before he discovered Adult Clara and led her in the sweeping pas de deux. He did something similar in the beginning of the second act, which opens with Adult Clara and the Prince on a boat to Pasha's kingdom during the overture. In the beginning, the scene is very light-hearted, and Poretta has a high-wattage smile. As the music darkens, though, the waves and lighting become darker, and there's clearly a dangerous storm approaching. Clara becomes scared, and the typical reaction of the Prince is a series of somewhat exaggerated gestures and facial expressions -- "Hark, why, a dangerous storm approaches, what shall I do?" which can become awkward, because the passage isn't that short and the Prince becomes a bit boxed in dramatically. Porretta took a different approach: as the music darkened, so did his facial expression, and he had the dead-on stage instinct not to move at all at first, and let that expression say it all.

In Act I, Rachel Foster was a lovely Ballerina Doll, but I still am distracted by the amount of time she needs to stand still until she's "moved" offstage at the end of the party. James Moore was an elegant Sword Dancer. I'm always impressed by how the PNB men who dance this role don't try to turn it into Le Corsaire. The Masque, set to the Mozartian pastorale from Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, was beautifully danced by Kylee Kitchens, Taureen Green, and Josh Spell. The woman wears a dress below the knee and ballet slippers in this role, which focuses attention to the feet: Kitchen's were impeccably pointed, and she had lovely turnout in the numerous passes in the role.

The biggest surprise for me was Drosselmeyer. I didn't register who was performing when I glanced through the cast list before the performance, but from the moment he entered during the overture, I knew I had never seen him before: a handsome, calm figure with almost aristocratic carriage and none of the tics and eccentricities that are ubiquitous in the role. While during the party he didn't downplay the meanness with which he incites chaos among the boys, particularly Fritz, to get back at Clara, and he showed more of an eccentric side, he wasn't broad or caricaturish. The first thing I did when the curtain came up was to look at the program, and I found that it was soloist Oleg Gorboulev, who in Act II portrayed one of the most dignified, yet imposing, Pasha's I had ever seen. Often, the scariest and creepiest characters in dreams aren't the caricatures of evil, but the almost normal people who manage to convey menace.

In the beginning of Act II, I was able to confirm from her father that I had recognized my young friend Rhoya -- she played a Small Servant in both performances -- much to my relief!

The Moors were led by Rebecca Johnston and Karel Cruz, who danced beautifully and make a wonderful pairing. But what I want to know is, where did a girl born in Salt Lake City learn to shimmy like she does in the reprise? :D

I can't say enough good things about Maria Chapman's Peacock: every nuance and inflection, every extension and every phrase danced to perfection. She set the bar for the role.

The dervishes (Nicholas Ade, Brennan Boyer, James Moore) were brilliant. This has got to be one of the best and most foolproof virtuoso dances made for the stage -- I've never seen it fail or be performed less than well. Commedia was superb; Josh Spell had the Harlequin down pat, from head to toe, using his facial expressions especially well, and he was flanked by Kylee Kitchens' and Lindsi Dec well-matched Columbines.

Brittany Reid danced Flora. I've seen her excel in roles that are "demi-Principal" -- i.e., sometimes danced by Soloists, and sometimes by Principals -- but the way she blazed through this role and made it her own, combining sweep, musicality, and technique, building and building through each entrance, she danced not only like a Principal, but like a Ballerina. What a triumph.

This was a performance where I can only say :D to the Company.

Share this post


Link to post

And thank you, hockeyfan, for that account! It went beyond making me want to have been there; reading it, there were moments when I felt I was!

Share this post


Link to post

As many of you know, our Nutcracker (with choreography by Kent Stowell and costumes and sets designed by Maurice Sendak) was one of the productions that signalled PNB's arrival on the national ballet scene in 1983, some five years into what will be Mr. Stowell and Ms. Russell's 28-year tenure as Artistic Directors. At the final curtain of last night's performance, the dancers brought Mr. Stowell onstage to take a bow at his last Nutcracker as PNB's co-artistic director. He, in turn, brought Francia Russell onstage, along with all the unsung heroes who make Nutcracker a success: the production crew, stagehands, volunteer coordinator, volunteers, and security officers who keep all the young dancers safe as they enter and leave the theatre each night. It was a poignant reminder of how much colossal effort from so many dedicated people goes into every one of the 40 performances we staged this year (and it brought tears to my eyes, but I'm sappy that way).

Share this post


Link to post

Hope this isn't regarded as :offtopic: but we were watching the PNB Nutcracker movie over the holidays and got to wondering if any of the young dancers in it made professional careers of it. Any PNBophiles know the answer to this?

Share this post


Link to post
Hope this isn't regarded as  :offtopic:  but we were watching the PNB Nutcracker movie over the holidays and got to wondering if any of the young dancers in it made professional careers of it.  Any PNBophiles know the answer to this?

Other than the obvious (Patricia Barker), the first one who comes to mind right now without going home and scrolling through the movie credits is Natalie Ryder, who went on to perform professionally in musical theatre. (I met her when we were both attending the University of Washington.) I'm sure there are a few others. I'll see what I can come up with. Can anyone else think of any?

Share this post


Link to post
Hope this isn't regarded as  :offtopic:  but we were watching the PNB Nutcracker movie over the holidays and got to wondering if any of the young dancers in it made professional careers of it.  Any PNBophiles know the answer to this?

Is this a question about the children in the movie? If so, I'm afraid I don't recognize any of the names, but that wouldn't be surprising: very few of the children at School of American ballet who are from NYC and start when they are very young become professional dancers, with Judith Fugate and Peter Boal being notable exceptions. It's mostly the kids who show up as teenagers for pre-professional training that track to companies.

If you mean the dancers in adult roles, the dancers who retired from PNB are Kevin Kaiser (Moor), Angela Stirling (Observer), who is now a company photographer for PNB, Wade Walthall (Prince), Artistic Director of Evergreen City Ballet, Benjamin Houk (Adult at Party), who was Patricia Barker's long-time partner, led Nashville Ballet and Fort Worth/Dallas (1996-2001) and was a finalist in the search for Russell/Stowell's replacement, and Julie Tobiason (Snowflake/Flower) became a Principal Dancer and retired a few years ago.

Gerard Ebitz (Adult at Party) danced with NYCB and is on the faculty roster for New World School of the Arts. Erica Fischbach danced with ABT after an early career at PNB, but she's no longer listed on the Company's website, although a Google search will lead to a bio that was linked from their site.

To get back on topic, on stage the character of Drosselmeyer isn't quite as creepy as it is in the movie, at least in the first act. He's mean, and keeps picking on Clara and inciting Fritz and his friends to riot, but he's not someone who would require a visit from Social Services.

Share this post


Link to post
To get back on topic, on stage the character of Drosselmeyer isn't quite as creepy as it is in the movie, at least in the first act.  He's mean, and keeps picking on Clara and inciting Fritz and his friends to riot, but he's not someone who would require a visit from Social Services.

I've seen him played both ways -- as relatively benign or as a predator. Part of it seems to rest on the relationship that the performer has with the adult dancing Clara. If the age difference is really pronounced, then it can look very disturbing.

Share this post


Link to post

To get back on topic, on stage the character of Drosselmeyer isn't quite as creepy as it is in the movie, at least in the first act.  He's mean, and keeps picking on Clara and inciting Fritz and his friends to riot, but he's not someone who would require a visit from Social Services.

I've seen him played both ways -- as relatively benign or as a predator. Part of it seems to rest on the relationship that the performer has with the adult dancing Clara. If the age difference is really pronounced, then it can look very disturbing.

I agree that Act II, with Adult Clara, is where the creepiness can set in. Particularly since this is supposed to be Clara's strange dream.

Share this post


Link to post
Is this a question about the children in the movie?

Yes, we were thinking of the kids. I knew Barker is still dancing but assumed the other adults had mostly retired. We were mostly wondering about the young Clara, as she seemed to have some talent. Fritz was definitely destined for a long and productive career in regional musical theater. :)

But I'm not surprised to hear that none of the kids seem to have gone onto pro careers.

And back to topic, yes, the PNB Drosselmeyer is probably the creepiest of any filmed or live version we've ever seen. Even my 6-year-old picked up on the undercurrent of something unsavory. Of course, it was also a little weird to realize that the film-version Drosselmeyer bears an unsettling resemblance to Queer Eye's Carson. :) We kept waiting for him to start flinging open closets and tossing clothes offstage!

Share this post


Link to post
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0