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Nutcracker Reports


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#16 sandik

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Posted 29 November 2004 - 10:43 AM

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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No.

They don't.

#17 Amy Reusch

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Posted 29 November 2004 - 10:02 PM

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?

#18 its the mom

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Posted 30 November 2004 - 06:35 AM

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.

#19 Georgia

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Posted 30 November 2004 - 12:48 PM

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?

#20 its the mom

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Posted 01 December 2004 - 03:41 AM

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.

#21 Dansuer85

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Posted 01 December 2004 - 08:59 AM

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.

#22 jbtlse

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Posted 06 December 2004 - 08:30 PM

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.

#23 syr

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 07:46 PM

“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. :)

#24 mini cooper

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Posted 18 December 2004 - 06:51 AM

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

#25 Jack Reed

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Posted 21 December 2004 - 01:03 PM

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, 30 December 2004 - 02:12 PM.


#26 Helene

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Posted 24 December 2004 - 01:59 AM

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.

#27 Jack Reed

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Posted 29 December 2004 - 12:18 PM

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!

#28 Dave

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Posted 29 December 2004 - 05:39 PM

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).

#29 chauffeur

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Posted 02 January 2005 - 01:48 PM

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?

#30 Dave

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Posted 03 January 2005 - 10:04 AM

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?

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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?


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