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Webre's new Nutcracker (premiere tonight!)


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#1 Natalia

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 06:58 AM

I'm looking forward to attending tonight's premiere of Septime Webre's all-new, DC-based "The Nutcracker"!

I've missed all rehearsals & such...so this will be a truly new experience for me tonight!

Silly personal question (but important to me): Tonight's show begins at 7 pm. Does nayone know how long it will run...when it ends? I'm trying to tell whether or not I'll have time to run over to my company's office party, 4-5 blocks away, after the show. (Office party goes on til 11 pm!)

#2 koshka

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 09:37 AM

I think it's pretty rare for a Nut to run much more than 2 hours...
I hear that the "Mirlitons" are 4 cardinals and a cat. I'm looking forward to your report.

#3 PAmom

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 10:24 AM

I was able to attend a couple of the performances last week in Baltimore. Months ago, Hans posted that he was wary of the Cherry Blossom set for Act 2. I enjoyed the transition to the land of Springtime.

The sets and many of the costumes for both acts were beautiful and lavish. I was not fond of many of the ladies' dresses in the party scene (lose the bustles, add some sleeves) nor the animals that sat to the side in Act 2 but I loved the Chinese golden carp, Nutcracker, and Cherry Blossoms.

It was, over all, an enjoyable performance. Highlights for me in both shows that I saw were the small soldiers in the battle scene (so precise!), Snow and Cherry Blossom corp (nice work!), and the Anacosta Indians dancing to Arabian. Individual dancers (other than seeing my own kid :D) that were outstanding included, Maki Onuki (Snow Queen/ Miss Liberty), Erin Mahony's Dew Drop and Marcelo Martinez's Frontiersman.

There were some discrepancies in the program's synopsis that made it a bit more confusing to follow an all new production of the Nutcracker. With the format of this program it was also difficult to know who was dancing what role as they listed all performers that could ever be cast after the role. An announcement was made for the casting of the principal roles but that did not make it clear for the soloist roles.

I will also be attending tomorrow night's performance. Look for me to be wearing a Kachina pin.

t
(I love how I am back to being a "new member" having registered over 4 years ago. hehe)

#4 koshka

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 12:18 PM

...not fond of many of the ladies' dresses in the party scene (lose the bustles, add some sleeves) nor the animals that sat to the side in Act 2


Were these live animals or animal-dancers? I remember in Giselle this fall there was a real live dog. The dog was fine, as dogs go, but I found it distracting and couldn't help thinking, "OK, who donated a big pile of money to WB to get this dog into the show?"

#5 PAmom

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Posted 10 December 2004 - 03:01 PM

Were these live animals or animal-dancers? 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

These were children in costumes of mushrooms and animals. There was a squirrel, frog, fox and a pink deer-like animal.

This production ran the typical 2 hours.
t

#6 Mike Gunther

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Posted 11 December 2004 - 04:48 PM

I attended the Saturday matinee with Maki Onuki and Jonathan Jordan as the Snow Queen and King; Erin Mahoney and Runqiao Du as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier; Michelle Jimenez as Dew Drop. A great new production, with elaborate sets, eye-popping costumes, and a very large cast.

It seems like the company needs more time to settle in with Septime's new choreography. The dancing this afternoon was tentative in spots, reflecting (I suppose) that we are still in "premiere week" with its attendant jitters.

Thumbs Up: to Mahoney and Du in the Grand Pas de deux; to the sets and costumes; to the choreography and dancing in Katchina, Snow Flakes, Anacostia Indians (the dance formerly known as "Coffee"), and the Frontiersman solo; to the live (hooray!) orchestra.

Thumbs Down: to the idea of not printing the individual casts for each performance. Surely a program insert would be possible, and the performers deserve at least that much recognition!

#7 PAmom

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Posted 12 December 2004 - 08:38 AM

I attended the Saturday evening performance but having just returned to central PA (and need to be at a local Nutcracer in 2 hours) I will have to write more later. I did wish to clarify my lack of attraction to the woodland animals was, in part, as I saw last night that their costumes had not been complete in Baltimore. Many costumes had been completed since I saw the production. Last night I was able to determine that it was in fact a deer, it was no longer pink and had antlers.

t

#8 mkb

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Posted 12 December 2004 - 12:26 PM

I attended the Washington, D.C. premiere on Friday, December 10, and was tremendously impressed. I must admit that I came to this production with a great deal of trepidation – driven partly by my fondness for the Mary Day production and partly by concerns about Septime Webre’s Washington-centric concept. But instead I found this Nutcracker enchanting. Webre clearly conveys the love and affection that this family and their friends feel for each other as they gather to celebrate the Christmas holiday, and it’s this general sense of warmth and even sweetness that carries through the entire ballet.

While not necessarily memorable, Webre’s choreography does nothing to detract from the atmosphere he so successfully creates. The steps he chooses nicely challenge the dancers, though they don’t really rise to the level of a nuanced reaction to the beautiful score. Having said that, however, Webre must be credited with evoking joyous, daring, and for the most part wonderfully musical performances from his cast. Particular highlights for me were Erin Mahoney’s beautiful phrasing as Dew Drop, Runqiao Du’s careful attention to detail as the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier, and the sense of happiness and pride with which many of the Snow Flakes approached their roles.

There were, however, a few things that didn’t work. For me, Act II didn’t feel as though it took place in a magical realm – it just seemed like a somewhat strange assortment of creatures had for some reason chosen to gather on the banks of the Potomac River. Rather than feel a sense of wonderment, I was left with more of a sense of puzzlement. Some of the costumes in Act II were also misguided – the blazing reds for the cardinals were too much a contrast to the softer color schemes used elsewhere, and the cotton candy-ish costumes for Dew Drop’s attendants completely overwhelmed the dancers and the choreography.

In spite of these misgivings, this production delivers what far too few Nutcrackers have in the recent past – a sense of love for this holiday sense and thankfulness for everything positive that Christmas is able to evoke. And for that, I must say, I am very grateful.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 12 December 2004 - 02:52 PM

Welcome to Ballet Alert!, MKB -- what a great first post! (And thank you for delurking. I hope we'll be reading you often!)

I saw the production opening night, too, and, like MKB, was pleasantly surprised. I especially liked the first act (and the little boy who played Fritz was wonderful!), and the battle scene is a real battle scene -- the toy soldiers march in formation, and did it so well that they received a spontaneous, mid-march burst of applause! I also liked Erin Mahoney's Dewdrop a lot.

I saw Mike's comments above (thank you, Mike!) Did anyone else go?

#10 BalletNutter

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Posted 12 December 2004 - 06:55 PM

Yes, I saw it in Baltimore last week and will see it in DC later this week. I loved it. Saw Michelle Jiminez and Runquio Du perform the Anacostia Indian pas de deux and it was some of the best dancing in the show. Erin Mahoney was well suited for Dew Drop. The sets and costumes are wonderful ... I liked the red cardinals!! I thought the sets, costuming and lighting for Snow with the whites and blues was exquisite.

It's refreshing, different and makes seeing the Nutcracker for the umpteenth time really enjoyable. I think Septime is amazingly creative and has a win with this one.

#11 Natalia

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Posted 13 December 2004 - 08:08 AM

I, too, went to the premiere on Friday, Dec. 10, and thoroughly enjoyed this new production. The sets & costumes are magnificent -- exceptions noted below -- and worthy of being seen in any major grand opera house in Europe. The production was danced with conviction by (almost) everyone on the stage.

Unfortunately, there remain a few tell-tale signs that alert the seasoned balletomane that this is a "half-professional" production -- most notably the lackluster 'principal children' in Act I. [I know -- this has been my 'leitmotif' with Nutcrackers outside Russia! In America, only the Joffrey Ballet seems to have the good sense to give the "principal children's" roles to professional adults. ] To be kind, I won't specify the two roles whose interpreters ruined the magic for me with their feeble, self-conscious mannerisms; their feebleness in the midst of so much strength & professionalism was glaring. Why can't Washington Ballet cast very important principal-children roles with pre-professional students, if not adult professionals? Or is the intention to give those sorts of roles to the kids of the biggest donors? I don't get it -- it was such a difference between those two and all the rest of the performers on stage.

On the other hand, all of the corps children were FANTASTIC...especially the 'soldiers' in the fight scene, with their crisp, brisk marching AND everyone in the 'Mother Barnum and Her Clowns' dance! I adored the boy who played Fritz (Tim Courouble), who danced & acted 100-times more professionally than the others who I cited above.

The adult classical soloists in the snow scene & Act II were all on a high level, especially Jonathan Jordan as the Cavalier to the Snow Queen and, later, as the spinning 'Russian Dance Frontiersman'. (I loved the fringe effect on his costume, as he spun!) I agree with what's been written about Runqiao Du's elegant Cavalier to the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Speaking of Sugar Plum: I admire Michele Jimenez' spot-on technique, lovely feet, majestic port-de-bras ....BUT....is that lady capable of dancing four beats without feeling compelled to emote intensely like Theda Bara ca. 1926? Or does Jimenez think that the Nutcracker contains a 'Mad Scene' like Giselle? She really has a lovely natural face but we hardly get to admire it calmly, she changes (manipulates?) it like a rubber mask, trying to respond to every note of the music. Sorry, but Jimenez' emoting gave me a headache. What a shame, as she is otherwise a fantastic ballerina.

As I mentioned above, the sets & costumes were mostly magnificent & worthy of being seen in a grand opera house in Europe. This is especially so for the frilly gowns for the females in Act I, as well as the Snow Queen and Sugar Plum tutus. Why, then, not continue the style of magnificence with the Waltz of the Cherry Blossoms corps' dresses, which seem to have come from an el-cheapo Dolly Dinkle recital catalog...baby-pink brushed velour bodices & droopy-loopy skirts? And what was up with Vernon Jordan's white-mop wig (Jordan playing party guest Frederick Douglass)? Or how about those red firebird-with-bustle tutus in the Mirlitons Dance?

The initial scene, depicting the snowy exterior of a grand Georgetown mansion with wrought-iron gate, set a magical scene. The interior of the house (Act I, sc 1) was luxuriously rich in detail, if a tad 'dark' compared to the Joffrey's bright Victorian home, which is the prettiest I've ever seen. The transformation of that scene into the battle (Act I, sc 2) was fine, if a bit underwhelming, as the machinery was late in 'growing' the tree. Act II, set around a tidal basin (not 'the' Tidal Basin) with cherry blossom trees, lent an appropriate air of magic. The only discordant note was the setting for the Land of the Snow, as it is filled with birch trees -- not found in DC -- near a pond with pavilions akin to those at Pavlovsk Palace outside St. Petersburg; maybe the Nutcracker transported Clara to Russia...in a paddlewheel boat?

Some of Webre's original choreography & stage business was truly inspired, e.g., the appearance of the brightly-colored Chinatown Parade dragon near the start of the Chinese dance. Ditto the clever, clever appearance of Mother Barnum atop a big carousel, in place of the traditional Mother Ginger! On the other hand, the Anacostia Indians were a 'stretch' with the unmistakably Arabic sounding music. [My area of the audience had to contain our chuckles when some guy sitting near us whispered loudly 'Hail to the Redskins!' during this dance...highly insensitive...but he had us all in stitches. Ah, the joys of a Gala Audience!]

In all, it was a splendid evening - professional dancers, corps children from the school, most of the designs, wonderful orchestra! It was SO splendid, that it irks me to have seen the few 'negatives' that I point out above. However, those 'negatives' were notable enough that I had to write something about them.

Overall -- CONGRATULATIONS, WASHINGTON BALLET, for another great production this season!

- Natalia Nabatova
Washington, DC

#12 Treefrog

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Posted 13 December 2004 - 04:13 PM

[My area of the audience had to contain our chuckles when some guy sitting near us whispered loudly 'Hail to the Redskins!' during this dance...highly insensitive...but he had us all in stitches.


Explanation of cultural (anti-cultural?) reference here: the DC professional (American) football team is called the Redskins; "Hail to the Redskins" is their fight song. "Redskins", of course, is also an insensitive way of referring to American Indians, aka Native Americans.

What any of this has to do with Coffee from Arabia is beyond me, except that a warm cup of coffee is a great comfort during a long, cold football game ...

#13 Mike Gunther

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Posted 13 December 2004 - 11:53 PM

Where's the Cat?

Septime choreographed an original and sparkling pd chat to go with the Cardinal variation; I saw a delightful run-through in technical rehearsal, and it's printed in the program, but it seems to have dropped out in performance!

Besides the Cat, Septime's original Cardinal variation (again, as seen in techincal rehearsal) involved an incredibly beautiful entry canon in contrary motion, where the cardinals spin in delay down along their diagonal line, while the principal (Morgann Rose, a fabulous dancer) spins up the line - it was so ravishing, and worked so well on so many different levels (musical, mathematical, and oh-so dance-ical!), that I am willing to embarrass myself here and *beg* Septime to bring it back!

While on the subject, I've just got to say that Septime's choreography for the Snowflakes is brilliant - I've seldom seen anything that I liked so much, that so perfectly evoked an image - winter, sparkling sun dancing on the ice - I would not be at all surprised if this took on a life of its own, like Balanchine's Diamonds!

#14 PAmom

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 05:35 AM

Where's the Cat?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


The cat was in place in Baltimore but it was clearly gone in DC. I did not miss the character but the changed choreography was much flatter.

The show I saw in DC was looking a lot more comfortable that it did the week before in Baltimore. I didn't realize how hany of the costumes had not been finished nor how much better the dancers would execute the choreography. I liked in in Baltimore. I liked it a lot more in DC!

The one thing I failed to mention that I appreciated was that this production is one of the rare ones that makes great use of a section of music in Act 1. There is a moment, just before the march, where the music changes dramtically. It is a very beautifully magical moment that blends reeds into harps. Many productions seem to just ignore this change in the music and the party scene grinds on as if nothing special is happening. Thank you WB for recognizing that this moment is special and using it (well half of it) as a frozen moment for all but Clara. Perfect lighting for it too.

Of the 3 performances I saw, I must say that I never tired of the snow scene and John Jordan was outstanding in every show.

t

#15 Tammy Spadina

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Posted 14 December 2004 - 07:44 AM

Pity about losing the cat. In rehearsal in Baltimore, the real costume wasn't ready and he wore a cheesy tail like from a Halloween costume. That particular dancer seemed over-influenced by the style of "Cats", the musical.
Then in performance in Baltimore, the real costume was finished and looked charming. A different dancer, can't recall who, used a much less mannered and more ballet-like style and I thought it came off very well - cat among the pigeons sort of effect.


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