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BALANCHINE'S NUTCRACKER 2004a la OBT


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#1 Watermill

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Posted 05 January 2005 - 09:19 PM

Sorry to be posting this so after the fact, but this holiday season set a new standard in frantic but festive family fare. Fortunately, I did take some notes during and after the Wed Dec 22 performance.

I was quite disappointed in the overall sloppiness of this year’s production, especially amongst the students. I know that one can only demand so much from young people, but these are supposed to be the best dance students in the area. While most of them were just fine, at every moment several were out of step, out of time, out of placement or just plain out of it. Patrons paying $80 and families of 4 paying $200 are expecting professional management of the entire cast. There were moments during the first act when I thought I was at one of the local community dance studio Nutcrackers, where unison is a fleeting option. My sense is that the young dancers are not being polished, that someone is saying, “OK, that’s as far as we can go". This, of course, has always and will always be unacceptable in ballet. That’s what makes ballet so special: we ask for perfection, even from students.
This evening’s Marie was Miss Juniper Jenkins. She danced with good technique and acted the role very well.
Page Finlay as Harlequin and Ansa Deguchi as Columbine showed clear, clean details, brimming with felicitous goodwill.
The Toy Soldier was the surprise of the night: apprentice Steven Houser “arrived” with a near perfect solo, complete with clean entrechat-six. I had to check the program to see who the guest pro was. What a wonderful surprise to find it was this apprentice!
Also a relief to find Kevin Poe’s Drosselmeier had softened from last year’s evil stalker. One actually thought him warmly eccentric, not dangerous. Sorry I missed Christopher Stowell in the role.
Sad to say, the Snowflakes, picking up where they left off last year, continue to exhibit a lack of cohesiveness. Much good dancing to lovely choreography, especially the individual efforts of Valerie Limbrunner, Candace Bouchard, Ansa Deguchi, and Leann Underwood. But again: evidence of badly needed polishing, finishing: that extra 5% that puts it all together. All in all, this first act left me cold…and it wasn’t just the wintry weather on stage.

The Flowers were lovely, more together than Snow. Valerie Limbrunner & Candace Bouchard nicely leading the corps, bursting with energetic jettes. Miss Limbrunner showing impressive, thorough technique. Alison Roper very solid (if somewhat stolid) as Dewdrop.

The Marzipan Shepherdesses were right out an 18th Century Fragonard: all Rococo charm and grace. Led by Yuko Iino, her every turn landed so softly. Musically perfect.

Mother Ginger way over the top, which I hadn’t thought possible. The Polichinelles were the best student group performance of the evening.

Poor Karl Vakili as Candy Cane…either conductor Niel DePonte had an early dinner reservation or Karl asked him to pick up the tempo (Two years ago a dancer made that mistake and ended up in the wings in tears). Not even the Flash could have danced that inhuman tempo.

Fortunately, Mr. Balanchine, who knew when to bring forth a delirious dancing climax to make one forget whatever faults preceded, gives us a gorgeous pas de deux with thrilling codas and a big company finish.
Gavin Larsen was positively breathtaking as Sugarplum. Even though not a technically perfect performance (a couple of turns were two-footed in landing), she held the audience in rapturous silence. It helped that Artur Sultanov’s partnering was the best that I’ve seen from him.

When the entire Land of Sweets cast enters and begins to turn with arms in fifth and the little boat makes its way across the stage, there is an innocent joy that fills the theatre. Nutcracker magic: there’s nothing quite like it, is there?

Grumpy Grouse-ings: OK, I know how expensive this whole thing is. And I hear that upper level students were not provided with pointe shoes for the first time this year. (By the way, that translates into over $400 it cost one family to see their daughter perform.) So I don’t expect there to be money for any major set changes. Therefore, I'm prepared for the party set to remain dark, cheerless, murder-mystery murky and CandyLand to be Flower-Power lurid. But if there is one thing I would change, it would be that discount tree. It grows only slightly faster than a toe nail from 12 feet to a very unspectacular 20 foot height. Meanwhile, Tchaikovsky is describing a world wonder folk-miracle. Very under-whelming. After all, Oregon is the Christmas tree capital of the world. Our Nutcracker tree should at least rise to the occasion.

Only in Nut-Land…
…could the bed, during it’s own variation, pull a wheelie, the front end rising up a good two feet. Made me want to see a drag race of all the Nut-beds.
…could Marie, after carefully aiming her slipper from less than 6 feet away, miss the 8 foot tall, 5 foot wide Mouse King and actually hit the Nutcracker who was behind it. Not even Pedro Martinez could manage that.

Happy New Year!

Watermill

#2 carbro

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Posted 05 January 2005 - 11:44 PM

Poor Watermill! And the others who were subjected to this expensive disappointment.

Thanks, though, making me laugh! :D Part of me hopes you see more bad performances. :wink:

--Carley

#3 Helene

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Posted 06 January 2005 - 01:40 AM

I am so happy you decided to post your review. :D (I wish I had been able to see Gavin Larsen's Sugarplum Fairy.)

Thank you so much for the heads up on Steven Houser. I'll be looking for him in the upcoming programs.

#4 Watermill

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Posted 06 January 2005 - 06:25 PM

Oh, I hope my jottings did not give the impression of a "bad" performance. It was just a tremendously, bewildering mix of the good, the bad and the sloppy.
Gavin, Yuka and the individual dancers mentioned above were worth the price.
BTW: I visited the OBT site and took a look at a few of the different casts. So much shifting around in the corps: no wonder things get ragged at the edges. I also think OBT is trying out apprentices and students in roles that will stretch them, which is a good idea in theory, but...
I fully expect, as Christopher Stowell increases the quality of other programs, this Nut will be a hard one to crack. The child-oriented first act, the relatively few soloists of quality, the small company, the limited budget, etc. I'm sure they'll keep trying to improve it, but it's going to take time.

#5 Watermill

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Posted 08 January 2005 - 08:35 AM

Giving this topic a bit of a bump, hoping that there are a few other OBT goers who might share their NUTCRACKER views before it all fades into the recent past. After all, it is the big story ballet of the year.
What do you think: does Christopher Stowell have this company positioned for a big ballet? If so, what would you like to see?
How about La Bayadere? Gavin Larsen as Nikiya, Alison Roper as Gamzatti? Would enjoy Kester Cotton as the Bronze Idol!

#6 BalletNut

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Posted 26 January 2005 - 10:39 PM

OK, I'm giving this topic a HUGE bump :P , and it's not entirely on topic, but it's been bugging me for a while. On OBT's website, there is a picture of Gavin Larsen and Artur Sultanov in the Nutcracker, and I was struck by the huge difference in their heights: on pointe, she doesn't even come up to his shoulders. So, I'm curious, how tall are they? I've never seen such a pronounced difference in heights of ballet dancers, not even on the RB Sleeping Beauty video with Durante and Solymosi. Is there really that much of a difference in height, or is it just the picture?

#7 dancelova

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 11:05 PM

I think that Artur Sultanov is about 6'4", because he towers over even the taller female dancers. I'd guess Gavin is about 5'4" ??? Maybe a little taller. She has such long legs and she is so thin that it is hard to tell.

I did see the Nutcracker and I enjoyed it as much as any Nut. They are all pretty much designed to intrigue and excite children. And this one fit the bill. My girls loved it and haved talked about pretty much nothing since.

And, I was just noticing, that Kathi Martuza has joined Miss Roper in the ranks of Dance Magazine's 25 to Watch. For a small company I think that it is quite impressive to boast of two such accomplished and recognized dancers. Did anyone catch Miss Martuza as Marzipan? World class. I was sorry I missed Roper as Dew Drop after reading Bob Hicks' review. Sounded dynamite!

Cheerio all ballet lovers.

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 February 2005 - 02:27 PM

It's a long time back that I spoke to Larsen, but I do recall a conversation where I asked her height; I believe she said 5'5".

#9 oldtimer

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Posted 10 February 2005 - 02:57 PM

My input as to why the children are a bit sloppy. When James was the Director of OBT he usually had two castings with only one or two different children in the second casting. Most of the children were his strongest dancers, those that Haydee and James felt had talent. He would work in the younger one's by letting them perform in the afternoon and mid-week performances, but he always put them along with the A cast. The kids that were in the nutcracker performed a lot, and usually had a lot of roles. James also expected perfection from the kids, a lot of tears during those years.

Christopher run's it a lot different. He has three casting for all roles, and lets all of the kids dance a equal amount of time. Not always the strongest and certainly not all of the talent. But, I think this sell's a lot of tickets. Also, the kids enjoy Christopher much more then James. He seem's to enjoy all of the kids and respects them. Not nearly as many tears. But, I must say, I wonder why OBT does not let the talented students dance more often. I know of a few very strong dancers who are leaving the school this year.

One more thing, Haydee was an EXCEPTIONAL school director. She was so picky about all of the little things, I think it showed on stage. Damara is good, but not exceptional. Some of the older students miss Haydee and her little tiny correctionos that seemed to make a huge difference. The rolling of the feet, pointing your toes. Also, all of her perfection in the arm's and the head. I think OBT lost a lot when Haydee left the school. Our kids miss her.

#10 BalletNut

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Posted 10 February 2005 - 03:07 PM

5'5, eh? For what it's worth, I recognized Gavin Larsen as a butterfly in Midsummer on the PNB DVD, and I think she's a lovely dancer, and what's more, she's the tallest of the four butterflies. Which means Sultanov must be REALLY tall, even more than 6'4 perhaps; I saw the picture of Kathi Martuza with Sultanov in Dance Mag in Duo Concertant, if I'm not mistaken, and I believe she was on pointe, and he's a head taller than she is, and she's actually "tallish," to borrow a word from ballet.co.uk.

Congrats to Martuza, by the way, on her success at OBT. It's always good when someone's talents are recognized, even if it means having to change companies to get that recognition and the roles that can show off their strengths, which isn't always possible in the corps of a large company like SFB (where she was listed as Kathleen, not Kathi, by the way.) Ditto Kester Cotton. The good ones that got away, I guess, but OBT is lucky to have them. :)

By the way, I know this has very little to do with Nutcracker... :shake:

#11 XTX

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 11:15 PM

I think OBT lost a lot when Haydee left the school.

That may be so. I didn't pay much attention to the school before Damara took over.

But I've watched two years of incredible school performances since then, and I have to say she and her staff are working wonders with the older students.

Let's keep watching to see how the younger students fare.


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