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Christmas Eve NutcrackerA Unique Performance


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#1 Helene

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Posted 24 December 2005 - 05:00 PM

I used to go to NYCB's Nutcracker on New Year's Eve, where the dancers would get or act a bit tipsy and change around the choreography: one of the dolls would not appear, leaving the other doll to improvise a solo; the shepherdesses would make a jete exit, leaving the soloist along on stage, etc.

That was nothing compared to the performance I saw this afternoon with a family who had never seen The Nutcracker before. The changes that were made were so widespread, including interpolated Christmas carols and some non-Tchaikovskian chords and rhythms by the orchestra into the score, that it took organizational skills of the highest level to pull off. I'm sure I missed a great number of things, but these are the ones I remember: Olivier Wevers as Drosselmeyer made the first appearance, emerging through a "basement" door, and he tripped onto the stage! (I hope this was planned and not a prank.) There was a party guest who was a bit randier and more forward than usual -- there was a lot more hitting on Frau Stahlbaum in general, perhaps inspired by the lovely Stacy Lowenberg -- and some slapstick collisions were added, causing a domino effect at one point during the party dances. Drosselmeyer made the two dolls move by using a remote. Brittany Reid, Lucien Postlewaite, and Anton Pankevitch wore shiny red noses behind their masks in Masque. In the fight scene, the head Warrior Mouse wielded a light saber instead of a sword. One of the little mice looked like s/he was dressed as a super-hero, but that could have been the lighting. Some of the older warrior mice were playful, tripping each other up. The snowflakes staged a good, old-fashioned snowball fight, stocking up after each exit, without missing a step. The stagehands were in on it, too, causing a mini-storm mid-way through, and a blizzard at the end. The singers in the snow scene chanted, "Scoo--bie, scoobie do" during the wordless chorus.

In the second act, the Costume Shop was raided. Pasha (Drosselmeyer's dream character) usually wears orange harem pants; Wevers wore bright red shorts with black trim that would have been at home in a Nicolo Fonte piece. With his wide belt, he looked like he was out of the World Wrestling Federation, and at one point, while the Prince and Drosselmeyer are circling each other trying to get the upper hand, Wevers and Herd, the Prince, did a stomach bump. There were elf hats everywhere, and Karel Cruz in the Moors was wearing a Santa beard with his hat. In Peacock, Wevers pulled a peacock feather from Kylee Kitchens' mane, and it appeared throughout the act. The dervishes wore white wigs instead of black ones. The man in Commedia wore red breeches, like the Prince, and the women wore hats and garland necklaces. At one point in the section, one of the Colombines (Lowenberg and Kari Brunson) held up a little piece of mistletoe, and Lucien Postlewaite ignored her and kissed the other girl. Drosselmeyer gave the peacock feather to Clara, who passed it to Korbes' Flora. Korbes passed it to one of the Flowers, who passed it to another, and another, and to one who offered it and then pulled it away, with Korbes getting it back at the end. Again, none of the Flowers missed a beat or a step. The flowers rummaged the costume shop headdress section, each choosing a different one, and one flower wore a red flower in hers.

For the most part, there was no visible interference with the carefully choreographed parts for children. However, the peacock feather did make it back to Clara at the end, who woke up from her dream with it. Marina Taylor, who played the young Clara, brought it onstage for the curtain call, where it was passed, finally, to conductor Allan Dameron. That wasn't the end of the snow, however; Wevers and Pasha's two attendents carried out boxes full, which they dumped on the orchestra during their bows.

For adults, and some children, who had seen the ballet before, it was like a puzzle trying to figure out what was different. There were plenty of laughs, and I didn't always get what caused it, which means I'm sure I missed out on some very clever stage action and references. Even though the people I was with had never seen the ballet before, they started to guess what was probably different. (And they were right a remarkable percentage of the time.)

The adult leads played it almost entirely straight: most of the party guests, the parents, the dolls, Clara, Prince, Peacock, Dervishes, Flora, and the choreography was danced intact. And the dancing was superb: Kitchens was pristine as the Ballerina doll and a mysterious, unfolding creature as Peacock. Kiyon Gaines danced the Soldier Doll was such softness and so classically, he could have been dancing Donizetti Variations or Emeralds. Red noses aside, Pankevitch's and Postlewaite's turnout and placement in the Masque was a joy to watch, and Brittany Reid was expansive as Pirlipat. Cruz was an elegant Warrior Mouse, which doesn't seem possible, and he and Lindsi Dec were charming as the Moors. Korbes was a lilting dream as Flora amidst the swirling of the flowers. Mara Vinson was a radiant Clara, and Casey Herd a gallant Prince. They both keep dancing better and better with each new challenge.

Amidst the high cheer of the season and this special performance, was really stood out was how beautiful the choreography is, end to end.

#2 Bill

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Posted 24 December 2005 - 05:33 PM

It sounds delightful, Helene. Thank you for the vivid description...and season's greetings!

#3 Helene

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Posted 25 December 2005 - 02:06 AM

I spent Christmas Eve with the family of my 11-year-old friend, who is a student at the school and was one of Pasha's small slaves in last year's production, in the cast that performed on Christmas Eve day. After I enthusiastically described the performance to her parents, she informed me that there was a snowball fight last year, and that it was a tradition to do special Christmas Day performances. She also tried very hard not to roll her eyes at my adult unawareness.

#4 sandik

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Posted 04 January 2006 - 02:11 PM

I am sorry to have missed this performance, it sounds like great fun.

I was there earlier in the week, and got a chance to see Carla Korbes as Clara. She was cool and lovely, and very self-possessed, particularly in her relationship to the Pasha in act 2. If the Clara seems too youthful in that section the Pasha can appear as a predator in these hyper-aware days, but there wasn't any of that here. There were a couple of glitchy moments in the partnering, but I'm writing that off to chance, since Christophe Maraval is usually an excellent partner, and he was princely as always everywhere else.

I'd chosen that performance to see Korbes, but also to see Rebecca Johnston as the lead in Flowers. She's been a corps member since '99 and is unfailing able to make sense out of the wild variety of material that comes with the corps de ballet territory. Kent Stowell's Flora is a very busy part, dancing across the waltz rhythm frequently and covering lots of ground, and Johnston made it all very clear. She seemed to have a group of fans on house left, and I was glad to join in their enthusiasm for her dancing.

#5 Helene

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Posted 04 January 2006 - 03:00 PM

I'd chosen that performance to see Korbes, but also to see Rebecca Johnston as the lead in Flowers.  She's been a corps member since '99 and is unfailing able to make sense out of the wild variety of material that comes with the corps de ballet territory.  Kent Stowell's Flora is a very busy part, dancing across the waltz rhythm frequently and covering lots of ground, and Johnston made it all very clear.  She seemed to have a group of fans on house left, and I was glad to join in their enthusiasm for her dancing.

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I wish I had been able to see that performance. I love Rebecca Johnston's dancing, and my eye is always drawn to her when she performs. (When I saw a redhead about to perform the Ballerina doll, I thought for a moment that it was she.) I hope this is the beginning of great opportunities for her.


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