PNB's Nutcracker(notes of a curmudgeon)
Posted 09 December 2007 - 02:33 PM
Not so the PNB Nutcracker. Sacrilege I know!
I haven't seen a live Nutcracker in many years. I figured I must have seen the PNB Nutcracker sometime during my 25 years living here, but apparently not. I took my best friend's 11 year old son to PNB's Nutcracker last Friday. This kid seems to love ballet -- I took him first to an all Stravinsky program where he was captivated by both Rubies and State of Darkness (Rite of Spring). So since I started him at the "wrong end of the spectrum" so to speak, I figured I had better take him through the door most kids first use as an introduction to ballet.
I too was excited since it had been so long since I had seen a Nutcracker and I had such good memories of this classic. Well, it turned out my memories were formed long ago when I lived in San Francisco and saw SFB's Nutcracker several times. Altho my young friend had a great time, and I enjoyed the evening, I was basically disappointed.
My reaction probably has its roots in the fact that I have never been a fan of Kent Stowell's choreography -- not 25 years ago when I first moved to Seattle, and not in 2005 when Kent retired. I'm surely not saying Kent is a poor choreographer (I would be wholly unqualified to make such a statement), but his style has simply never appealed to me -- just as, I suppose, Forsythe or Wheeldon might not appeal to someone else. There are ballets of Stowell's I like (e.g., Carmina Burana, Silver Lining), but generally I don't. Somehow I always seem to be expecting the dance in his choreography to be doing something else given the music at that moment. The music climaxes, but the dance is subdued; the music calls for fast expressive dancing, but the dancers are doing pantomime; the music has me wanting an intense PdD, but dozens of dancers are moving quickly on and off stage. With Kent Stowell's choreography, I just don't get the magic when music and dance blend into a unified whole.....which is what I live for when I go to the ballet (I will admit I am always very strongly driven by the music).
Stowell's Nutcracker gave me this same unfortunate feeling. Perhaps too harshly, I often say after a Stowell ballet that "some music was wasted".....and this production had me say the same thing. Too much gesturing; too many dancers moving on and off stage for reasons that seemed out of place to me; too many times the music "said" one thing but the dancers did something else.
I guess one can't be a fan of everything and everyone. I'm sorry Kent that I have failed you; but frankly, I find myself harboring another sacrilious thought.....what would a newly commissioned Nutcracker look like under Boal's leadership? Could it be a bit less smaltzy? Could it be a bit less traditional? In the first act, could we drop some of the boys getting in trouble, and the girls whispering, and have a Drosselmeier that is less a buffoon but more an inventive sorcerer? I think that not only am I ready for a new Nutcracker in Seattle, but I'll bet today's kids are too. Today's kids know more about the world, and can digest more at whatever age, than their counterparts a quarter century ago could. Just look at my young 11 year old friend. I started him off with Stravinsky and he loved it!!
Later edit.....to be fair, I did very much enjoy Stowell's Peacock (superbly danced by the incomparable Arianna Lallone). Here the music and dance blended beautifully for me with wonderful and unusual "Balanchine-like" experiment to the movement.
Posted 09 December 2007 - 03:05 PM
Tchaikovsky took great care, in the Land of the Sweets, to characterize each dance with its own national flavor, and Stowell defiantly ignores this. I just couldn't get comfortable on my own sofa as I watched.
But if the sets and costumes are the point of this production (as they seem to be here, a misplaced priority IMO), this is a big winner.
Posted 09 December 2007 - 05:40 PM
You're a hop skip and jump from OBT's Balanchine's The Nutcracker.
Posted 09 December 2007 - 06:49 PM
I haven't seen this production. What explains the great popularity of this version -- the Sendak designs? It would be interesting to read one or two statements for the defense.
Posted 09 December 2007 - 09:31 PM
I do love the ideas that go into this production, and honestly I don't think it's as bad as some people make it out to be. It is the only Stowell work that I like...at all. I like the fact that it tries to find new ideas in the Tchaikovsky score. It's not an easy thing to do, and for the most part I think the ideas have the potential to succeed.
In my ideal world, the production would remain the same, but the choreography of the individual dances would be tackled by someone else.
The OP has stated that they observed Drosselmeier in this production being more of a Buffoon. I think that observation might be changed depending on who is dancing that role. I've always thought that that character in this production was more sinister and disturbing that a buffoon.
I would also have to disagree that Seattle needs a new Nutcracker. It is still a big, big money maker in this town. Not because of the choreography, but because of the Sendak production. Everyone I know who is not in the dance community absolutly loves this production. They all look forward to going to it year after year. Every student I've ever had loves to go, even though it's an hour commute each way. They still want to go year after year and don't get tired of it. To bring in a new production would mean a huge financial undertaking that frankly, I wouldn't want to see. I would rather those funds go into other productions...or, say...dancer's salaries.
The Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker makes money, lots of it. Leave it alone, let it continue to make money instead of bringing in a new one that will rack up millions of dollars of new production costs.
I do, however, think that the Mark Morris 'Hard Nut' would do wonderfully in Seattle.
Posted 10 December 2007 - 06:12 AM
I think that Stowell was trying very hard to NOT do anything Balanchine-y, NOT do anything Christensen/SFB, and NOT do anything like the old Fedorova Ballet Russe production, that he couldn't get his own voice in there edgewise, and restricted himself out of making a positive statement of his own.
And a word about Drosselmeyer - he shouldn't be around during the second act, or anytime after the Nutcracker transforms. The Nutcracker Prince is the original Nathaniel Drosselmeyer in Hoffman, under a spell of eternal ugliness from the Mouse King. Having someone who loves him in spite of his lack of beauty breaks the spell, and he is transformed back into his original handsome self. Between Dr. Drosselmeyer, the nutcracker (totem) and the handsome boy, we have a dreifachsgänger! Talk about mothers-in-law!
Posted 25 December 2007 - 04:08 PM
Posted 28 December 2007 - 06:58 PM
The cast list and the cast didn't always mesh: Maria Chapman was Frau Stahlbaum in place of Brittany Reid, and Reid danced Flora in her place in Waltz of the Flowers. It looked like Chapman's high calves and arches in Peacock, the role in which Reid is listed in the program, but I couldn't confirm from her face and profile, not with the Peacock's hooded costume.
There are many things I love about this production. The first is the theme from the original story: the Nutcracker and Mouse King fight for Clara, and the Mouse King's bite renders Clara ugly and unhappy. It starts after the overture, as Drosselmeier leads three children dressed as the trio to a dance, in which they depict the story. Less literally, Drosselmeier gives Fritz a stuffed mouse, who with the other boys, egged on by Drosselmeier, uses it to pursue and torture his sister, who clearly favors the Nutcracker. Later in the first act, Stowell interpolated the Pastorale from Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades for a trio of dancers who hold a masks of their characters on sticks, and who depict the story again. (Jessika Anspach was a standout in it.) In Act II, the trio is the Prince, the adult/dream Clara, and Pasha. (His "bite" is as the end, when he reveals himself as Drosselmeier, and she is left bereft and weeping.) Without the backstory, the mice are just scary creatures without an antecedent.
I will always love the little waltz that the Stahlbaums do at the end of the party scene. I also love all of the divertissement dances in Act II, up to Waltz of the Flowers, particularly the Moors' dance, because I've never seen a Spanish version that I've more than liked. (What I love in Balanchine's "Hot Chocolate" is the metallic underskirts of the women's costumes.) I think Moors is a great interpretation. I've also always loved Commedia ("Marzipan Shepherdesses"), and especially with the weighty but smooth performance by Kiyon Gaines, flanked by two leggy beauties, Dec and Brunson. (I was having trouble with faces today; I recognized Dec's smile, but not Brunson's.) As I mentioned before, I think Chapman danced Peacock; it was a wonderfully phrased dance.
Waltz of the Flowers is okay -- nothing can compete with the Balanchine; I just wish that Flora wore a constrasting or more highlighted costume. (She blends in too much with the other flowers.) Reid was expansive as Flora; I love her in this role. Several times she ended the smooth, flowing fouette series with a perfect double pirouette, arms in high fifth.
When Clara puts the Nutcracker doll in the toy box by the tree, the handkerchief is still around his neck. When she opens the box duirng her dream, the handkerchief is there, but the doll is gone. When the box expands in size, the handkerchief is replaced by a long piece of flowing white fabric. After the set clears, the Nutcracker-turned-Prince awakens and lifts the fabric, under which lies the adult Clara. They dance a pas de deux.
Miranda Weese danced the adult Clara with Stanko Milov. In the Act I pas de deux, she looked so delicate dancing with Milov, and she seemed to float in the lifts. In the Act I Grand Pas de Deux, she was majestic. The change was almost a miracle, a transition between the pre-teen Clara and a princess. It was as if the Act I PdD was performed on a raked stage, with Milov upstage, and the Act II PdD was performed on the flat stage.
Conductor Stewart Kershaw, whose last performance was this afternoon, looked almost too happy at the curtain call. He certainly took the "Mother Ginger" music at a quite a clip; those poor Toy Theatre kids had to pick it up a notch.
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