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Los Angeles Ballet Nutcracker, December 23


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#1 papeetepatrick

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 05:21 PM

I mentioned this on Cristian's 'Merry Christmas' post the other day, and looked also at some reviews of the company, for which I have great hopes, as I think Los Angeles is continuing to becoming more and more the truly creative city. It doesn't have the quantity of New York, but some of it is of the same highest quality, and it's a place sophisticated enough, and with so much material to use, that it doesn't have the frozen and paralyzed quality that New York sometimes does have--I'm speaking of the more insular nature of the city itself, with Manhattan becoming something of a more digitalized place, too corporate, too electronic and decidedly not electric as it used to be. My discovery of two really good Broadway scores (to my taste only, of course) in the last 30 years, after listening to almost all of the fairly well-known ones by now, is part of this turning of Manhattan into a museum. It's become dull in a lot of ways, and the sense of adventure is nowhere compared to what I find in Los Angeles, although manyt chauvinists will find this appalling (I can hardly blame them if I still felt the same way.)

I was late, as it was some trouble getting to UCLA from Hollywood, so arrived at handsome Royce Hall, itself found almost within a maze of buildings on the beautiful UCLA campus, by the time of the mice, so I missed the Party, and I imagine it was lovely, with Colleen Neary and Adam Luders presiding. The mouse costumes aren't that great, not like NYCB or Royal Ballet's morbid-obesity-look mice, so I paid not too much attention, but was already looking at Clara, the beautiful and prodigiously gifted 15-year-old Lilit Hogtanian as Clara. I hate that I missed some of her earlier dancing in particular. Obviously, this is not as a whole sweeping thing the NYCB Nutcracker, although husband-wife team Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, also the directors, were thinking about it pretty consciously a lot of the time. Someone pm'd me here last night and pointed out that Miss Hogtanian was attracting a lot of attention, and I've since looked at the program and seen how far she's already come. Therefore, not knowing this beforehand, it was a special pleasure to come upon a young dancer who, from the first moment you saw her, you couldn't keep your eyes off her--and not knowing about her, expecting something good perhaps, but not quite this celestial, gave me some confidence in my eye as an amateur ballet-goer. Maybe this is going to be the new dancer of dreams: the extensions were as high as I've ever seen them, and looked entirely natural to me. This beautiful young girl's every move was a dream. She even reminded me of a more petite Suzanne Farrell in the look of the limbs (although at this age I don't know if this means anything) crossed with Sylvie Guillem--not a bad hybrid.

Then there were the Snowflakes, which were charming despite problems of a major order with the snow itself--an audience member afterwards mentioned something of seeing some snow that worked in some Pina Bausch, and so twice there had been, once on the left just before the Snowflake Dancers and then while they were dancing to the right, these desultory falls of 20 or 30 snowflakes, that made you wonder whether there were going to be any more, or whether even the ones that fell had somehow dropped from a bag by accident. The Snowflakes had tutus which I'm sure must be familiar, but had me quite giddy, since they were these giant powder-puff-looking things that I kept trying to find to what they were similar: eggs? decorative pincushions? (this seemed closest). They sort of flounced around and were cute, but I wasn't quite sure why they wanted such slightly comical Snowflakes. There has been some mention in reviews of this 'los angelesized' nutcracker, but I think the snow sprinkles were not intentional surely (I'm sure if Candy Spelling had not used real snow, as she is known to have once or more than once, this wouldn't have happened; much less fake snow). There were other touches I'll mention later, but the show's synopsis in the program has the Christmas Party set in Los Angeles 1912. There may have been a set for this for the Miniature Overture, but I suppose they had Pasadena in mind, as Bunker Hill, now disappeared in its famous mutations in the movies, hasn't ever been quite the place for a long-established bourgeois German family who are gentle with everything. The rich areas of the West Side were untouched in 1912, not even any Pickfair yet.

There was some good dancing in Arabian and Russian, with a fantastically gymnastic dancer Sergey Kheylik wowing people with amazing contortions in the air. Spanish was also pleasing, but neither it nor Arabian really made me pay much attention, having seen much better at NYCB last winter. Harlequin and Columbine were Nancy Richer and Peter Snow, and I found them quite sparkling and sprightly. Marie, the Sugar Plum Fairy, was danced Sunday by Melissa Barak, whom I found merely serviceable, but did give me a chance to muse on Suzanne Farrell's Sugar Plum Fairy, which I never saw, but many here have mentioned, including this year. I saw her in many other things, but imagined as the piece was progressing what she must have been like, and especially that she would have had a wry relationship with the celesta's peculiar timbre, which is not the everyday sort of 'being-in-the-world'.

None of the costumes were really stunning for those of us used to NYCB, but this performance means far more to me than the one I saw at NYCB last year, primarily because of the perfection of the Flowers. In this, Miss Hogtanian joins her flowers as if to be the Dewdrop herself. And I never thought I'd live to say this--and critics are already lamenting Los Angeles Ballet's 2nd year beginning to wither without live music, without this, without that--but the acoustics at Royce Hall are excellent and the recordings sounded much better than when I've heard them with other companies (including Martha Graham, where the difference in having a live orchestra is like night and day--the day in that case being the live orchestra, in which the Graham Company glories); in fact, the recordings, because of tempi not all made prestississimo were infinitely preferable to the absurd live driving-turbines that Karoui turned the orchestra and dancers into. A year later, I was even more angry at how he had sped up the Waltz than when I first heard it. At the Los Angeles Ballet, with Lilit Hogtanian the most perfect fairy-like being in the world, you saw a real Waltz of the Flowers. And as much as I appreciate Sarah Mearn's artistry, her womanliness is not as perfect for this little slip of a flower as Miss Hogtanian. So this combination of the perfect Clara and the perfect Flowers being able to release their perfume gently with a Waltz played realistically (this Waltz is not a languorous Viennese Waltz, of course, but neither is it supposed to sound as if it had been scored for some dumb animated film), made me look back at what I saw at NYCB last year, and the Waltz had been by far the worst among several stupidly fast tempi: What I consider to have seen last year was 'Waltz of the Sweating Flowers'. And Miss Hogtanian's presence in the Waltz made it by far the most perfect Waltz of the
Flowers I've ever seen.

The Nutcracker is done by 12-year-old Erik Thordal Christensen, although you would think the most jaded Rodeo Drive shopper was taking over the stage. All leonine wig (I think, his photo in the program is of a pretty short-haired boy) and a floor-length off-white fur coat which is perfectly outrageous, make him sport the most wonderful of the 'local touches'. Other audience members found this touch of camp amusing as well. Clara goes to sleep with a little mouse riding a tricycle around her twice, which was maybe cute,. but seemingly could have been omitted, as Lilit is loveliness enough.

Edited to add: I mentioned Ballet Talk to quite a number of people in Los Angeles, including a bus driver who said 'everything went wrong' when he almost made ABT, but did do a national tour of 'Two Gentleman of Verona.' also, due to our Ballet Attire post, I wore Leprechaun-looking shoes bought in Liverpool 20 years ago and worn no more than 10 times, they are so unusual. My travelling companion at the time bought these amazing shoes as well, and his lasted 5 years. Mine are still in perfect shape, so I wore them in honour of Helene and kfw, among others! I wrote this friend whose leprechaun shoes are no more that I wore them to 'bring European quaintness', given the palm trees, etc. This may have gone unnoticed, of course...

#2 Andre Yew

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 06:46 PM

It's always interesting to read other people's first time impressions of LAB, especially people who aren't from the local area. Thanks!

I saw the show at Royce the previous night with Corina Gill and Rainer Krenstetter dancing SPF and her cavalier, and saw this production last year a few times, too. I'm not very thrilled with this Nutcracker --- the dancing doesn't blend well with the story, and much of the 1st act drags with simplistic dancing that doesn't even advance the story. It seemed a bit connect-the-dots: now we dance because we have the dancing music, and now we do some things with the plot. If you're going to do that, you'd better have very good dance choreography (like Balanchine's), and the choreography for the most part was uninspired.

The one highlight for me was Corina and Rainer's radiant dancing of the grand pas adage --- the partnership looks very good, which is a relief since her last partner, Oleg Gorboulev, who also looked to be a very good match, returned to Seattle. I'm surprised Corina didn't dance the Sunday Arabian, since that's her alternate role. She was very good in it last year.

I was also annoyed at how the music was changed: Mirlitons was omitted, while the grand pas's variations led off the beginning of act 2. Also, the beautiful music for the snow pas (the music right after the rats are defeated) was wasted on fairly lame mime action.

The costumes are actually from the Royal Danish Ballet's production, and I thought were very well executed and high quality. They are a bit less extroverted than the Balanchine costumes, though. The snowflakes costumes look very much like giant plastic loofah mesh balls to me. The mice costumes, especially their ratty-looking tails were perhaps a bit too realistic-looking for me.

The production people on Saturday night had some issues too. Lighting was uneven across the stage, so when the dancers lined up across the stage, the dancers nearest the wings were in the dark. It looked like there were missed cues, too, as some action happened in the dark before the lights came up.

Jonathan Sharp played Drosselmeyer, your "jaded Rodeo Drive shopper", and modeled his role after silent movie stars. I thought he was effective, and brought a well-needed sense of drama and theatricality to a mime role. Mime roles aren't done very well in general with American companies.

Lilit Hogtanian is very talented, and does a lot of dancing. The only thing conspicuously missing from her choreography were pirouettes. She alternated with another girl (Elise Miller) last year whom I didn't see, but heard from everyone else that she was almost unbelievably talented even compared to Lilit. That would have been something to see. Both girls are from the Yuri Grigoriev School in LA.

I'm being very picky, but it was good to see them fill Royce Hall on Saturday night. It's a much bigger venue than their other theaters, and hopefully it will bring people back for their really meaty programs this spring and summer.

--Andre

#3 papeetepatrick

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Posted 26 December 2007 - 08:09 PM

Jonathan Sharp played Drosselmeyer, your "jaded Rodeo Drive shopper", and modeled his role after silent movie stars. I thought he was effective, and brought a well-needed sense of drama and theatricality to a mime role. Mime roles aren't done very well in general with American companies.


Thanks, Andre! I knew that couldn't have been right, and I kept mixing up things that weren't like the Balanchine and also because I arrived late. I find all your observations very illuminating and have added to my pleasure in the performance. Corina did dance Arabian Sunday, and Damien Johnson's dancing was impressive there too. They came out into the lobby after most of the audience had vacated the auditorium.

I am frankly relieved to find Sharp doing Drosselmeyer, as my misunderstanding didn't allow the wonderful wit of this to quite work. That's one of the few really outrageous ingredients I've ever been able to thoroughly accept in a classical work, i.e., don't too often like modern-dress versions of Shakespeare, modernized 'Pelleas et Melisande', etc. too much. But I like this idea of the 'sharp object' being poked into the old furniture, which is much how this worked.

Andre, was the opening set at all evocative of some early 20th century Los Angeles, or was it just a rather conventional Christmas scene, without specific local character?

I agree that the costumes looked good, but I still do prefer the NYCB ones.

#4 Andre Yew

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 11:37 AM

I didn't think the opening party scene was all that evocative of Los Angeles, but according to last year's program notes, it's supposed to represent the vaguely Spanish architecture you find around here. There were basically wooden beams running across the ceiling of a wooden house. I guess that doesn't disqualify it from SoCal. Another thing I didn't like about LAB's Nut is that set design was too spare, which is especially apparent when juxtaposed against the rich costume design.

Did you get a look at the curtain drop at the end? I'm not sure if they showed it again at the end, but when you come in before the show, there are two angels against a starry night. Again, it's supposed to be evocative of the city of angels.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your visit to our area. Maybe you'll be back for their spring and summer programs?

--Andre

#5 papeetepatrick

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 03:36 PM

Did you get a look at the curtain drop at the end? I'm not sure if they showed it again at the end, but when you come in before the show, there are two angels against a starry night. Again, it's supposed to be evocative of the city of angels.


Yes! but I would have forgotten it had you not reminded me! In fact I shouldn't have, given that was strangely hypnotized by it and kept staring at it at intermission, surprised that the figure on the right looked somewhat more risque than it may have meant to (appropriate, of course, for the City of Angels under any circumstances)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your visit to our area. Maybe you'll be back for their spring and summer programs?

--Andre


Thank you for saying so, but I must say that I always enjoy Los Angeles immensely--and somehow this was the most perfect of all of my trips--all eleven of them, ten since Jan., 2001. This is my favourite time of year to go because it's usually chilly at night (this time chilly even in the daytime, with absolutely brilliant clear light after that rain last week with that huge moon in the sky at midday--I mean, you'd think that smog was a mere legend invented by East Coasters...). I'd go again in the spring if it were practical, and did notice that 'The Four Temperaments' and 'Tarantella' (to Gottschaulk; this is a work I'm not familiar with) would be there in the spring and 'Allegro Brillante' by the summer. Is Lilit ready to do something like this? or Elise that you mentioned? That has to have electricity, and although the older dancers were sometimes very fine, Lilit is like some kind of quasar or other unimaginably rare heavenly body--it wasn't even called 'Dewdrop' in this production, but she was a dewdrop, without even trying.

:devil: something absolutely delicious and outrageously inexpensive is Kobawoo House in Koreatown, where you can get their incredible Bosam, the pork with Chinese Cabbage and the big paper-thin-sliced radishes. The Los Angeles Koreatown is at least 20 times the size of ours by Herald Square, and it was a great pleasure to walk from Western/Wilshire to Vermont/8th Street and then back across Olympic. I am always amused when I ask someone in L.A. if a place is too far to walk, and they always say yes--and it's invariably a matter of 4-7 blocks! I'm just in love with the town.

#6 Helene

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 03:41 PM

'Tarantella' (to Gottschaulk; this is a work I'm not familiar with) would be there in the spring and

This is a wonderful, short pas de deux that Balanchine choroegraphed for Edward Villella and Patricia McBride. It's joyous and the score is a lot of fun.

#7 Andre Yew

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 05:35 PM

The Asian food available in LA is incredible --- that's a good enough reason to return!

Lilit and Elise have danced only in the Nutcracker, so you'll be seeing the regular LAB dancers for their regular rep programs. Judging from last season's performances of Agon, Apollo, Concerto Barocco, and Rubies, there will be one or two shining stars from the company in those programs. They will also be repeating the Napoli excerpts (including Tarantella --- wouldn't that be an interesting program to pair it with Balanchine's?), and it's worth seeing for the very good coaching they seem to have received for it.

--Andre

#8 papeetepatrick

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Posted 28 December 2007 - 12:17 PM

Andre--the one other thing I wanted to ask you about was about the pirouettes you found 'missing from Lilit's choreography'. Would this be because of her own abilities at this point? It made me wonder if dancers might often have something that is clearly not as developed as the rest of their technique--at least at an early age like that. Or whether, for some reason I couldn't guess, the choreography was simply consciously chosen to be like this, with 'absence of pirouettes'.

#9 Andre Yew

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Posted 29 December 2007 - 03:12 PM

I don't know if the pirouettes were left out because of the dancers' abilities, but I know the two girls were finalists in YAGP, so they must have pretty decent technique including turns.

Choreography is often changed to better suit the dancer sometimes due to their abilities, and other times due to injury.

--Andre

#10 dirac

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Posted 31 December 2007 - 12:30 PM

(They will also be repeating the Napoli excerpts (including Tarantella --- wouldn't that be an interesting program to pair it with Balanchine's?)


Yes, it would. Sounds like a nice spring.

Thank you, Andre and Patrick, for telling us about the production, I've enjoyed reading these.


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