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REVIEWS: Nutcracker at BAM


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#1 canbelto

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 08:17 PM

I just returned from Ratmansky's new staging of The Nutcracker for the ABT. It was an event filled with both parents bringing their little kids and hardcore balletomanes, obviously excited at a major new premiere.

And what did I think of it? Well, I liked some parts of it enormously and was disappointed with other parts. Ratmansky has some wonderful ideas, but IMO didn't put them together in a cohesive whole experience.


Act 1


The beginning was charming -- it starts out in the kitchen, where the cooks and servants are preparing the Christmas feast. Hiding under the table is a mouse (all the mice in Ratmansky's production are albino mice who are wearing dapper gray jackets). The humans are horrified by the mouse, and a a game of "catch the mouse" begins although the humans end up fleeing the kitchen. Then the mice really take over, and start grabbing at the food around the kitchen. It's a quirky, but very charming introduction.

The party scene was different. It started with a group of noticeably older children rushing onstage and performing a collective "temper tantrum" dance as they demand to get their presents. They stomp and shake their fists and shove each other till they get what they want. Gone is the charming dance of Balanchine's children (where Fritz is stiffed a partner and ends up dancing with the mom). Ratmansky's kids are brats, and they behave badly throughout the party scene -- shoving each other, grabbing each other's presents, throwing temper tantrums when they don't get immediate gratification. It's realistic, but I think it was meant to be funny but ended up being a bit uncomfortable. Clara (Athena Petrizzo) was really very charming though, if unusually serious.


Drosselmeyer arrives with a huge live Nutcracker doll (throughout the ballet the Nutcracker doll switches back and forth between being a small wooden toy and a life-size dancing doll), and Harlequin and Columbine and another dancing pair called Recruit and Canteen Keeper. Harlequin (Craig Salstein) and Harlequin (Gemma Bond) gave two of the best performances of the night, while Luis Ribagorda and Meaghan Hinkis were not as sharp as the Recruit and Canteen Keeper. Another fight breaks out over the Nutcracker Doll as Fritz seems to break the Dancing Nutcracker, and a heartbroken Clara (a wonderful Athena Petrizzo) drags the Dancing Nutcracker back to the couch. There's a quick change and Clara is now holding the small wooden Nutcracker. During this time the adults are in the background drinking and the party ends with the adults quite drunk.

Magic Time. There's no real growing tree (no trap door I guess), so the smaller tree is simply slid offstage while a big large tree is slid onstage. The large tree however looks like a green curtainish thing, and so the effect wasn't very magical. OTOH Ratmansky's choreography for the mice and soldiers was among the best I've seen. The mice are more comical than scary, and they march along pretentiously, drawing laughs from the audience. Clara the whole time is seated in a huge chair and she looks at the scene below and finally throws the shoe. The largeness of her chair is surreal and I think it is a nice transition on Ratmansky's part to indicate this is clearly a dream now.

Transformation Pas de Deux -- the Nutcracker Prince (Philip Perez) and Clara hold hands and out pop dream Clara and dream Prince, Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes. Part and Gomes are in glittery silvery tutus, and for awhile little Clara and the little Prince mimic Part and Gomes in some waltzing moments. Then little Clara and little Prince sit downstage, holding hands, as Part and Gomes dance a showing pas de deux that features some tricky lifts which looked underrehearsed and I think require a lightness that is not part of Part's arsenal. Part also had trouble with some supported pirouettes. Then dream Clara and dream Prince leave.

Now the snow scene. This is an idea that I think was good on paper but worked less well onstage. At first the snowflakes seem like visions, in soft blue romantic tutus and crowns (think Balanchine without the wands), and we think we're in winter wonderland. However as the music speeds up the snowflakes become sinister. They pull apart Clara and the Prince repeatedly and act almost like Wilis as they surround Clara and the Prince in two separate circles and seem to want to strangle them. There's not really enough snow to create what I think was the intended effect -- a vicious blizzard. There's hardly any snow falling at all, in fact. Finally Drosselmeyer comes onstage with a sled, and rescues poor Clara and the Prince. The Snowflakes lose their power (again, Wili-like) and end the act all prostrate onstage, very defeated.

Act 2 - Land of the Sweets

Well it's not so much Land of the Sweets as Land of the ... Indian Sweets? :innocent: The Sugar Plum Fairy (who doubles as the Nanny in Act 1) is a pure mime role, and she's not dressed in the usual pink. Rather she's wearing a fancy turban and a fluffy looking Bayadere-like dress. Zhong-Jing Fang is the SPF. She's accompanied by a Major Domo who's dressed like a Rajah. The decor for Act 2 is rather bare, suggests a gilded palace with lots of tiny gold columns in the background and green benches.

Little Clara and Little Prince are introduced to the SPF and her Majordomo, and thankfully Ratmansky includes the mime sequence for the little Prince. The SPF introduces her kingdom.

The national dances were I thought the most interesting part of the show. The Spanish dance was pretty typical, looks a lot like Balanchine's Chocolate Dance, with the three couples. But the Arabian was very different. I usually find this variation boring, but Ratmansky introduced a mini-story. Sascha Radetsky is a bald shiek type, very misogynistic, and at first it seems as if he's trying to dominate his four women, as one would do in a harem. He drags them around onstage and makes them lie down as if he's going to literally pluck one for his choosing. But the four women of the harem turn things around and revolt, and by the end of the dance he's the one left all alone as the women smugly link hands and walk offstage.

The Chinese dance also introduced a story. At first the relationship between the two dancers seemed full of conflict, but as the short dance progresses they reconcile and end the dance in a sweet lovey dovey embrace. Russian dance has three guys dressed like candy canes and the theme of this dance is the guys don't quite know how to dance -- they bump into each other, stumble, and end the dance on the floor, a total mess. I don't know if Ratmansky is subtly mocking the famously accident-prone Balanchine candy canes, who I've seen stumble over their hoops and fall more than a few times. Finally Mother Ginger has a little mouse along with the 7 little children, and in the end Mother Ginger is only able to get the cute little mouse back into her skirts.

The Waltz of the Flowers introduces another concept. The women are dressed in long multilayered tutus with each layer being a different shade of pink (much like Balanchine's) but Ratmansky also introduces four bees that swarm aroudn the flowers during the whole dance. It was again an interesting concept, but I have a serious allergy to bees so I think maybe I didn't appreciate the concept as much as I should have. But also, I think the choreography for the Waltz of the Flowers was a bit muddled -- the bees popped in and out, but there was no relationship established between the flowers and the bees.

Finally, the Grand Pas de Deux. During the whole second act little Clara and little Prince have been sitting and watching the dances, but the scene changes, and out come Dream Clara and Dream Prince. Little Clara and Little Prince finally go offstage as Part and Gomes dance their big pas de deux. They look like a dream couple, in glittery tutus, a tiara for Part, and a shiny silver suit for Gomes. But their dancing contained some awkwardness. The pas de deux contains lots of very swoony Romeo and Juliet-like lifts that again, are awkward for a dancer as tall as Part. It might work better on smaller, lighter dancers. There's no shoulder-jump lifts, but the climactic lift is one that echoes the Grigorivich production. The Prince lifts Clara as Clara is completely upright, over his head. Big applause, and for once the grandeur of Part's dancing seemed appropriate for this big lift. There's a weird section where Part all of a sudden collapses in heaving tears, and Gomes comforts her. I say weird because in the coda, their pas de deux becomes almost comical and playful, so I don't know what the sudden bursting of tears accomplished. Pas de deux ends in a fishdive, Balanchine style.

The variation for Gomes contains a lot of Bournonville-like petit allegro steps that are not Gomes' forte, and he seemed to tire visibly. He started flailing his arms, his form suffered, and for once this danseur noble seemed sloppy and out of sorts. The variation for Clara, on the other hand, contained none of the usual twinkly releves and little hops that usually characterize this variation. Or maybe Part just didn't perform them. I have to say, I was disappointed by Part in this variation. She seemed not to hear the music at all, and was uncomfortable with the small, fast, twinkly music. She preferred to do a series of big jumps that showed her elevation and ballon but I just got the weird feeling that she was either making things up as she was going along, or that she wasn't really articulating the choreography well.

The finale has the usual reprise by all the Act 2 members, but the choreography is rather static and ruined by a Vegas-style wedding between Dream Clara and Dream Prince, replete with the short bridal veil.

As the finale ends, little Clara is pushed onstage on a bed as the dream characters disappear. She wakes up with Gomes on one side and Little Prince on the other, and as she reaches out for them, they too disappear. She collapses on her bed in another fit of tears, until magically the little wooden Nutcracker appears on her bed (Drosselmeyer is watching from the window). Curtain.

Maybe the most touching part of the whole evening came during the curtain calls, when the little Prince Philip Perez dropped to his knees and kissed little Clara's hand. It was a moment of childlike beauty in a Nutcracker where children were portrayed as bratty and overemotional. And it was nice having little Clara and little Prince taking curtain calls and bouquets along with Part and Gomes.

I have mixed feelings about this Nutcracker. A week ago I attended the NYCB Nutcracker where the children were kid-like but not actual brats, the Snowflakes were a real Winter Wonderland, everything was Sweet in the Kingdom of the Sweets, and Balanchine stayed true to both the 1892 libretto and his own vision of the Nutcracker as a wondrous children's fantasy. The whole ballet had a cohesiveness, a unity of purpose and style that this Nutcracker lacked. This Nutcracker had moments of charm and whimsy, but it felt like a seven course meal where a few of the courses were missing.

#2 Kyeong

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 08:33 PM

[size="1"]Moderator's note: Moved from an earlier thread
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Did anyone attend the unofficial prima tonight? I'm dying to know what the production is like (though will find out in 18 hours or so for myself!). :) The pictures of Veronika in the NYT were so dreamy...

I'm sure there will be someone who can report more thoroughly and with more knowledge, but, in short, and in my thought, this production is really funny, very engaging, perfectly fit for people who see the ballet once a year (not in a negative meaning at all). I was reminded of Mattew Borne in terms of color, humor and a hint of a man-woman relationship in many scenes. Further, as I saw Bolshoi live b'casting a few days ago, it was interesting to me to find Bolshoi or Mattew Borne-like scene in the production (I don't mean that Alexei Ratmansky may have turned to those two). At this time, much of this production's charm lies in the novelty, so I think it better not to explain in detail. Audience was very enthusiastic, especially for the youngest mice. He was so cute. Today's young Clara was Athena Petrizzo, and she was fabulous. I loved her. I generally like this production, but wish Alexei R left the snow flake scene and the flower waltz scene closer to the traditional one (I cannot give up the traditional beauty of those two scenes), and slowed the music during the Grand PdD (simply because I am the person who needs more time to emotionally react to the music and the movement). I think this production will be a good rival to NYCB's Nutcracker, and everyone who is going to see this production will not be disappointed.

#3 Waelsung

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 11:37 PM

I was there too, and unfortunately, I did not like the production at all. The children were cute and endearing, but there was just too much of them. They danced well for their age, but if I wanted to see some amateurish school-level dancing I'm sure I could find a show for a fraction of what ABT charges for tickets.

As much as I love Part, I must admit she was disappointing. Gomes could not master the lifts and a couple of times almost dropped Veronika. Sorry to say that, but they both looked terribly underrehearsed, so it's quite possible that eventually they will get better with time or other couples might do better even this season.

Choreographically, Ratmansky proves once again that he wouldn't know subtlety if it stared him in the eyes. His ideas are extremely straight-forward, without even a hint of originality. With everything looking and feeling like a rehashed deja-vu, his Nutcracker is all over the place, unable to decide whether it wants to be scary or funny and as a result being neither.

Overall, for me, the evening was a total waste of time and dollars, so my advice to everybody: save your hard-earned money or donate to a worthy charity of your choice.

#4 gsmom

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 04:13 AM

Very interesting comments...thank you for the reviews! I do have to add though--New Jersey Ballet's Nutcracker (40th Anniversary!)is getting fantastic reviews!! Might be worth the trip "next door".....

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 06:32 AM

Thank you for the reviews -- please keep them coming. And please keep this thread for ABT's production, not ads for other favorites :)

#6 FauxPas

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 07:43 AM

I think one thing that must be mentioned is that Richard Hudson's designs were light, elegant, airy and charming. They added a real fairy tale feel that wasn't sugary or twee - as he said he doesn't do flounces. There was a genuine style and sense of atmosphere there.

As for Ratmansky's ideas - some were good, some can be changed, some will work better with other dancers and some need to settle in. This was our first major look at the Jacqueline Onassis School onstage and I saw a lot of raw talent but in a still unfinished state. When you see the children of SAB or the Kirov school, they have all been drilled and polished to perfection over a number of years by the same teachers and are on a high professional level. This was more enthusiasm and gusto than artistic finish up there. With younger children being trained for more years (as the school is in operation longer) then more impressive results will follow. Some of the boys looked like they had potential as future soloists. I am sure this was rehearsed often and well but it still looked unfocused in places. Many of the group dances had approximate formations and some of the dancers were off the music.

Veronika Part did not have a disastrous evening but not a great one either. I thought Marcelo far from almost dropping her probably saved her butt from hitting the floor more than once. I also like his solo though he is kind of big to be doing that kind of jumpy, busy solo. Part did eventually pull out some lovely turns and jumps and started to carry her weight but she seemed to lack energy to pull her through the whole pas de deux, solo and coda. She seemed breathless at the end. I wonder how hard she trains during the off season to keep up her stamina. My companions (except my 6 year old nephew who loved it but got tired and fell asleep during the grand pas de deux) all loved the pas de deux section but were less thrilled with the solos and coda. I am quite in favor of having different choreography for different dancers - something that was done in Petipa's time even in classic standard ballets. I don't think one size fits all. I hope Xiomara Reyes dances more petit allegro steps than Veronika does and that Paloma has more turns and pirouettes in her coda. Balanchine used to give Violette Verdy special solos and had to change them when other ballerinas took over her parts. Revive that tradition.

I agree with canbelto (who I spoke with at intermission) about the Wili-like Snowflakes - this is not "The Little Match Girl" about little children freezing in the snow. The music reflects a magical winter landscape in a happy dream. Rethink Ratmansky. However, I did like the bumblebees in the Waltz of the Flowers but my companions thought the flowers were Candy Canes, not flowers and the ensemble needed some tightening. Also agree about the bratty children in the Act I party. I also felt that the party needs some editing to focus on certain dramatic details.

The little Clara, Athena Petrizzo was lovely and I liked her Prince as well. Victor Barbee has sometimes walked through his parts of late, even great ones like his Grand Brahmin in Bayadere. His Drosselmeyer found him back in arresting, stage commanding form and no "extra" dimensions were added to his relationship with this child Clara - he was a benign magician figure and eccentric uncle. Nothing kinky. It was nice to see Zhong-Jing Fang back onstage even in a mime role - she was very gracious.

Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky were in a box to the left with their daughter Emma Galina and Daniil Simkin was in the same box.

While not an instant classic like the Balanchine, this is a fine production and quirky, original choreography. It just needs some recasting and settling in as well as some rethinking of a few ideas that aren't backed up by the music. I wish I could come back and see it develop with different dancers but I can only do so much "Nutcracker" in a season.

#7 abatt

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 08:22 AM

I'm curious as to how well the tickets sold. Was the theater full?

#8 dancemom101

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 08:39 AM

I was in attendance. There were only a few empty seats. I was told it was basically sold out.

#9 gsmom

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 09:10 AM

Thank you for the reviews -- please keep them coming. And please keep this thread for ABT's production, not ads for other favorites :)

Point(e) taken...my apologies! I do love ALL Nutcrackers this time of year--hope everyone does enjoy them as well! :flowers:

#10 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 09:38 AM

I was in attendance. There were only a few empty seats. I was told it was basically sold out.


I was doing some ticket scouting yesterday and there were still decent seats available for most of the upcoming performances. Interestingly enough, some of the best seats are available for the "peak" (and more highly priced) performances, but not the "standard" ones.

#11 canbelto

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 10:47 AM

I think Part might have done better had there not been so many swoony, extended lifts in the choreography. There's lots of big lifts where Part is lifted, almost horizontally, above Gomes' shoulder and spun around many times before being put down, and then before we know it another extended lift. By the end of the evening both of them were noticeably tired. I would like to see how a more petite dancer would look in this choreography.

ETA: I also think the sinister Wili-like snowflakes were maybe the biggest misstep. The music resembles a blizzard, but it also conjures images of a real winter wonderland, and it's always one of my favorite moments of music, ever. The ABT also did away with the chorus. I wonder whether that was by choice or by necessity. But definitely, if I were to revise one thing about the choreography, it'd be the Sinister Snowflakes.

#12 abatt

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 07:52 PM

I attended tonight's premiere. Kevin McKenzie gave a curtain speech thanking all the donors, but particularly David Koch. McKenzie announced that the company was giving Koch a gift of a Nutcracker drawing. He proceeded to introduce Koch. Koch stated, "Thank you, Peter" Gasps and groans were heard throughout the audience. It took Koch a moment to realize his error. Koch then stated that he would put the drawing next to a drawing he has of Peter and the Wolf. (I think this may have been a cover to convey to the audience that he was thinking of Peter and the Wolf, not Peter Martins, when he mis-spoke.) When Koch was introduced, there was very modest clapping, and at least one hiss.

On to the ballet. I thought the costumes and sets were marvelous, except that the X-Mas tree was disappointing. Gillian and David were breathtaking, and the choreography for their variations was first rate.Gillian was so light on her feet. David was a wonderful partner and handled the allegro steps in his solo with ease and precision. I loved the opening scene in the kitchen. Tonights kid leads were Catherine Hurlin and Tyler Maloney. Both were very good. I have to agree with the posts above about the child tantrum scenes in the first act. I see this behavior every morning on the subway. I would have preferred to have been transported to a world where social grace and cordial behavior among youngsters was the governing behavior. Oh well. I also thought the variations for Chinese (Lane, Simkin) was very clever and well done. However, overall I felt that much of the choreography was disappointing. I think this may have been in part due to the relatively small stage space. For example, in the snow scene, the snowflake corps of dancers should float through the air. However, possibly due to the stage constraints, most of their choreography was very contained and simplistic. I also thought that the choreography for the flowers and bees suffered from the same problem. Too many people on stage, but not much room to move around. The Spanish dance was pretty standard stuff. Sascha was the Arabian Dancer tonight. I thought the music called out for more sensual, sinuous choreography. I was very disapponted with the Russian dance (Ilyan, Salstein, Scott). It was comical in a Three Stooges sense, but it was a wasted opportunity for some great choreography. I didn't care for the costumes of the Nutcracker's Sisters (Boylton, Hamrick, Kajiya, Messmer, Underwood). More importantly, once again I felt like their choreography was too simplistic and a bit dull.


Every dance critic was present. I saw Mark Morris in the audience. All of the major donors were there, as well as numerous company members. (I saw Stella, Ethan, Kent with her adorable little boy, Max, and Irina in the audience). Irina, once again, wins for best dressed. She was wearing a gorgeous burgundy form fitting silk dress which went to the knee, with puffy short sleeves and matching burgundy heels. Her closet must be a treasure.

In sum, I had a good time, but I found that overall I was frequently bored because I felt that the choreograpny was often too simplistic and contained for this caliber of a company.

I'm sure Peter -- I mean Kevin -- doesn't mind being called by an incorrect name as long as Koch keeps writing big checks to ABT.

#13 Ambonnay

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 09:20 PM

I also attended the premiere of the Nutcracker.

I liked this Nutcracker, but only until the (very late) point where the danseur (Hallberg on this evening) mimes professing his love for the "grown up" Clara (Murphy) and asking her to marry him. When she mimes agreement, the Sugar Plum Fairy brings out a ring and Hallberg puts a kitschy-looking wedding short veil (not covering Murphy's face) on Murphy. Starting from that point, the beauty of the Grand PDD of the ballet was halted and the ballet went downhill as the different performers in the earlier portion of the Act II Kingdom of the Sweets parade out to greet Clara and her Prince. Still, a 95 percent enjoyable ballet, and a Nutcracker that, like Kevin M suggested, is unlike others I have seen. In my mind, different in a good way.

After Hallberg and Murphy and the younger versions of them, the best portrayal in the ballet was of "Little Mouse". This is played by a young boy danseur who had a mouse head on all ballet. He was in a white leotard and was the only "child" mouse in the ballet. First of all, Little Mouse had thin arms and thin legs and looked very cute. Second, he was precocious and expressive and a lot of fun to watch.

As noted by abatt, David Koch and Kevin M spoke before the show. David K donated $2.5M. Initially, he was going to donate the entire cost of the ballet, but, when the actual cost was twice that estimated, other donors were relied upon.

Hallberg was especially clean, technically strong and lyrical in the Grand PDD. Murphy was wonderful too, and the two paired beautifully. One lift seemed more difficult than the other lifts performed. Hallberg used what seemed like one hand to support the entire body of Murphy held by Hallberg above his head. This pair was technically very accomplished, but also relating to each other on stage beautifully. Hallberg is continuing to do a great job with showing expression through his body, and of course his lines are stunning. His costume was a gorgeous white jacket with two rows of large shiny buttons, and white leotards.

The below omits most of the children (sorry, typing time limited around the holiday season):

Clara -- Catherine Hurlin (nice performance; looked like a young Gillian Murphy might)
The Nutcracker Boy -- Tyler Maloney (handsome; didn't go overboard in portrayal; had nice lines)
Clara, The Princess -- Gillian Murphy (danced very beautifully)
Nutcracker, The Prince -- David Hallberg (:flowers: what can I say but there was literally no room for improvement in his performance to my mind)
Drosselmeyer -- Victor Barbee (played to be more the esoteric and slightly goofy inventor rather than a more menacing Drosselmeyer version)
Nanny/Sugar Plum Fairy -- Zhong-Jing Fang (not a dancing role)
Little Mouse -- Justin Souriau-Levine (:flowers: outstanding)
Fritz -- Kai Monroe

THE KITCHEN
Butler -- Alexi Agoudine
Cook -- Julio Bragado-Young (with orange wig and some flair)
Maids -- Kelley Boyd and Luciana Paris
Mr. Stahlbaum -- Roddy Doble (good character depiction)
Mrs. Stahlbaum -- Nicole Curry

THE PARTY
Columbine -- Gemma Bond
Harlequin -- Craig Salstein
Recruit-- Luis Ribagorda
Canteen Keeper -- Meaghan Hinkis
Grandmother -- Marian Butler
Grandfather -- Roman Zhurbin (in another "older" role that was well-portrayed)
Two Aunts -- Jessica Saund and Sarah Smith
Parents -- EY Ahn, A Ettala, N Graniero, E Mertz, K Potter, C Shevchecnko, G Davis, G DeLong, T Eason, J Gorak, A Hammoudi, C Royal
Children -- not typed in, sorry

THE BATTLE
Mouse King -- Thomas Forster
Mice -- A Agoudine, J Bragado-Young, G Davis, G DeLong, T Eason, A Harroudi, M Illyin, V Krauchenka, J Phillips, Jose SEbastian, S Stewart, E Tamm
Tiny Soldiers -- not typed in

SNOW SCENE
Snowflakes -- Many of the corps ballerinas, including I Boylston, R Pavam, C Shevchecnko, L Underwood, K Uphoff

THE KINGDOM OF THE SWEETS
Majordomo -- Alexei Agoudine
Nutcracker's Sisters -- Isabella Boylston, Melanie Hamrick, Yuriko Kajiya, Simone Messmer, Leann Understood
Little Fairies -- not typed in
Pages -- not typed in
Arabians -- Sascha Radetsky and Nicole Curry, Isadora Loyola, Kelley Potter and Devon Teuscher
Spanish -- Maria Riccetto and Jared Matthews, Jessica Saund and Alexandre Hammoudi
Chinese -- Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin
Russians -- Mikhail Ilyin, Craig Salstein, Arron Scott
Mother Ginger -- Kenneth Easter
Polinchinelles -- not typed in
Flowers -- Many of the corps ballerinas, including R Pavam, C Shevchenko, K Uphoff
Bees -- Thomas Forster, Daniel Mantel, Luis Ribagorda, Eric Tamm (they danced well)

Hee Seo was absent from the ballet. I wonder if she is still injured?

#14 Ambonnay

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 05:58 AM

Here is the Synopsis from the playbill:

ACT I
SCENE I, THE KITCHEN
On Christmas Eve, the Stahlbaum kitchen is alive with activity as cooks and housekeepers bustle about preparing for the family's annual holiday party. The Nanny keeps a watchful eye over the Stahlbaum children, Clara and Fritz. Once preparations are done, everyone adjourns to the parlour to greet the guests. Clara turns back as she exits and is startled to see a mouse [My commentary: I think she might see more than one]. She runs to join the others in the dining room. With the kitchen completely empty, more mischievous mice appear and scurry about looking for scraps of the holiday meal. [My commentary: Since the holiday meal's contents may still be in pots and pans, this scene is much more dramatic in the ballet than it sounds. The mice are eating from pots. Many of them stand on the kitchen tables and reach sausages that are hung above the table. This is a very visually arresting scene at the end of Scene I].

Scene 2, THE PARTY
The Stahlbaums welcome family and friends to their grand parlor replete with holiday decorations, including a beautiful Christmas tree. The party grows festive with music and dance as Clara's godfather, Drosselmeyer, magically appears. A skilled toymaker always full of the most inventive surprises, Drosselmeyer entertains everyone as he presents four life-sized dolls. However, these dolls cannot be played with, and Clara is disappointed. Then, Drosselmeyer gives Clara a unique nutcracker handsomely dressed as a soldier. Fritz becomes jealous of his sister and rushes at her, snatching the Nutcracker from her and breaking it. A heartbroken Clara looks on as Drosselmeyer repairs the Nutcracker. AS the evening grows late, the guests depart and the Stahlbaum family retires for a long winter night's rest.

SCENE 3, THE BATTLE
During the night, a sleepy Clara tiptoes back down the staircase in search of her beloved Nutcracker. As the clock strikes midnight, Clara sees Drosselmeyer's face on the clock and becomes distressed by mice scampering into the room from all sides. The Nutcracker tries to help her but is carried away by the mice. Drosselmeyer appears just in time to catch Clara as she faints from fright. As she recovers, Clara sees her house change alll around her. The Christmas tree grows large and wondrous [it actually doesn't "grow" in front of the audience]. The Nutcracker heroically summons the toy soldiers to help fend off the scurrying mice. The fierce Mouse King arrives and engages in a duel with the Nutcracker. Just when it seems the evil Mouse King may be victorius, Clara takes off her shoe and bravely throws it at him, casting a fatal blow. As the mice quickly retreat, the Nutcracker transforms into a young Prince.

SCENE 4, THE SNOW
The Stahlbaum parlor suddenly becomes quite cold and snowflakes begin to fall. At first, the snow falls gently as if in a waltz, but it builds into a frightful blizzard. Drosselmeyer brings a small sleigh to rescue Clara and the Prince from the freezing snow, and the moonlight guides them on a shining path for their journey over snow-covered hills.

ACT II
LAND OF THE SUGAR PLUM FAIRY
Drosselmeyers navigates the sleigh through the blizzard to safety in the sunny Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her subjects are amazed to learn of clara's bravery in killing the Mouse King and the Fairy commands a festival in honor of Clara, featuring charming dancers from around the world. As the celebration draws to a close, Clara receives her greatest Christmas wish and sees herself transformed into a beautiful Princess to dance in the arms of her Nutcracker Prince.

EPILOGUE

As the joyous celebration and magic kingdom fade, Clara suddenly finds herself alone in her room on Christmas morning, wondering 'Was this all a dream'?

#15 fondoffouettes

fondoffouettes

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 06:40 AM

For example, in the snow scene, the snowflake corps of dancers should float through the air. However, possibly due to the stage constraints, most of their choreography was very contained and simplistic. I also thought that the choreography for the flowers and bees suffered from the same problem. Too many people on stage, but not much room to move around. The Spanish dance was pretty standard stuff. Sascha was the Arabian Dancer tonight. I thought the music called out for more sensual, sinuous choreography. I was very disapponted with the Russian dance (Ilyan, Salstein, Scott). It was comical in a Three Stooges sense, but it was a wasted opportunity for some great choreography. I didn't care for the costumes of the Nutcracker's Sisters (Boylton, Hamrick, Kajiya, Messmer, Underwood). More importantly, once again I felt like their choreography was too simplistic and a bit dull.


Abatt, I think your assessment of the second act is spot-on. I felt like there were a lot of missed opportunities to create national dances that were more detailed, more virtuosic, more connected to the grandeur of the score. I too wish the Arabian dance had been more sensuous, and I don't see why Ratmansky needed to project a psycho-sexual storyline onto this dance (the dancers are supposed to be entertaining Clara; why would they present an after-school special on sexism?). The waltz of the flowers began to feel monotonous after while, but the 'Three Stoges' Russian dance was the biggest mistep. This could have been an opportunity for virtuosic male dancing (a la Neopolitan dance in Swan Lake), but instead it was goofball dancing that wasn't actually funny at all. And this is followed by the Polichinelles, who wear similarly-colored costumes and do similar goofball dancing, so it all felt like a bit much. And I realize Mother Ginger is traditionally a drag role, but I felt as if they portrayed her as just "another silly drag queen," without any motherly qualities at all.

I liked quite a lot of the choreography for the two principals (I saw the matinee preview with Kajiya and Hammoudi). In one of Macaulay's recent Nutcracker articles he wrote about how Balanchine did not choreograph a pas de deux for the surging music that leads up to the snow scene, as no dance can capture the grandeur of this music. He's probably right, but it was still nice to see a beautiful pas de deux at this point in the ballet! The mirroring of the grownup Clara/Nutcracker and young Clara/Nutcracker in this scene was quite touching. I liked how the children sat downstage during the pas de deux, perhaps spinning out their fantasies while their imaginings were dramatized behind them. There are many complicated lifts throughout this pas de deux and Hammoudi and Kajiya executed some beautifully and some more hesitantly (I don't see how anyone could possibly do all of them perfectly, given their difficulty). It was really stunning when Hammoudi spun Kajiya around in the air, making it look effortless. She was so light and graceful throughout, with perfect balance and great turns (I love how she sometimes holds a pose just a second longer than necessary to showcase her balance). Hammoudi was such an elegant partner who projected a sense of warmth and graciousness and certainly looked the part of a handsome prince. The grand pas de deux at the end had many additional complicated lifts, including one in which he holds her above his head by one leg with her other leg extended en arabesque (or perhaps this was the first pdd? they've become somewhat conflated in my mind given their similarity). Kajiya seemed to dance a somewhat "twinkly" version of the sugar plum fairy variation, so perhaps the choreography was different from that of Part? I thought it was a bit much when Kajiya went offstage in the middle of her variation and poked her head around the scenery as if to say "how cute am I?," though obviously this was not her choice.

I agree that the wedding proposal and cheesy veil at the end of the ballet seemed totally out of place and more fitting for a campy production like the Trocks would do. I felt like I was watching the finale of The Bachelorette. And the idea that every little girl wants to grow up and and get a big diamond on her finger and wear a veil is tiresome (I felt like it cheapened Clara's dream). I'm hoping this can go the way of the Sleeping Beauty shower curtain.

I really liked the sets and most of the costumes, and I appreciated the way in which they related well to one another. I would best describe the style as 1830s seen through the lens of a midcentury Technicolor movie. It was jarring at first to see huge blank China blue walls, but I ultimately liked the spareness, restraint and openess of some of the sets, which again reminded me of movie sets from the 1950s and 60s. The tree was disappointing but the very effective perspecival tricks surrounding the giant chair really distracted from that. There's no way they could have had a tree that would grow large enough and still relate in scale to the enormous chair. I agree with abatt that the Nutcracker sister outfits were very unattractive. The music they dance to is so dainty and delicate and yet they were wearing big ugly green top hats. I'm not sure what can be said of the Sugarplum fairy's outfit except that it looked like it was trying way too hard to be whimsical without actually being charming in any way whatsoever. Kajiya and Hammoudi looked stunning in their white and silver oufits.

I wonder if anyone thought the acoustics of the orchestra sounded a bit off. I was sitting in the Balcony section and there was this odd effect in which you would hear the instruments separately rather than as a meshed sound. It was difficult to see into the pit, but I think it was a relatively small orchestra, which left a lot of score sounding much less grand than it should. I really missed the chorus during the snow scene (the instrumental replacement sounded so thin and unmagical).

While there are some issues in the production, I feel as if most can be tweaked or modified in the future (if ABT chooses to do so), whereas a production like Sleeping Beauty is just unsalvageable at this point. I was amused, moved, and entertained throughout Ratmansky's Nutcracker and look forward to seeing it again. Whereas ABT's Cinderella production is quirky in a way which makes it seem like a novelty not worth revisiting, I think it's possible that some of the quirky qualities of Ratmansky's production could ultimately help differentiate it from other productions and make it worth revisiting year after year.


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