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REVIEWS: Nutcracker at BAM

71 posts in this topic

I don't think the snowstorm is part of the problem, as tons of Nutcracker tickets in all the price categories have been available all along. Also, by now the cleanup of the streets has been largely completed and the trains schedule is back to normal, but I don't see any particular rush for tix for the remaining performances.

I know that this production has been fully paid for by donors (and also it appears that it saves theater much needed dollars by taking care of some of the guaranteed weeks of employment for the troupe that otherwise would have to be taken on a much more expensive tour), but I just wonder if all this money could have been spent much better on something else.

Judging by the tickets sales the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Probably :)

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The snowstorm scotched lots of plans along the way and was disruptive to the rhythm of the holidays, and for some of those who were planning to wait for the reviews and see it after Christmas, they had too much else to do, including entertain house guests whose transport out was canceled.

Balanchine's original "Nutcracker" premiered in February 1954; it wasn't even presented at Christmas, and there was no guarantee it would turn into the holiday spectacular and cash cow it is now.

I think the ABT's "Nutcracker" is a long-term investment, and it's far too soon to determine what it means to the company. That would be the case even if it were a sell-out this season.

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I was wondering about the effect the snow would have on attendance. A couple of years ago here in Seattle, a big snowstorm (that didn't get cleared away for days) really cut into Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker attendance/revenue. Since this is a new production for ABT, they don't have a long tradition of balancing their budget on their Nutcracker, but it's too bad that it premieres with this extra challenge.

Without changing the topic of the thread, is there anyone here who has some thoughts on how this compares with the Baryshnikov Nut from past seasons? I seem to recall at the time there was considerable speculation on how that production "was different than the Balanchine."

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I was wondering about the effect the snow would have on attendance.

I missed the Sunday evening performance due to the blizzard. Since my tickets were in the orchestra, this was a considerable loss. Despite the massive snow storm and the 40 mph winds on Sunday evening, ABT has taken the Draconian position that there are no exchanges of any type. I have been a subscriber at BAM for a long time, and after a huge snowstorm they allowed all ticketholders to exchange their tickets into another performance. (BAM's website clearly indicates that the no exchange policy is ABT's policy, not BAM's policy.) At the MET Opera approximately 6 years ago, they allowed ticketholders to exchange into certain unpopular, undersold operas if they had to miss a performance because of a huge snowstorm that year. After a huge snowstorm in February 2010, the New York City ballet allowed ticketholders to mail in their tickets with a list of three dates for spring 2010 rep performances, and they permitted an exchange into one of the dates if available. In sum, ABT is the only organization which has acted, in my opinion, in a completely unreasonable manner on this issue. I think they will find that their customer service (or lack thereof) will hurt them in the long run. It's shortsighted. They could have easily permitted people who could not attend because of the blizzard to send in their tickets to ABT and provide a list of 3 dates for an exchange into a spring performance at the MET. Additionally, given the huge number of unsold seats at the Nutcracker, they could have allowed a standby line for ticketholders on other performance dates. Instead, they chose the most inflexible route. Of course, I know they have no obligation to provide assistance.

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Today (12/30) I saw the matinee performance with Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes. Like several of those who wrote about earlier performances, I had decidedly mixed feelings about this version of Nutcracker.

The big dramatic conceit of Ratmansky's production is that this is a story about the tension between childhood and maturity. Ratmansky builds a narrative around this that extends through the entire ballet, so this production differs from others I've seen where the dramatic action is entirely contained in the first act, and the second is just a celebration.

Unfortunately there are a number of places in the ballet where Ratmansky's choreography seems out of sync with the score, and this is apparent from the very first scene. The curtain rises on a chef and two maids incongruously leaping and spinning about the kitchen. The scene felt contrived and tacked on, and it concluded nonsensically (why is Drosselmeyer arriving at the Stahlbaum's in the kitchen? And why is the “giant” Nutcracker with him?). Most troublingly, it lacked warmth and conviviality, as did the party scene which followed.

I thought the battle scene was staged well and particularly liked its set (a giant chair, from which Clara watches the battle before throwing her slipper). I didn't dislike the snowflakes-cum-Wilis as much as most have seemed to, but felt like the scene never really took off. It would have been better, I think, if Clara and the Prince had been lost offstage and left the snowflakes alone to dance, instead of constantly running around amongst them.

The first half of Act II was disappointing to me. Clara and the Prince arrive in some sort of Wedgewood U.N., presided over by an oddly Arabian Nights-style Sugarplum and Cavalier. Their costumes are awful enough to rival what to me are the gold standard for terrible ABT costumes: the princes in the first act of their current Sleeping Beauty. The national dances are mostly uninspired. Arabian is a particular let down: it's a weird little sexual psychodrama and it feels completely out of place. Chinese and Mother Ginger are far and away the highlights and both are a lot of fun.

The sugarplum pas de deux (here danced by the grown up doubles of Clara and the Prince) begins with young Clara and the Prince disappearing into the giant version of Clara's dollhouse from which Clara and the Prince have just emerged. I felt like Ratmansky's decision to give the sugarplum pas de deux to Clara and the Prince fit really well with the music: in its grandeur and sadness it seemed fitting as they experience the joy and anguish of real, grown up love. The final scene, where Clara wakes up at home in bed and cries until she finds the nutcracker doll under her pillow, is likewise deeply poignant. These scenes made me wish the rest of the ballet was on their level.

Veronika and Marcelo are two of my favorite dancers, but this wasn't one of their best performances. Marcelo did an admirable job with the big pas de deux's endless series of lifts, and Veronika was beautifully emotive, but the performance did not have the nuance or spark that they bring to so many of their other roles.

This Nutcracker was worth seeing once for its intriguingly divergent take on such a familiar ballet. Though I see City Ballet's Nutcracker every holiday season, this production won't be one I see again.

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Many of the comments here are apparently benchmarking this version against Balanchine's. While this is understandable, because of the historical indoctrination of NYC audiences to the Balanchine version, I think this embedded bias is unfair to Alexei.

My favorite Nutcracker is one performed by the Bolshoi, and I find Alexei's version an intriguing outgrowth of the Bolshoi version I have previously seen. The key to me is the transfiguration of Clara and the Nutcracker into the Princess and Prince in Act One. This is the critical mechanism to the turn of the ballet in the second act. I do not want to see a story about sugar plum fairies as the centerpiece - after all, the piece is not called "The Sugar Plum Fairy." It's The Nutcracker - a fairy tale story of a toy and the developing relationship with Clara. Eveything else is secondary.

Kudos, Alexei. I am sure you will be making some tweaks going forward, but thanks for bring us a fresh version that leaves us all thinking, and smiling, in the end.

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Thank you for your thoughtful review, OneSwan. And welcome to Ballet Alert !

This Nutcracker was worth seeing once for its intriguingly divergent take on such a familiar ballet. Though I see City Ballet's Nutcracker every holiday season, this production won't be one I see again.

You -- and others -- have raised the issue of whether this production will have the kind of "legs" that mean audiences will continue to seek it out year after year. Can an interesting, somewhat controversial adaptation of a beloved classic become a classic -- and find an audience -- on its own?

It would be interesting to hear what Balletalertniks think about the possible future life of this production and where it will fit in among all the others.

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Can an interesting, somewhat controversial adaptation of a beloved classic become a classic -- and find an audience -- on its own?

It can -- the Stowell/Sendak "Nutcracker" has been around since 1983 in Seattle -- but while it's not the only game in town, it's the only professional game in town. (International Ballet Theatre on the East Side and Olympic Ballet Theatre in Edmonds, about 15 miles north of Seattle, are ballet school performances.) The closest big productions are in Portland, where Oregon Ballet Theatre produces Balanchine's version -- this season with four performances of "A Holiday Review" interspersed on two weekends -- and up in Vancouver, the Goh Ballet, a student company with professionals performing Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, before Christmas and Alberta Ballet, which is performing its new version three times this week.

I think the bigger issue is that the production is in NYC, and its professional competition is NYCB's version in Lincoln Center, a 15-minute walk from Central Park South and 5th Avenue, which fits in much more with the sparkly version of Christmas than a trip on the subway to Brooklyn. Just sayin'.

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Ramantsky's version needs to get out of BAM and find a bigger stage. But it can become a chestnut of a production. I think ABT is committed to BAM for next year or two. And all versions of the Nut were once new and probably bucked the tradition. Alexei's has the potential to become a standard, with a few tweaks and some stability for a venue in Manhattan.

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I have loved reading this thread. Thanks to everyone for offering such detailed accounts of the ballet and of their reactions.

I think the staying power of a Nutcracker for many ballet fans (maybe not for holiday tourists and families--though over decades perhaps even for them) is the quality of the big set dance pieces.

Even the biggest admirers of this production seem close to agreeing with its biggest detractor (unsurprisingly, Robert Johnson) in not finding the snowflakes scene or Waltz of the Flowers to be major classical set pieces in which the choreography as choreography really rises to the level of the music. Reaction to the grand pas de deux is mixed but few have said anything particularly positive about the choreography per se or especially about the choreography to the Sugar Plum Variation Music (which Macaulay, who liked the pas de deux, criticized as bland). Nor has anyone singled out any of the national dances for DANCE praise. From what I read, it sounds as if the charms of the production have been registered primarily, though not exclusively, as scenic and dramatic--and a matter of novelty.

Now it could well be that the production has choreographic riches that are being missed because the ballet is so new and maybe Ratmansky will tinker in any case...It's also easier to write about scenic and dramatic elements than dance elements (in a new interpretation especially) but I suspect that THAT issue (the choreographic substance of the great set pieces) is what may finally determine whether this Nutcracker really becomes a substantial long-term part of ABT history or just another production that is replaced in a decade or so etc.

And if the production is going to compete in the New York market it WILL be compared to Balanchine--whose set pieces for the snowflakes and, especially, the Waltz of the Flowers, are among the greatest responses to Tchaikovsky's music (any of his music) in classical ballet. Whatever Ratmanksy's production's connection to the Bolshoi tradition, the latter is never going to be a touchstone for either the ABT dancers or their audience.

I did have a question about Johnson's review. Given his dislike of Ratmansky's work I was not surprised by his criticisms of the production, and--as noted above--he does seem to be 'seeing' the same ballet as those who like it much better than he does. That is, he does not seem merely to be writing out of prejudice (actually I was surprised he found so much to praise in Act I--he so rarely has anything good to say about Ratmansky!). However, I was astonished to read his claim that Ratmansky was KOCH'S pick to choreograph the production--indeed that Koch actually dictated the choice of choreographer.

First: who else would Mckenzie have picked? He has already done his own, not that well received, Nutcracker and Ratmansky is ABT's in-house choreographer and has experience with this ballet...Second: what is Johnson's source for this claim? Has anyone else read interviews or articles saying that Koch asked for Ratmansky in return for his funding? Third: Although Ratmansky is an obvious choice for this production AND I am not shocked that a donor would make a 'suggestion'--I do find the idea that Kock "dictated" Mckenzie's choice disconcerting if true--but on the other hand I find it hard to believe it's true.

Basically, I think it appalling that Johnson would write this (or that his editor would let him write this) if it is not established in the public record. (And if true, then I tend to find it so problematic I'm inclined to think it deserves more than an 'aside' in the review...I would feel identically if the donor's name were Michael Moore.)

Thanks again for all the detailed and thoughtful comments about the production. I hope I can see it one day.

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My problem with this production is not that it breaks with tradition or compares unfavorably to the NYCB, but that it's unmusical, unoriginal, and choreographically boring.

It would take a miracle cast to make me go see it again.

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Regarding the production's "legs", I kept wondering if BAM weren't serving as a sort of out of town tryout for Kennedy Center.

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These are very thoughtful comments about the drawbacks of the Ratmansky production. Although I was enchanted by it, there are some jarring elements. True, the big choreographic set pieces, Snowflakes and Flowers, are not fully realized. I think the small stage at BAM is a major problem which Ratmansky has "solved" by using dramatic/comedic ideas like Clara and the Nutcracker Prince dancing among the snowflakes and the bumblebees among the flowers. But that doesn't solve the problem of the overall need for choreographic richness, pure dance values, in these waltzes. I will compare to Balanchine's choreography hopefully in a post on NYCB page tomorrow, I saw Balanchine's Nutcracker tonight. So the cramped stage is a problem. I also feel Ratmansky has chosen to use comedy and slapstick whereas Balanchine is all high seriousness, while Mr. B is appropriately playful. I'm not sure how audiences will take to that in the long run. There's a lot more that Ratmansky can do to improve the dance values when he gets a full size stage to work with. BAM is a second tier choice.

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I was wondering about the effect the snow would have on attendance.

I missed the Sunday evening performance due to the blizzard. Since my tickets were in the orchestra, this was a considerable loss. Despite the massive snow storm and the 40 mph winds on Sunday evening, ABT has taken the Draconian position that there are no exchanges of any type. I have been a subscriber at BAM for a long time, and after a huge snowstorm they allowed all ticketholders to exchange their tickets into another performance. (BAM's website clearly indicates that the no exchange policy is ABT's policy, not BAM's policy.) At the MET Opera approximately 6 years ago, they allowed ticketholders to exchange into certain unpopular, undersold operas if they had to miss a performance because of a huge snowstorm that year. After a huge snowstorm in February 2010, the New York City ballet allowed ticketholders to mail in their tickets with a list of three dates for spring 2010 rep performances, and they permitted an exchange into one of the dates if available. In sum, ABT is the only organization which has acted, in my opinion, in a completely unreasonable manner on this issue. I think they will find that their customer service (or lack thereof) will hurt them in the long run. It's shortsighted. They could have easily permitted people who could not attend because of the blizzard to send in their tickets to ABT and provide a list of 3 dates for an exchange into a spring performance at the MET. Additionally, given the huge number of unsold seats at the Nutcracker, they could have allowed a standby line for ticketholders on other performance dates. Instead, they chose the most inflexible route. Of course, I know they have no obligation to provide assistance.

Yes, happened to me also. I had tickets for both the 26th and the 27th (Front Mezzanine), and was not able to get out to BAM because of the storm and it's aftermath. I think ABT should have re-thought their "no exchange" policy, given the severity of the storm and it's unusual circumstances. Everyone I spoke to at BAM was apologetic, but that they had been given strict orders not to exchange for "any reason". ABT needs to get in touch of the reality of certain circumstances and avail themselves of a P. R. Department that can think on it's feet. Perhaps Mr. Koch's millions could purchase such a commodity.

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BAM is a second tier choice.

I completely agree, but my understanding is that ABT signed a 5 year agreement with BAM, so it looks like they are stuck there for at least four more seasons.

Will they be able to find another stage for their Nutcracker after the agreement expires, is a big question.

But an even bigger question is: will Ratmansky still be around in 2014?

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One thing I just didn't get... when the Nutcracker prince does that weird looking upward with an arched back pose... any ideas what that was?

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It would be interesting to hear what Balletalertniks think about the possible future life of this production and where it will fit in among all the others.

The Nutcracker is a particularly malleable ballet -- despite the fact that we have major chunks of the original choreography extant and available, it is continually being re-choreographed for professional and amateur groups. While most of those productions try to cleave to the main elements of the work, several of them have made significant departures from the 'received version.' One of those is the Mark Morris Hard Nut, which was at BAM earlier in December, and has been presented multiple years in Berkeley, where it is danced in a community with several other Nutcrackers.

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I just wonder if all this money could have been spent much better on something else.

Like the Tudor Romeo and Juliet? How long has it been now -- 33 years???

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Regarding the production's "legs", I kept wondering if BAM weren't serving as a sort of out of town tryout for Kennedy Center.

And OCPAC.

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Ratmansky did not disappoint.

The tone was set by the interaction between the family, friends and children which appeared to be spontaneous (although I am sure it was

carefully rehearsed.) They did not come across as stiff upper-class mannequins as is the case in some productions (including the more

popular one here in New York City.) I saw a warmth and joy in the family gathering which included the hyped anticipation of the children

waiting impatiently for the gifts and festivities, they did not act as little adults.

My one reservation is the one I have with all the Nutcrackers I have seen---the Grand PDD. I found Ratmansky's choreography uninteresting

with far too many lifts and deep swoons. He apparently saved the worst choreography for the two solo variations. He is too young to know

of the version by Alexandra Fedorova, a former Maryinsky dancer. Perhaps he should consult Frederick Franklin and gain some idea of the

beauty of that PDD.

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I was wondering about the effect the snow would have on attendance.

I missed the Sunday evening performance due to the blizzard. Since my tickets were in the orchestra, this was a considerable loss. Despite the massive snow storm and the 40 mph winds on Sunday evening, ABT has taken the Draconian position that there are no exchanges of any type. I have been a subscriber at BAM for a long time, and after a huge snowstorm they allowed all ticketholders to exchange their tickets into another performance. (BAM's website clearly indicates that the no exchange policy is ABT's policy, not BAM's policy.) At the MET Opera approximately 6 years ago, they allowed ticketholders to exchange into certain unpopular, undersold operas if they had to miss a performance because of a huge snowstorm that year. After a huge snowstorm in February 2010, the New York City ballet allowed ticketholders to mail in their tickets with a list of three dates for spring 2010 rep performances, and they permitted an exchange into one of the dates if available. In sum, ABT is the only organization which has acted, in my opinion, in a completely unreasonable manner on this issue. I think they will find that their customer service (or lack thereof) will hurt them in the long run. It's shortsighted. They could have easily permitted people who could not attend because of the blizzard to send in their tickets to ABT and provide a list of 3 dates for an exchange into a spring performance at the MET. Additionally, given the huge number of unsold seats at the Nutcracker, they could have allowed a standby line for ticketholders on other performance dates. Instead, they chose the most inflexible route. Of course, I know they have no obligation to provide assistance.

I wish to add my own to the message sent by abatt. I did not attend the performance of the nutcracker at the BAM on December 27 2010 due to the snow storm. I contacted ABT with the hope that the tickets may be either refunded or exchanged. I was told that a large number of people shared my situation and that I should write to ABT as this was a special circumstance, despite the policy of no refund, no exchange. I did so. In reply,I was given a choice of performances in the spring with the proviso that the 5 tickets be used for one performance. As the dates were not suitable to me, I asked for a rain check for December 2011, when the family traditionally gets together in NY for an extended holiday. Since then, I wrote to ABT again and I received 2 calls from a James Timm at the end of his office hours, around 5PM, and did not leave his call back number. I called the general number and was told that he was in charge of the Nutcracker tickets and to leave him a message. I did so on many occasions and he never returned my calls. I also send him email messages which are being rejected by the system. I do not know what the big problem is with ABT and the reason for the absolute absence of a patrons-theatre relations office, which I find absurd in the contest of a performing arts institution. If ABT is unable to consider my and many other similar cases, we the patrons should be informed unequivocably, transparently and without further delay. Judging from some of the comments below, it seems to me that seats remain empty, enough of them to be noticed at each and every performance. It seems to me that ABT prefers to retain the money spent by people on unused tickets as "donations" (one of the choices I was given for the unused tickets)rather than fill the seats. If this is the case, please tell me what the meaning of the theatre is. The unbending rigidity of corporate rules, the lack of consideration toward the public, which is the raison d'etre of a theatre, and the high cost of tickets are perhaps some of the reasons the performing arts have lost public support. Let us not always blame the cultural changes for once.

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