REVIEWS: Nutcracker at BAM
Posted 24 December 2010 - 06:41 AM
There were some highlights - I especially liked the first act sets, the kitchen scene was delightful, the young Clara I saw was charming and the little mouse pretty much stole the show.
I thought the first act pdd for the Princess & Prince (Part/Gomes) was lovely and came at a very opportune time – I did not enjoy the Watz of the Snowflakes and was starting to have a bad feeling about the production. The sight of Part & Gomes in those gorgeus costumes really picked things up. I liked the way young Clara/Nutcraker shadowed the movements of their idealized grownup selves and the way you could still see their youthful personalities in the grown up couple. Ratmansky (or Part) combined playfulness and radiant joy in the variation however Part was a tiny bit shaky in some of the pirouettes.
One of the big failings of this production for me is that the 1st act party scene just didn't look like much fun. The kids were whiny petulant brats and the adults were not well characterized. This was not a warm & fuzzy recollection of Christmases past or an idealization of the family Christmases you wished you'd had – this was a party I would have avoided at all costs.
I disliked the 2nd act costumes almost without exception but what I disliked most about this production is that Ratmansky's choreography for the 2 big waltzes seemed to fight the music, especially the Waltz of the Flowers. The Bumblebees probably sounded like a good idea but I found their choreography to be much too forceful for the delicate strains of music that weave in and out of the waltz.
I really didn't like any of the 2nd act "sweets" variations though I think Tea was the best of the lot and was performed very well. I hated the way Ratmansky characterized the Sugar Plum Fairy. She looked matronly and not very magical. I enjoyed Part and Gomes in the 2nd act pdd but I didn't think their individual variations flattered either of them - especially not Gomes. He is my favorite danseur and I think this is the first time I've watched him and thought that he didn't look good in something. Can't figure out how Ratmansky accomplished that.
I'm going to let this production settle in and try one more performance next year but for now, I need a NYCB antidote asap!
Posted 24 December 2010 - 08:04 AM
Posted 24 December 2010 - 11:01 AM
I like the wit and "wink wink" humor and whimsical quality in Ratmansky's Nutcracker, of which Little Mouse is an example.
Here are some Little Mouse appearances:
-- We see Little Mouse for the first time in the kitchen, when he is the very first mouse the audience encounters. He darts into the kitchen, is seen by the cook, and is chased by him or another kitchen person. During this scene, we see the playfulness of Little Mouse and how elusive and quick he is.
-- Later, as Clara is leaving the kitchen, Little Mouse and a number of large mice are in the kitchen again. They are standing up on the long kitchen tables, grabbing at sausages that are hanging from the kitchen ceiling and eating from the pots of food on the stove. It is a frenzy of feasting by the mice and they have free reign over the kitchen and are enjoying themselves.
-- We see Little Mouse again when Clara comes back down, after she has been asked to go to sleep for the night. She had left the (small) Nutcracker doll on a red seating-type sofa next to the Christmas tree. Little Mouse picks up the doll, sits on the softa, and sort of cuddles the doll, coveting it. When Clara descends the staircase and sees this, she approaches Little Mouse to try to get it back, but then the other mice (bigger ones) arrive. In a way, Little Mouse humanizes the mice population. They are not just villains whose king is later killed by Clara's shoe. Like Clara's naughtiness and desire for presents in Act I, Little Mouse wants the Nutcracker doll too.
-- Later on, when the X'Mas tree is large, and before the Rat King is killed, at one point Little Mouse is hoisted above the shoulder or onto the shoulder by the Rat King. It's possible Little Mouse is the Rat King's son or something like that, although we can't tell either way. Here, Little Mouse is triumphant, basking in the military might of the mice.
-- Finally, I appreciated how Little Mouse appears late in the Mother Ginger/Polinchinelles portion of the Land of the Sweets. After the Polinchinelles reluctantly go underneath Mother Giner's skirt, they reemerge from it and are followed from Little Mouse, also emerging from the skirt!
Posted 24 December 2010 - 07:14 PM
A few questions if I may - What is being done to the Merlitons/Marzipan music? I may have missed something, but I don't think it's been mentioned. What makes Chinese (or tea) special, as a couple of you have mentioned it. Is there any sign of Misty Copeland? She had been cast in many things for a time, but not recently. Thank you all again.
Posted 24 December 2010 - 07:50 PM
Posted 24 December 2010 - 08:28 PM
>choreography suited Murphy/Hallberg much more.
Hallberg and Murphy just seemed to have better luck in the mostly awkward, too risky, and too often labored choreography for their pas de deux. Neither pairing (Part/Gomes or Murphy/Hallberg) looked their best.
I didn't care at all for much of the choreography in this Nutcracker especially of the second act that was buried under over-sized costumes. The costumes for the two leads being the exception.
But I loved the beginning of the first act, the kitchen scene which was so delightfully fresh and full
of connecting moments to smile and laugh with. It was the highlight... and the baby mouse definitely stole
it and the rest of the show.
Posted 25 December 2010 - 08:42 AM
Posted 25 December 2010 - 09:36 AM
I was dissapointed with her performance down here. She looked too rounded for the adult Clara role of Vainonen's version, and she was shaky in her dancing...
Posted 25 December 2010 - 11:51 AM
I adored the production... so much to like... so many fresh ideas that even after seeing so many many many Nutcracker productions at Ratmansky's I felt like a 3 year seeing Nutcracker for the first time! His choreography is so unabashedly illuminated by the music that it's as if each amplified the other.
I loved the snow scene, the bees, the children (never over used)... Drosselmeyer's entrance where he holds the two girls was perfect, not freaky (and the two 12 year olds next to me agreed vehemently), as was his appearence at the end through the window (perhaps my favorite moment, actually).
Will write more when home from the blizzard... there was a lot to love in this refreshing Nutcracker. Some misses to be sure, but so many many riches!
Kitchen scene goes down as one of Ballet's treasures, not to be missed even by the most Nutcracker jaded.
Simkin resembled an olympic high diver as he composed himself the moment before launching into his variation.
Adored Ratmansky's 21st century use of the pirouette in the Sugarplum choreography, excuse me... grown up Clara choreography... never a preparation in evidence, lovely off center finishes that delighted and caught us off guard despite perhaps millions of pirouettes seen over the years..
Bees were our favorites... bringing out a side to the Waltz of the Flowers music I'd never head before... reminded me of that soft tenor singing so popular in early 20th century music... of the sort Eddie Cantor used in "Aint She Sweet"...
Didn't mind the engagement ring, absolutely hated the veil.
Wished there were more pure dancing choreography in the divertisements, though the pas de deux was gorgeous and the Mirlitons were charming. There were some partnering moments that were treasures... exquisite.
Loved the girls peeking through the gate.
Disliked the second mechanical doll pair.. not the dancers but the choreography... the first pair was so clever but the second sort of missed.. and then there was no tin solder foreshadowing for the battle.
Spanish skirts rustling was oddly distracting... normally I love the rustle of a skirt, but it didn't work musically in a production that was uncommonly musical.
Clara & the Nutcracker Prince (children) were better and better used than in most productions... very well coached in their acting skills. I wasn't crazy about the tug of war over the porcelain doll as children must have had to be very very careful with those toys... but I guess a child in the audience today would have a hard time understanding that.
What's with the italian changement motif?
Did not find anything offensive with the adults in the party scene.. they didn't seem like lushes rather that after having embibed a little spirt they were now ready to commence dancing... it was wonderful not in any way grotesque. And their dinner party while Clara had her moment alone with Nutcracker rang very true.. more genius at work.
Thought the "March" assualt on the toys was a clever idea but am squarely in the "spoiled children was a bad idea" camp... couldn't they have been mischeivously misbehaving instead?
Felt the children were a little too orderly with not enough flustered chaos as they harried Drosselmeyer, but think that will improve over time. Also thought at times they were overdancing too simplistic choreography... but every time I was distracted by that thought, a little stage magic would slip in and surprise me! Sometimes they looked a little uncomfortable with their head waggling so that it was difficult to be musical, but all in all I thought the kids were used very well here.
Charmed by what seemed to my mind 18th century drilling references in the battle scene. Everyone is right about the forced perspective of the chair... it's super effective! and loved the battle happening under the tree. Was surprised to see that the tree had grown just before it was pulled offstage. Tree was not a disappointing as I had feared from earlier descriptions, but it doesn't dominate the moment as in other productions. Tree was at least easy on the eyes.
Snow scene was much fun! So fresh. So much more about snow.
Wasn't sure if something had been intended but not realized with the doll house in the party scene... was there going to be a puppet show?
Juxtaposition of grown-up & child pas de deux was charming... loved seeing how much more a ballerina does with a simple gesture even though the children were perfect.
Missed tin soldier play references in the party scene that usually help the later battle resonate...
Posted 25 December 2010 - 05:07 PM
A couple of other observations:
-- The Kingdom of the Sweets opens with an interesting visual effect. There are scenery grills constituting a decorative metallic gate that initially extends the entire length of the stage and is between the audience and the dancers (initially in the shadows). That gate also constitutes the background of the same scene. When the scene starts, the different performers in the Kingdom of the Sweets are almost like in a huge enclosed cage, from the audience's perspective. The ballerinas from the Waltz of the Flowers then all approach the "gate" separating them from the audience and look out.
-- The four life-size dolls presented by Drosselmeyer at the party have small roles in the scene where the Mice are running amok just before their battle with the Nutcracker. They are chased by the mice and hide beneath the tree. Later, some of the dolls participate in the fight against the Mice. The first set of dolls, in very dramatic-looking black and white outfits, danced well.
-- I had mixed feelings about some of the portrayals of the national dances. for instance, I appreciate that the Chinese dance has a tradition in Nutcracker performances, but the dancers portraying the Chinese had costumes and a look, and danced in a way, that is based more on the traditional sense of Chinese and Chinese dance. same for the Spanish dance. I wondered whether Ratmansky could have updated some of the national dances. Over the last two years, there has been an article in one of the dance magazines talking about whether classical ballet perceptions of nationality are or are not updated in some performances, and asking whether some stereotypes based on nationality should be addressed more sensitively.
-- There is one intermission. The drinks selection leaves a lot to be desired. There is red and white wine, but no Champagne or other sparkling wine. During the premiere evening, lighting effects had large white snowflakes being beamed onto the white walls of the entryway to BAM.
Posted 27 December 2010 - 01:48 AM
-- As noted in my first post on this ballet, the kitschy wedding scene should be reconsidered.
-- As mentioned by other members, one does not see the Christmas tree grow, which is fine. However, the "large" tree is represented by just large sections of tree that the audience is supposed to assume are the bottom portion of a much larger tree. Given the US tradition associating the Nutcracker with Christmas, greater attention should be paid to this portion of the scenery. Overall, the scenery and costume design was excellent, but this was one exception.
-- On a more substantive note, the dance in the Kingdom of the Sweets by the Nutcracker's sisters does not seem to flow with the rest of the performances in the Kingdom. It is not a national dance, and has no echoing of, or any other identifiable relationship with, any other part of the ballet. I suppose its role could have been to showcase soloist ballerinas and aspiring soloist corps members. However, it needs to be integrated with the rest of the ballet much more. Second, the reference to the Nutcracker's sisters on the program should be considered. The Nutcracker boy has no interaction with these women. Third, the light green costumes, with matching light green top hats, should be revised. They don't make sense in the ballet. Fourth, the dance steps have no apparent meaning and should be significantly revised.
-- While one gets the impression that the SPF is the leader of the Kingdom of the Sweets, she is often accompanied, particularly in the beginning of Act II, by a middle-aged man with a long beard and a costume that is Middle-Eastern in inspiration. This is the "Majordomo" character. I don't see the need for this male danseur accompanying the SPF.
-- The S Radetsky (Arabian) portion of the Kingdom of the Sweets should be considered for reworking. Even though the piece involves the four ballerinas walking off on their own in the end, apparently, relinquishing (at least temporarily) their interest in the danseur, early portions of the piece show the four women literally swooning and falling head over heels for the danseur and the danseur not giving them a lot of respect. In today's world, Ratmansky should take the opportunity to present a Nutcracker, particularly when viewed by young girls in the audience, that does better than what was portrayed. I appreciate gender stereotypes are not uncommon in ballet, but that does not mean that Ratmansky has to highlight this one.
-- See my discussion above re: certain potential national stereotypes for the national dances.
-- A short dance by the Grandmother and Grandfather characters during the party scene seemed amusing to the audience, and is parodied quickly by one of the maids as they call it an evening before Clara descends the stairs. While the short dance seemed to attract some audience laughs, I thought it was an overly easy way to do so and the time required for the short dance should be considered for other things.
I wouldn't suggest any adjustment to the choreography involving the "grown up" Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. It was very special, and beautifully danced by Hallberg and Murphy.
Posted 27 December 2010 - 11:40 AM
A girl’s strongest Christmas wish is to meet and marry her prince. – This seems to be the main theme Ratmansky had on his mind making this new production. If so, it becomes more understandable why so many scenes in the second act involve a man-woman relationship related story. It’s no wonder Clara explores her greatest curiosity in her dream. Even the illustration on the screen, a white house in the navy and purple background, seemed to indicate the destination of Clara’s journey, where Grand PdD takes place and the Nutcracker Prince proposes to Clara.
At first, I doubted it, and didn’t like it. Don’t children’s wishes end in the Land of Sweets, not in front of the altar, just like Clara and Fritz came into the kitchen to have some sweets? Then, I was reminded Mr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum also came to the kitchen, ate something, and kissed a bit fervently. The classical Grand PdD went playful in the end, which Alastair Macaulay wrote “Mr. Ratmansky…shows us how those adults still feel like the children they were”. Children, in the same way, have keen interest in adult things, especially in love between man and woman, while people usually think and want they are interested only in some childlike things like sweets and toys. Maybe, both adult and child have the desire to be and act like the other (or, in terms of desire, they are not different), and some of such wishes may come true on Christmas, because it’s Christmas.
Before Act I – Staring at the screen for quite a few minutes, listening to the, though fabulous, Tchaikovsky music is the last thing I want to repeat. When music starts in a ballet theater, a natural desire to “see” the music surges within me, and I cannot but plead, “let me see it quickly, please”. I wonder how Ratmansky can keep silent for not a short time, while he sometimes seems to be obsessed with storytelling. I took that silence as homage to this great composer and also a little apology to him for Ratmansky’s being talkative continuously even when unnecessary (He seems to have to continue his storytelling because he wants “all-new” Nutcracker).
Act I – I enjoyed it better than the first night, partly because I became more used to it, forgetting the traditional versions more.
Party scene – On the first night, it was like hearing somebody talking a boring story too fast. Yesterday, it seemed better, though I can’t pick up what made the difference (maybe, it can be myself who changed). Roman Zhurbin did well in the role of Grandfather.
Battle scene – I like Ratmansky’s effective and ingenuous use of the Little Mouse throughout the performance, but, I can’t like the long, pale-pink tails of the mice, especially seven tails of the Mouse King. So, the battle scene or any scene full of mice was a little bit too scary to me, though that’s exactly what Ratmansky intended.
Snow scene – Even the Snow Storm scene looked better yesterday, maybe because I experienced it on the way to the BAM. When I see the snow storm scene, I feel like Ratmansky is shouting “I’m from Russia”. However, if I were to have 2.5 million (and more) and make a new Nutcracker production, I would like to make it more like “A dog of Flanders”, taking the deathly coldness, excluding some of the fast and busy movements, because I felt from the music certain “joy and ecstasy (from something transcendingly beautiful)” and “peace (finally found in death)” in addition to some sadness.
Sugar Plum Fairy – It was interesting the nanny who watches over Clara (and forbids her to take too much sweets) in real world becomes the Sugar Plum Fairy in Clara’s dream, introducing to her the Kingdom of Sweets. I thought Ratmansky captured Clara’s mind well (“Oh, Nanny, she is the very gatekeeper to the sweets”).
After the first night, a very minor change was made about the timing when Clara wears her slipper again which she threw during the Nutcracker boy’s mime. On the first night, she was busy wearing it again at the center of the stage before she and the Nutcracker boy were escorted to the side. Yesterday, she put on the shoes while she was sitting at the side of the stage, which of course seemed more appropriate.
National Dance – Like others, I hope Ratmansky to rethink about Russian dance. Currently, it seems like a put-together of mimes and steps which were omitted from Fancy Free because they were too silly or least amusing. I also want Chinese dance to be a more virtuoso one, like Bronze Idol or Blue Bird.
Waltz of Flowers – At first, I didn’t like the bees. When the bees are on stage, I feel a little left out, unlike the traditional one where no bees are involved and so many flowers beautifully smile toward the audience. Seeing it second time, though I still don’t like it, I admit the bees are necessary at least in terms of color balance. Without bees in black (and with bright yellow mask), the stage full of frilly hot pink costumes would seem (to me) a bit distracting. And, last night, the audience who I guess consisted of more of only-once-a-year balletgoers than the first night gave a much longer applause to the flowers scene.
Grand PdD – I think it is the very important moment in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker, which can determine the overall impression and opinion about the production. Also, it may depend upon each audience’s familiarity with the various existing versions and personal taste how much it should be traditional or festive or wild. In my case, I would rather choose a bit traditional approach because having through Ratmansky’s bright and brisk Nutcracker until the Grand PdD, I came to wish some rest, enjoying a bit more quiet, peaceful, elegant dancing which I expect a ballet to provide. It’s like hearing “Silent Night” song after many more cheerful carols. What’s been and is difficult for Ratmansky as well as performers will be still making the production look new, and not losing the consistency with the rest part of the work.
I am not in the position to comment on the choreography of the Grand PdD, and the only thing I can say is that when I saw the Grigorovich lift in the PdD, I took it as another statement of Ratmansky, “I’m from Bolshoi”.
Marcelo Gomes returned to his fine form yesterday. On the first night, he looked tired, needed one or two seconds of preparation time before he began turns or jumps, and panted so heavily when he was standing at the left side of the stage during the epilogue. All I saw for the first time, though I’ve seen him only for one spring season this year. Last night, he regained the lightness and cleanness of his usual self. I could see his arm stretched lightly to the above, and moving in the air a bit softly like a flower stem, and finally a flower (maybe, a cute lily-of-the-valley) blooming at the end of his arm. He had a warm and pleasant smile on his face, such bliss which can be found in Renoir’s paintings. However, I'm still curious to see other castings to know what those “Bournonville-like petit allegro steps” were meant to be exactly, and how they can be executed differently.
According to the playbill, Ratmansky said “The choreography for our version is all-new”, and I did agree he embroidered his signature in every scene of this production, though I think some changes were made for the sake of “all-new” slogan, and personally I prefer a “half and half” version, unless I can afford two Nutcrackers a year. And, though it’s a charming idea to look into Clara’s mind, seeing her as an individual, not a mere child, I felt a little sorry for him to confine a Christmas spirit to a love of man-woman relationship (eros), while I think his new Nutcracker could extend the traditional “love within family” to “love for others/neighbors (agape)” which may sound boring and too educative, but with his talent (and with unusual generous support from the sponsors), he might have made a “still fascinating but more true to the genuine Christmas spirit” story.
One thing I thought a little strange was the statement of ABT in the playbill, expressing its grateful acknowledgement for the financial contributions made by its dancers, stage managers and its staff to help support ABT. I wonder whether it is really common, or ABT is in its financial difficulties (thought it may not be a good time for any ballet company in the world).
Edited by Kyeong, 29 December 2010 - 10:17 PM.
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