Posted 31 December 2011 - 07:46 AM
I went to BAM to see the December 28th matinee.
I hadn’t seen a live performance of The Nutcracker in over ten years. I love Tchaikovsky’s music, but I’ve grown to think of The Nutcracker as a holiday entertainment for children and tourists. Then I read several great reviews of American Ballet Theatre’s new Nutcracker. The choreography is by Alexei Ratmansky and I loved his The Bright Stream and The Little Humpbacked Horse. So I decided to buy a ticket and head to Brooklyn to see what all the hoopla was about.
Ratmansky’s Nutcracker is charmingly innovative. It starts in the kitchen where the servants are preparing for the Stahlbaum’s annual Christmas Eve party. The children, Clara and Fritz, arrive to sample the sweets, while their parents check on how the kitchen staff is progressing. As soon as everyone leaves to greet the guests, mice come into the kitchen looking for scraps of the holiday goodies. The littlest mouse, played by the scene-stealing, Jared Parker, is especially enduring.
At the party Clara is given a Nutcracker doll by her godfather, Drosselmeyer. After the guests leave, Clara is sent upstairs to bed while the Nutcracker remains in the party room. During the night Clara sneaks downstairs in search of her favorite new toy. When the clock strikes midnight, Clara sees everything change around her. Sitting in a gigantic chair, Clara watches as the now life-sized Nutcracker is attacked by the mice. They are led by their Mouse King, while the Nutcracker enlists the aid of an army of toy soldiers. When it looks like the Mouse King may defeat the Nutcracker, Clara kills him with one of her shoes.
The mouse army is defeated and the Nutcracker becomes a teenaged boy. Clara and the Nutcracker Boy begin to dance when adult versions of themselves suddenly appear. This grownup Clara and her Nutcracker Prince perform a glorious pas de deux. Next the young Clara and the Nutcracker Boy are trapped by malevolent dancing snowflakes in a terrifying blizzard. Fortunately Drosselmayer arrives with a sleigh and rescues Clara and the Nutcracker Boy. He takes them to the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, who looks very much like Clara’s own nanny. To celebrate their defeat of the Mouse King, the Sugar Plum Fairy provides entertainment for Clara and the Nutcracker Boy.
This festival displays dances from all around the world. Arabia features a shirtless muscle man being chased by his four wives. From Russia Ratmansky gives us dancers reminiscent of the Three Stooges, if the Three Stooges could leap and tumble and twirl in the air. Mother Ginger finds a stowaway in her enormous skirts. It’s none other than the littlest mouse who proceeds to dance merrily with Mother Ginger’s children, the Polichinelles. The Flowers waltz beautifully, but in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker they are partnered by four bees.
Suddenly Clara finds herself magically transformed into the adult Clara. She dances The Nutcracker’s well known pas de deux with her grownup Prince. This famous pas de deux becomes even richer with the addition of Ratmansky’s magnificent choreography. After this Clara finds herself back in her bedroom in the Stahlbaum home. It is Christmas morning. She wonders if this magical evening has only been a dream.
All the performers in ABT’s The Nutcracker are wonderful. Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo are perfect as the grownup Clara and her Nutcracker Prince. Cornejo even bears a striking resemblance to Philip Perez, who performs the role of the Nutcracker Boy. As the adult Nutcracker Prince, Cornejo excites the audience with his multiple air turns and incredible ballon. Reyes’ Princess Clara stands out for her twinkling footwork and gorgeous port de bras. In both pas de deux Reyes and Cornejo dance with a radiant sense of childlike wonder. Their Act II pas de deux is so rapturous it brings tears to my eyes. One of the final lifts is a bit awkward, with Cornejo lowering Reyes too quickly. But it is a very slight glitch in a gloriously beautiful performance.
Athena Petrizzo and Philip Perez are the young Clara and the Nutcracker Boy. They both give performances rich with wide-eyed innocence and youthful joy. Both the Snowflakes and the Flowers dance in splendid tandem with the music and each other. Performing as the Snowflakes and Flowers are students from the JKO ballet school among the ABT corps members. They all dance so perfectly that I find it impossible to distinguish the students from the ABT company members.
All in all it was a wonderful afternoon at the ballet, enjoyed immensely by children of all ages. I will definitely be going to Brooklyn to see ABT’s The Nutcracker for many years to come.