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NYCB Goes to the Movies -- with Balanchine's Nutcracker

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Thank you so much for this detailed report, Jayne! I will be thinking about the 'quirks' and mishaps that you described as I watch tonight's PBS telecast...to see if what we get on TV may be last night's show on tape. (Eye Spy...ha-ha)

Even though I bought 2 tix on Nov 18 (when they went on sale),I opted to not attend last night's show when it was published that this would be on TV the following night. Too much on my plate. I would have gone had it been a different cast.

p.s. I've seen this production before many times -- both 'live' in NYC and in prior films (e.g., Diana Adams 1950s, Kistler 1990s). While I agree that it becomes too much of a 'kiddie show' in Act I, I LOVE-LOVE-LOVE the rich sets & costumes. If only ABT had something along this quality, decor-wise. Balanchine knew the sorts of designs that 'are Fit for a Tsar'!

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Thank you so much for this detailed report, Jayne! I will be thinking about the 'quirks' and mishaps that you described as I watch tonight's PBS telecast...to see if what we get on TV may be last night's show on tape. (Eye Spy...ha-ha)

Another tip-off will be if Mother Ginger drops her mirror. I didn't actually see that occur, but as she was leaving the stage the kids were looking the other direction, and then Fritz stepped down and picked it up.

I have what may be the minority view among balletomanes on the First Act of Balanchine's production. I was impatient with it on first viewing, but I nowadays i find it all very touching,

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Two questions from the "other bart":

1) Was this one of the fastest Nutcracker's on record? The unmodulated speed of Otranto's conducting (possibly to fit the 2-hour constraints of the PBS filming) astonished me. Phrasing, nuance and magic seemed to me to be lost at times. Fast tempos added excitement to Act One, but detracted from some of the numbers in Act II. For example, Theresa Reichlen's Coffee -- something I had been looking forward to -- sped by with the no-nonsense pacing of an aerobics video. I felt sorry for her and for the role. Same with the waltzing Flowers. Only Ashley Bouder seemed to be able to combine speed, accuracy, and clarity with phrasing and attention to upper body. The beat was rigid but Bouder's dancing was not She was the star of the evening for me.

2) Any thoughts from NYCB regulars on the decision to cast Megan Fairchild in the key dancing role? I appreciated the technique but missed the warmth and allure that this character can and should have. The large screen is especially unkind to dancers who cannot maintain a consistent facial expression.

Those two aspects bothered me. But, on the whole, this was a thrilling example of just how good children can be in ballet, and how rich and apparently bottomless are the technical resources of the NYCB dancers. The production, as others have said, is gorgeous to look at. I cherished those few opportunities we were given to observe the staging and decor from a distance and as a whole..

I was not familiar with Kelly Ripa's work, but she was lovely with the children and not bad at the barre. Someone on the production end was quite smart to take us under Mother Ginger's skirt and allow us see what it's like to be there, through the eyes and words of the children. I doubt I'll ever forget the images of lipstick kisses that children traditionally leave on the inside of the skirt. Or the information that Mother Ginger signals that he's about to move with 4 stationery steps, a way of communicating to the kids, "Here we go; watch out for my stilts." tiphat.gif

P.S. An addition to those wonderful on-stage mishaps. A Snowflake lost one of those snow-ball contrivances they wave around. It lay there, down stage and just off center, for the rest of the scene. It was fun, but distracting, to watch the dancers hop over and around it during the rest of the number. Fortunately, the Snowflake involved was not required to dance the rest of the scene waving just one set of snow balls. I was impressed that, somehow, she managed to get another prop backstage. I've never like these props, but it is nice to know that someone backstage was prepared with a supply of extras, just in case.

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Any thoughts from NYCB regulars on the decision to cast Megan Fairchild in the key dancing role? I appreciated the technique but missed the warmth and allure that this character can and should have. The large screen is especially unkind to dancers who cannot maintain a consistent facial expression.

Not being a New Yorker, I'm not a regular, but I've seen the company enough in recent years to have been very disappointed with Fairchild's casting for the very reason you mention.She's appropriately sweet, but she doesn't project a lot. Her onstage personality, at least when I've seen her, is like her speaking last night - a little on the quiet side. My top choices would have been Mearns, Peck and Kowroski (who's dancing it this afternoon) in that order.

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I have what may be the minority view among balletomanes on the First Act of Balanchine's production. I was impatient with it on first viewing, but I nowadays i find it all very touching,

Croce says somewhere that the real genius of Balanchine's production is in the first act. It is true that some Nutcrackers try to amuse the kids while going over their heads to the adults (you also see this in contemporary movies for children) and it doesn't necessarily work.

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I didn't see the movie (I'm seeing it on TV tonight), but I was surprised that M. Fairchild was the broadcast Sugarplum. Sugarplum is a role that requires grand authority, and that is not a trait that I've seen from M. Fairchild. She has strong technique, so she fits better as Dewdrop.

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I posted a response but for some reason it didn't post. In short, Peter Martins has been quoted for this and in the past as casting these he goes with the safe choice. The dancers he feel will always "deliver." So if you want a safe choice for Sugarplum, sure, Fairchild is it. I wanted to see Mearns. They also might have been casting with the cavalier in mind. The company's taller dancers are not really technical powerhouses. Some have had trouble getting through what little solo dancing they do in this version.

I've seen Fairchild in this role before. I find that she dances small and her limbs are tight (don't sing). I've read that she's improved. Oddly enough, I found that watching ballet in a movie theater favored taller dancers. They fill the screen. The Bolshoi's Zakharova, Hallberg and Alash were shown off to great effect in the Sleeping Beauty I saw. Anyway, I'm eager to see tonight's broadcast (at 1am!). Hopefully, they've gotten the broadcast nerves out of their system.

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Yes, Dale. I think they wanted to give DeLuz the broadcast because he always delivers, so they needed a short Sugarplum. However, I would have paired DeLuz with Tiler Peck. Peck is a bit too tall for DeLuz but they would have managed. Peck is commanding and very musical. Oh well. Guess I'll have to see her Sugarplum live at the Theater Formerly Known as the State.

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The concept --"he/she always delivers" -- does explain a lot of casting, though it sometimes begs another question: "Dellivers what?"

Oddly enough, I found that watching ballet in a movie theater favored taller dancers. They fill the screen.
Dale, I agree about this when there are plenty of long shots that allow us to see the dancer(s) in a broad context. With tighter shots -- as was the case in almost all of this Nutcracker -- even the tiniest dancer could fill the screen. I'd be interested to hear what you think after your early-morning viewing tonight.

Live ballet in movie theaters seems to be an unstoppable trend, which means that decisions about casting for the big screen will require more and more thought.

I had never seen de Luz before, but he seemed rather small when compared with Fairchild. I don't know whether this was a matter of height of or of visual impact.

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The concept --"he/she always delivers" -- does explain a lot of casting, though it sometimes begs another question: "Dellivers what?"

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Based on what I've seen over the years, DeLuz always delivers a strong technical performance, has strong partnering skills and a charismatic, charming stage presence. Many of NYCB's men are technically inconsistent, with flubs large and small in demanding classical roles. .

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Yes, I've seen de Luz with Peck before and they manage quite well though she definitely borders on "too tall." His charisma and technique still out shines her though, as crisp as she is. I don't blame Martins for wanting to put him on display, he's great.

Can't wait til the TV broadcast!

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Bart, I think they deliver "clean" performances. Now, Bouder can deliver clean yet exciting performances. Same with Peck. On the other hand, Bouder's go for broke style used to result in spills. I think Martins' ideal performer in this regard was Damian Woetzel, who delivered in the best sense (at least to me). Technically strong (at a certain point in his career, dazzlingly so), good partner with the size and strength to partner nearly every women in the company, and an artist. Mmm. Just remembered he was the cavalier in the 1993 film ;) (I like that film. I ignore Caulken and focus on the likes of Nichols, Tracey, Kistler etc...) DeLuz is a veteran guy who seems to have lots of aplomb.

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I have what may be the minority view among balletomanes on the First Act of Balanchine's production. I was impatient with it on first viewing, but I nowadays i find it all very touching,

Croce says somewhere that the real genius of Balanchine's production is in the first act. It is true that some Nutcrackers try to amuse the kids while going over their heads to the adults (you also see this in contemporary movies for children) and it doesn't necessarily work.

I also love Balanchine's Nutcracker - including the 1st act. I don't love it as a ballet the way I love Swan Lake or Giselle, I love it as a holiday event - like A Christmas Carol, or the Messiah. Only the Nutcracker & Ailey's Revelations are my favorite parts of Christmas in New York.

That said, I agree that casting Fairchild and DeLuz as Sugar Plum & her Cavalier was a questionable choice. My favorites (in order) are Kowroski, Mearns and Peck.

I can imagine that Martins had reasons to go with Fairchild. She is an excellent technician and she's extremely reliable but unfortunately she is also often (if not always) a blank - totally inexpressive & with little dance impulse. DeLuz is an excellent dancer and a strong partner. He and Fairchild dance together often and I'm sure that Martins was confident that there would be no disasters.

On the other hand, as wonderful as Kowroski is, she is 5'9" or 5'10" and is a handful to partner. She just lost her stalwart, always dependable cavalier, Charles Askegard to retirement. The Sugar Plum pas de deux has some very tricky partnering and I can imagine that Martins may have been reluctant to feature a new, untested partnership in movie theaters and on TV.

Mearns is brilliant but she is injured often and whenever she steps on the stage she dances full out and completely in the moment - a scary proposition in front of millions of people.

Anyway, I just watched the live TV broadcast and I have to say that I found it much less awe inspiring than the live event. Fairchild & DeLuz were fine, Ulbricht was great & Bouder once again stole the show. But the camera angles & the small screen in general just didn't cut it for me.

This is one production that must be seen live to really be appreciated.

PS - the quick tempos are a NYCB hallmark, in fact Otranto tends to take a more measured approach than some of her colleagues!

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Watching the broadcast, I missed Nichols (Dewdrop) and Kistler (Sugarplum) and Ardolino (the director) and Zinman (the conductor) on the 1993 DVD; I sure as hell didn't miss Susan Cooper's narration on it (she wrote it) or Culkin (who looked less like any kind of prince than a kid who just couldn't care less). Over all, the whole thing seemed rather mechanical and inexpressive to me, and after the broadcast I took a little break, and then I watched "Flowers" from the DVD. Just "The Waltz of the Flowers", with Kyra Nichols. For me, it blew away the whole rest of the evening. LIfe, and joy in living. (Excuse me.) In what you hear and in what you see. Worth the price of the disc! Just that. Maybe I'll get more analytical later...

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I also love Balanchine's Nutcracker - including the 1st act. I don't love it as a ballet the way I love Swan Lake or Giselle, I love it as a holiday event - like A Christmas Carol, or the Messiah.

Watching last night, I realized that what I love best about it is not the story, charming as it is, but sometimes overly cute, or verging on it. What I love is that those are real little kids (duh) putting on that show. During the taped intermission feature Gabrielle Whittle talked about how the kids cry when all 42 shows are over. It's imagining how those kids must feel that moves me.

But the camera angles & the small screen in general just didn't cut it for me.

The big screen was a big treat Tuesday night, but also - maybe I'm misremembering - I thought some of the shots were from further away last night.

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Did anyone else think that Chelsea Clinton was stiff as a board, and the worst part of her role was the mind numbingly boring interview w. Peter Martins. Does anyone give a @#+*& about all of the minor roles she danced? It seemed like she didn't prepare enough questions, and then she had to fill dead time. .

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Watching the broadcast, I missed Nichols (Dewdrop) and Kistler (Sugarplum) and Ardolino (the director) and Zinman (the conductor) on the 1993 DVD; I sure as hell didn't miss Susan Cooper's narration on it (she wrote it) or Culkin (who looked less like any kind of prince than a kid who just couldn't care less). Over all, the whole thing seemed rather mechanical and inexpressive to me, and after the broadcast I took a little break, and then I watched "Flowers" from the DVD. Just "The Waltz of the Flowers", with Kyra Nichols. For me, it blew away the whole rest of the evening. LIfe, and joy in living. (Excuse me.) In what you hear and in what you see. Worth the price of the disc! Just that. Maybe I'll get more analytical later...

I agree with you completely, Jack. Last night's performance was so anemic that I had to watch the 1993 DVD immediately afterwards to get it out of my mind. Fairchild was the worst Sugar Plum I've ever seen, totally lacking the grandeur, magical presence and projection required for the role. And her technique wasn't that impressive either. She was so cautious in the PDD and hardly smiled at all. It doesn't help that the last "Nutcracker" I saw live starred Suzanne Farrell in the mid '80's and her glorious Sugar Plum is burned into my mind. The one highlight of last night was Ashley Bouder's Dewdrop. She really lived the part in her dancing and her fast, clean, high octane technique, charm and joy were captivating.

I haven't been to a NYCB performance in over 20 years because I kept reading and hearing criticism of the direction Martins was taking the company. Miscasting, Martins's favoritism of some dancers over others and the Balanchine style and training dying away. Last night's "Nutcracker" was a clear example in my opinion of the terrible impact Martins has had as Artistic Director. It's sad to say this, but I'm glad to have stayed away from NYCB all these years.

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In all fairness last night's performance was NOT a representative of the NYCB on its best night. I'm puzzled why Peter Martins did not choose to have Tiler Peck or Sara Mearns in the SPF -- both of them exude way more charm and graciousness than Fairchild. The corps was a bit raggedy compared to how I have seen them. When Peck danced the Marzipan part of me wondered why she wasn't dancing the SPF instead.

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Did anyone else think that Chelsea Clinton was stiff as a board, and the worst part of her role was the mind numbingly boring interview w. Peter Martins. Does anyone give a @#+*& about all of the minor roles she danced? It seemed like she didn't prepare enough questions, and then she had to fill dead time. .

This really bothered me too. Why did Chelsea Clinton get this job? Because she's a DOB (Daughter of Bill)? She was dull as dishwater in her 30 Rock segment a few days ago and she was again last night. When the announcer mentioned that a former ballet dancer would be interviewing cast members, I thought it would be a NYCB Alumnus or another dancer of note. Instead we get Chelsea Clinton who didn't pursue a ballet career and is a lousy interviewer. Very disappointing.

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Did anyone else think that Chelsea Clinton was stiff as a board, and the worst part of her role was the mind numbingly boring interview w. Peter Martins. Does anyone give a @#+*& about all of the minor roles she danced? It seemed like she didn't prepare enough questions, and then she had to fill dead time. .

I felt for her since she was trying out a new role, but I thought both questions and answers were dull.Funny that she asked Fairchild and the children pretty much the same questions that Ripa had the night before. I was amused, though, that she asked Colby Clark about the school test he'd taken yesterday, a test Ripa had referred to. Clinton's interview filled time that the night before had been used for interviews with NYCB technical director Perry Silvy, with Daniel Ulbricht, and a feature on Mother Ginger, kids included.

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I totally LOVED the telecast. I've seen this production so many times ('in person' and on past films) and am so grateful to FINALLY have the full thing on DVD as a complete 'theatrical experience,' which is very different from the two prior TV/commercially-filmed editions (1958 CBS with Diana Adams as SPF and ca-1993 with Darci Kistler as SPF). Last night's edition had properly-paced editing and just the right amount of close-ups-vs-long shots. Rouben Ter-Aratunian's designs are second-to-none on this earth; absolute perfection in degree of richness, decorative details and '3-D texture.' Balanchine's compositions, from the party scenes, to the snowflakes to the flowers, are the most musical and harmonious in balletdom....and absolutely in the Imperial Russian Ballet manners and graciousness -- including mostly-well-behaved kids! -- that I expect to see when I take a seat in a theater before viewing any 19th-C ballet.

I have no problems with the casting. Sure, it would have been great to have recorded for posterity the beauteous Sarah Mearns as SPF, but Megan Fairchild is a charming, adorable and technically accomplished ballerina...and what a grand quadruple pirouette near the end of her solo! [Remember, this film is being heavily promoted in the UK and I've been told by many 'ballet friends' in the UK that Fairchild is their ideal among NYCB principals.] Honestly, the only qualm that I have with her is her thin lips...but, in this televised edition (unlike the cinemas viewing on Tuesday), we were mercifully spared lengthy close ups. Joaquin De Luz was a perfect Cavalier and wonderful in his solo moments in the coda.

Yes, Ashley Bouder stole the show as Dewdrop. WOWEEEE!!!!! Best Dewdrop I've seen...and I've seen so many, mostly magnificent ones, like Nichols, Kent, Somogyi, Sylve, etc. Only Bouder has the technical facility and innate musicality to 'play with' and 'massage' the phrasing. She's the Mozart of the Dance. Teresa Reichlen was a sinewy, seductive Arabian-Coffee. Antonio Carmena as Tea-Chinese and Daniel Ulbricht in Hoops-Russian were both high-flying delights. I'm sorry that we didn't get Anna-Sophia Scheller, the originally-announced Spanish lead....but her replacement, Brittany Pollock, was a gorgeous revelation. The corps of children was first-rate and so into their roles. The soloist kids were all great but I absolutely adored Colby Clark as the Little Prince...such a naturally-sweet charmer (and a huge improvement to the creepy Macauley Culkin from the '93 film...but then that's not saying much).

The featurettes during the intermission were just fine - informative without being insulting to one's intelligence (as reported the day before with the cinemas version, with Kelly Ripa). Chelsea Clinton is not my favorite backstage emcee but she came across as knowledgeable and pleasant enough; she has captivating eyes (as does her mother), which brings a 'charisma' to her personna, even if her on-screen delivery is still a bit stiff.

All in all, a magnificent TV event, which is now a treasured DVD!

And now for the grand announcement....drumroll, please!....

My two Golden Palm Awards of the night go to (a) Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop (described above) and....(b) the EXTRAORDINARY VIOLINIST/CONCERT-MASTER who played the very finest rendition I've ever heard of the Act I 'Entr'acte' music (originally from Sleeping Beauty)....so sweetly and dancerly. Who is this violinist??? NYCB Orchestra is so lucky to have him.

Happy, happy Holidays, all! smile.png

p.s. I looked-out for the bloopers from Tuesday's cinemas show, e.g., dropped snowflake wand, bump in the 3rd row, etc. They weren't there so we must have truly seen Wednesday's show. I'm still scratching my head why NYCB and PBS wanted to present the same cast in two separate performances on consecutive nights but, hey, I'm happy with the cast that I saw on TV.

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Chelsea Clinton is on the board of directors of SAB. She also, conveniently, made her debut as TV reporter on Monday night.

The violinist was Kurt Nikkanen, the NYCB orchestra concertmaster.

Overall I enjoyed both performances. Fairchild wouldn't have been my choice for SPF, but I thought she was fine. I understand why Martins chose her; she always delivers clean, technically strong performances. Bouder was great - her phrasing is perfect for Dewdrop. My only quibble is that she has such strong facial expressions that when the camera zoomed in on her face (particularly during the HD broadcast), it really looked like she was mugging for the camera - something that doesn't come across during live performances because of the distance from the stage.

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While watching Fairchild's SPF I could not help but think that she is no better than the myriad of SPFs now dancing with lesser companies across America. A so-called first tier Company deserves better. ---and 'adorable'; should never be used to describe the SPF. By contrast, Bouder shone. Overall I found the production dated.

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Kurt Nikkanen - my hero! Thank you, cinnamonswirl.

'Adorable' is absolutely appropriate. SPF is the sweet dream-mother of every child. The one you want to cuddle up to....warm and fuzzy. Like Obraztsova at the Mariinsky...or Kaptsova at the Bolshoi...or Leslie Collier at the Royal, a few years ago. Warm, petite, adorable while still 'royalty' in the Kingdom of the Sweets. [Other perfect SPFs for me: Larisa Lezhnina of the 'old' Kirov or Ekaterina Maximova of the Bolshoi. Sorry, I would not want to see a regal-icy Lopatkina leading me through the Kingdom of Sweets, although Lopatkina is perfect as Nikiya or Odette-Odile!]

One small complaint with the production: Where were the shiny lights and sparks as the reindeer-pulled sleigh takes off at the end? I remember seeing sparkles shooting-out behind the sleigh when I used to go to the live production in NYC.

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Kurt Nikkanen - my hero! Thank you, cinnamonswirl.

'Adorable' is absolutely appropriate. SPF is the sweet dream-mother of every child. The one you want to cuddle up to....warm and fuzzy. Like Obraztsova at the Mariinsky...or Kaptsova at the Bolshoi...or Leslie Collier at the Royal, a few years ago. Warm, petite, adorable while still 'royalty' in the Kingdom of the Sweets.

I guess I prefer Regal - As in Alicia Markova, Alicia Alonso, Nathlie Krassovska. Rosella Hightower. Suzanne Farrell----just off the top of my head.

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