abatt

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

197 posts in this topic

I did not get a chance to see the film in the theatre, but watched on television last night. I was surprised that I agreed almost entirely with Alistair Macaulay's assessment (if translated from the film to the television performance).

When I watched Ashley Bouder, I finally understood all the talk about her -- she is entirely in a league of her own. I have seen her tomboy roles in promotional clips, and in the West Side Story film, and never saw her as a "ballerina". I never understood how she could be cast as the Swan Queen. After seeing her perform Dewdrop last night, I understand, and will try to see her in person. She does not seem to exert a drop of effort. She is so strong, and her power is so very admirable. It gives her room to be an artist. As stated above, it gives her the ability to play with the phrasing even at the break-neck speed. Amazing.

Megan Fairchild is so sweet, but really miscast. I thought Sugar Plum should have real authority, power, sweetness, and grace, but she did not show leadership qualities. Her size is not the issue. I really think she was very nervous. Even Mr. Puppytreats commented on her apparent anxiety. Her face was filled with discomfort and fear -- which are not SP qualities.

Theresa Reichlin is very good, but I felt she was miscast, as well. She is not very sultry. To me, she is more athletic.

Tiler Peck gets rave reviews, but I could not notice her abilities in the marzipan dance. Maybe the costume and prop, combined with the other dancers, distracted too much from her qualities.

The children were superb, wonderful, fantastic -- please wait while I pull out my thesaurus. Offstage and on, they have much about which to be proud.

Thank you, Natalia, for reading my mind. I was going to ask about the music from "Sleeping Beauty", played by the violinist when Marie first goes to sleep. Is this music used in most versions of "Nut"?

The sets were beautiful and I imagine children in the audience being awed by them. I was not offput by the sweet nature of this version. Children should not be scared away from the ballet by frightening memories of dark images onstage. This production was for families, and appropriately sweet.

Share this post


Link to post

..... I was going to ask about the music from "Sleeping Beauty", played by the violinist when Marie first goes to sleep. Is this music used in most versions of "Nut"?

......

As far as I can recall, this is the only version of Nut that employs that lovely, rarely-performed, passage from Sleeping Beauty (not choreographed by Petipa; used by Ashton as 'The Awakening pdd' in his own version of SB). Ever the genius, Balanchine knew just the piece of music to capture our hearts, as audiences transition from the party scene to Marie's dream. I love the little mimed touches within it, such as the mother gently arranging the shawl on her sleeping daughter. We can relax & sigh before the madness of the mice & soldiers.

Did anyone else hear yesterday's radio-podcast interview of 3 executives who deal with the Live-in-Cinemas ventures, mentioned in a recent Links thread? I listened to the 30-min podcast yesterday. One of the speakers said that similar in-cinemas showings of other full-length NYCB productions are in the works (for cinemas; no word of TV).She specifically mentioned Martins' Sleeping Beauty and Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream. Hopefully one of the upcoming cinemas shows will feature Sarah Mearns. [it's a shame that there don't seem to be any plans to show Balanchine/Robbins Mixed Bills in cinemas. They must be hard to market...grrrrr.]

Share this post


Link to post

Watching the broadcast, I missed Nichols (Dewdrop) and Kistler (Sugarplum) and Ardolino (the director) and Zinman (the conductor) on the 1993 DVD;

Forget Kistler, Nichols, Farrell or any other dancer, I think I miss Emile Ardolino the most. As Jack mentioned, Ardolino was the director for the 90s Nutcracker, but also for many excellent Dance in America and Live from Lincoln Center dance programs (the Balanchine series in the 70s being one of his crowning achievements. As well as Dirty Dancing and other films). The Live from Lincoln Centers from the 70s were often criticized for their "dancing match stick" effects. God those were so much better than what we get now. I get super excited to see ballet broadcast on TV and then it is ruined by stupid camera angles and edits. The editing wasn't so bad here - not as bad as other broadcasts - but the camera angles were horrible. Basically those cameras are in seats that are often discounted because you can't see the whole stage and you don't see the dancers head-on. Why would you shoot half the ballet from those seats. I love the part where Marzipan makes diamond shapes with her legs but we didn't see them because they shot it from an angle. We saw the side of her legs instead of the shape she was making with them. Same situation with so many other parts. Bouder was beautiful but she was constantly shot long view. The grand pas de deux was a little better. Note to dance directors: If a corps dancer in the back row in the corner is dancing at the same time the principal dancer is doing a solo, I don't want to see the corps dancer in a wide shot! Stay on the principal dancer. Same is during a pas de deux, if the women separates from the man to do a little solo, you don't have to shoot from an angle to be able to show the man just standing there. All future directors of Great Performances and Dance in America should be forced to watch the Bolshoi broadcasts.

Frustrations aside, from what I could tell, it was a pretty good performance. Fairchild and De Luz was solid. I thought Peck, Bouder, Reichlen, Carmena and Ulbricht were excellent. I only woke up in time to see Act II, so I can't comment on the first act.

Share this post


Link to post

Ardolino was also the director of "Dirty Dancing" which also was masterful in filming dance sequences.

More thoughts on the broadcast: I thought that the NY State Theater stage looked very shallow with the close-up cameras. I know the shallowness of the stage has been a problem but I could really see it when I saw how cramped the Snowflakes were.

I agree Fairchild is a good dancer with good technique, but to me she lacks that extra bit of mystery and/or charm that is part of the SPF. In recent years, the best SPF's I've seen have been Sara Mearns and Tiler Peck, but Wendy Whelan back in the day was also very beautiful in the part. Fairchild, however, is an excellent Dewdrop. I might have switched casting and given Bouder the SPF and Fairchild Dewdrop.

Share this post


Link to post

I loved Margaret Tracey & Jennifer Ringer not so long ago. And Patricia McBride way-WAY back! I should have mentioned them among my 'ideals' above.

There's a lovely ca-1968 TV film of McBride as SPF...but , alas, not in the Balanchine version.

Share this post


Link to post

A couple of thoughts on the most recent posts:

1) --

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

Agree completely, nysusan. This filming of Act I, however, managed to capture the speed and excitement of a Christmas Eve party, from the children's perspective. The many closeups helped me focus my attention, which often wanders or gets distracted by peripheral business.

2)

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.

Again, I agree completely. In fact, as I watched the movie-house version on Tuesday evening, my mind wandered to a very competent local ballerina who danced Sugar Plum a couple of weekends ago as a guest artists for a local school production. Technical competence; minimal allure; no arc to the performance (something made quote visible by unfortunate fluctuations in facial expression).

Here's Alastair Macaulay's take on the Fairchild performance: "efficient, brisk, neat, but lightweight, giving a little 'Let's get this over with' abruptness to her phrases. Her face tended to be guarded, tense, projecting sweetness only when she didn't have steps on her mind." Macaulay goes on to comment: "Although City Ballet dances the Balanchine 'Nutcracker' well these days in most respects, too few of its Sugar Plum Fairies exude ballerina magic; and this is a role that should enchant."

Here is one of the great companies of the world, with dancers finished at what is arguable the best school in America, dancing innumerable performances of a work created by the founder of the company. And they still can't manage to fashion consistently enchanting Sugar Plums?

3) Just want to bump a question I asked a few pages ago, regarding tempo.

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.
Maybe I was deluded as to the tempo that night, or have been away from NYCB performances for too long. But, if the tempo WAS exceptionally fast, that might explain some of the problems that have been mentioned by posters..

Share this post


Link to post

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.

I enjoyed it. Nice show, the editing was better than one often gets in these broadcasts although I agree with some of what Dale had to say on that, and overall it compared favorably with the NYCB Nutcracker feature film, which was pretty bad despite the talent involved. Fairchild looked a little nervous and she doesn't have a Fonteyn-like camera ready smile that would have really aided her in a broadcast context. Not the Sugar Plum of my dreams but I liked her fine, also Brittany Pollock. De Luz was charming and Bouder is teh awesome. The conducting was.....brisk, as others have noted. The kids were divine.

Share this post


Link to post

The conductor was brisk and seemed a tad - how can I put it? - AWARE that the camera was on her, over-gesticulating and flashing a lot more teeth than we usually see from conductors. Her lacey dress was precious....almost as if it was intended to be seen on the stage in the Act I party scene. She & the orchestra were great, though. That's what matters.

Share this post


Link to post

The conductor was brisk and seemed a tad - how can I put it? - AWARE that the camera was on her, over-gesticulating and flashing a lot more teeth than we usually see from conductors. Her lacey dress was precious....almost as if it was intended to be seen on the stage in the Act I party scene. She & the orchestra were great, though. That's what matters.

She is always this animated when she is conducting, which makes her such great fun to watch. She is totally immersed in the music in all its dimensions. The dress was a tad fancier than usual, but when you're on national television, why not?

Share this post


Link to post

She is always this animated when she is conducting, which makes her such great fun to watch.

Thanks, California, that's good to know. I was wondering.

I also noted that a cast list was shown before the start of the show with photographs of the dancers, so it was clear for audience members not familiar with the company who they were watching. This was especially nice because end credits are run at an unreadably fast pace these days and are often minimized to make room for commercial breaks or advertising other shows.

Share this post


Link to post

I, too, was wondering about the casting of Megan Fairchild as SPF in these performances, and the only thing that makes sense is that Martins (with PBS?) chose to cast deLuz as Cavalier and then fit a matching ballerina. I have never cared for the two as a partnership. It's not that Megan is too tall for him, but that he's too slight, too narrow for her. He's bulked up a little in recent years, but not enough to make up for her breadth, which I think enhances her dancing overall.

Megan is a beautiful classical dancer, but I think nerves undermined her in the broadcast. I also think she would have benefited mightily if Otranto had slowed the adagio just a bit. Yes, the pas de deux is an adagio, not supposed to be brisk.

Also, in general, there are elements that are played broadly in the theater, because you have to project to the back of the house. When the camera zooms in close, it looks terribly artificial, overplayed. Maybe you miss the "excitement" of LIVE, but I think this would have benefited from a studio recording where no one needed to worry about the conflicting preferences of in-house audience vs. home viewers.

My big complaint about the tv broadcast was the ill-aimed cameras. There was a moment during Snowflakes when there were dancers dancing on stage, but all the camera showed was a vacant spot stage-left. And in my viewing area, the toy bed's movement to the wings was pretty well obscured by the logo "thirteen [+ face]."

Share this post


Link to post

Maybe you miss the "excitement" of LIVE, but I think this would have benefited from a studio recording where no one needed to worry about the conflicting preferences of in-house audience vs. home viewers.

In general I tend to prefer evening length ballets filmed live rather than in a studio. I can allow for the fact that the performers are projecting for theater distances. There was an airless quality about the Nutcracker feature film. But then this particular ballet is truly an experience for live performance, as grateful as I am for these broadcasts.

Share this post


Link to post

I definitely prefer live performances of dance, even with the drawbacks of mistakes, poor camera angle shots, etc. I thought the Arpino film did have a slightly artificial feel to it. The Nutcracker with Baryshnikov and Kirkland suffers from the same effect.

Share this post


Link to post

I definitely prefer live performances of dance, even with the drawbacks of mistakes, poor camera angle shots, etc. I thought the Arpino film did have a slightly artificial feel to it. The Nutcracker with Baryshnikov and Kirkland suffers from the same effect.

My thoughts exactly. But what does it say about Martins as a director of a company founded by George Balanchine, if he chose Fairchild because she and De Luz could be counted on not to make mistakes? In my opinion, nothing at all complimentary.

Share this post


Link to post

Megan Fairchild was selected among all NYCB ballerinas to dance at the Kennedy Center's annual spring gala (the one big fundraiser each yr) last April. Somebody at NYCB is favoring her heavily, for some reason. Last night, I rewatched my recording of the telecast. I have to agree more this time around about her nervousness. She was OK, not awful...but not the sort of 'star' that a telecast demands. Ashley Bouder WAS the night's female star.

De Luz enhanced Fairchild a lot. It's too bad that Balanchine excised the Cavalier's main solo, as his little solo within the coda was one of the evening's dancing highlights.

I also have to agree, upon re-watching, about the odd camera angles at times. However, I saw just as many 'straight-to-center' shots as I did side views. The main problem was the constant shifting. It seems as if the producer in the truck must have had some spiked egg nog before the show, as he was 'trigger happy' jumping from camera to camera avery 5 seconds, at times. I would have saved the 'mid-range side views' to rare, specialized moments, rather than to employ them as often as he did.

I missed the later portion of the intermission features -- Clinton's interview with Martins -- on Wednesday & just saw it last night. What was up with Chelsea Clinton listing every tiny role that she has ever danced in Nutcracker? Even funnier: Martins' wide-eyed awe as Clinton spoke, hanging on every word..."Ooooo....Is that so?" Duh.

Share this post


Link to post

What was up with Chelsea Clinton listing every tiny role that she has ever danced in Nutcracker? Even funnier: Martins' wide-eyed awe as Clinton spoke, hanging on every word..."Ooooo....Is that so?" Duh.

I wanted to scream at my TV set STOOOOOP when she listed all of her minor roles. She lacks the gift of gab. What is she doing on TV! .I didn't think Martins was wide eyed because of awe. He was wide eyed because his eyes were glazing over from being bored.

Share this post


Link to post

I have a question about one of the lifts (done two times) in the SPF pdd. The Cavalier lifts SPF into a lift that looks like he wanted her to be overhead but instead was done so that the audience was given an awkward crotch shot. The first time I thought deLuz simply hadn't been able to lift Fairchild high enough but then the lift was repeated in the same way. I thought if that lift had been done for example by Bolle and Part the ballerina would have been completely overhead with her back and head draped over his head. I know this is a clumsy description but I hope you know the lift I'm talking about. If this is the way it is choreographed I have to repeat that it was awkward. Can someone enlighten me?

PS - Carbro, I was also annoyed with the "thirteen" logo on the screen!

Share this post


Link to post

I have a question about one of the lifts (done two times) in the SPF pdd. The Cavalier lifts SPF into a lift that looks like he wanted her to be overhead but instead was done so that the audience was given an awkward crotch shot. The first time I thought deLuz simply hadn't been able to lift Fairchild high enough but then the lift was repeated in the same way. I thought if that lift had been done for example by Bolle and Part the ballerina would have been completely overhead with her back and head draped over his head. I know this is a clumsy description but I hope you know the lift I'm talking about. If this is the way it is choreographed I have to repeat that it was awkward. Can someone enlighten me?

PS - Carbro, I was also annoyed with the "thirteen" logo on the screen!

Is she doing a grand jete while he lifts her?

Share this post


Link to post

Here's

; if you can identify the time (minutes:seconds) where the lift occurs in the vid, then maybe I can put in my two cents (or, see if these dancers do it better). I'm thinking you mean the lift at 3:52.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Ray. It's the lift at 3:53 and 4:02. It seems to be the same in the pdd with Kistler and Woetzel so I suppose that's how it's meant to be. Just not a pretty lift imho. Btw, how do they create the traveling arabesque en pointe? It's magical.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Ray. It's the lift at 3:53 and 4:02. It seems to be the same in the pdd with Kistler and Woetzel so I suppose that's how it's meant to be. Just not a pretty lift imho. Btw, how do they create the traveling arabesque en pointe? It's magical.

It is a toughie, I'll admit that, but I think it's meant to be a smooth part of a dance phrase, even while it marks a climax in the music. But yes, tough to pull off, and crotchy, especially on film. The traveling arabesque just entails the ballerina pique-ing firmly onto a little square of marley, which is then pulled from the wings.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Ray. It's the lift at 3:53 and 4:02. It seems to be the same in the pdd with Kistler and Woetzel so I suppose that's how it's meant to be. Just not a pretty lift imho. Btw, how do they create the traveling arabesque en pointe? It's magical.

You can see how it is done here: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2007/12/20/arts/1194817097884/the-nutcrackers-2-000th-performance.html (Wendy Whelan demonstrates at about 1:40).

The "crotch" shot seems necessary in Nutcrackers at that moment in the music. The traditional pdd has the big pas de chats en l'air that always seem just as awkward to me.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Ray. It's the lift at 3:53 and 4:02. It seems to be the same in the pdd with Kistler and Woetzel so I suppose that's how it's meant to be. Just not a pretty lift imho. Btw, how do they create the traveling arabesque en pointe? It's magical.

You can see how it is done here: http://video.nytimes...erformance.html (Wendy Whelan demonstrates at about 1:40).

The "crotch" shot seems necessary in Nutcrackers at that moment in the music. The traditional pdd has the big pas de chats en l'air that always seem just as awkward to me.

I agree--there's actually something un-classical about that kind of partnered pas de chat: in the classical vocabulary as I understand it, partnering should enhance the quality already inherent in a movement. Pas de chats are fast and brilliant snapshots, so partnering them should (again in the classical vocabulary) involve a fast "throw" to be true to the spirit of the movement, while grand jetes already contain the illusion of an extended and ever-extending trajectory--the lift just traces that out in slow motion.

Share this post


Link to post

OFF TOPIC: Thanks, Ray, for the following. I continue to learn so much while reading Ballet Alert. Your word picture -- and analysis -- are the kind of revelation that makes me want to read my fellow-members' posts attentively.

there's actually something un-classical about that kind of partnered pas de chat: in the classical vocabulary as I understand it, partnering should enhance the quality already inherent in a movement. Pas de chats are fast and brilliant snapshots, so partnering them should (again in the classical vocabulary) involve a fast "throw" to be true to the spirit of the movement, while grand jetes already contain the illusion of an extended and ever-extending trajectory--the lift just traces that out in slow motion.

Share this post


Link to post