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

197 posts in this topic

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.

I remember Suzanne Farrell discussing this in her memoirs that she and Mr. B came up with this step. Am I recalling correctly?

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Two questions: What is marley? And is there in existence a film of the 1958 Nutcracker broadcast on CBS with Diana Adams? Is it in the Paley film archive in NYC? That broadcast is one of my earliest memories of television, and my first of ballet. I'd love to find it.

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Eileen, Marley is the covering used on ballet floors that gives just the right amount of traction. Not as slippery as wood.

...in the classical vocabulary as I understand it, partnering should enhance the quality already inherent in a movement.
Although one might argue that part of Balanchine's enormous contribution was to expand each step's "inherent" quality of each step. This lift, I believe, is supposed to trace an arc while it covers space.

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...in the classical vocabulary as I understand it, partnering should enhance the quality already inherent in a movement.
Although one might argue that part of Balanchine's enormous contribution was to expand each step's "inherent" quality of each step. This lift, I believe, is supposed to trace an arc while it covers space.

Or--simultaneously--that his contribution was to reveal more sharply what "classical" meant (i.e., not just wearing pointe shoes and doing ballet steps).

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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.

Ray, thanks for posting this, I haven't seen it in so long! I'm not a big Kistler fan, but to my eyes this is so much more enjoyable than what we saw on Wed. Kistler luxuriated in the steps, her dancing had amplitude, warmth and allure.

We have only Martins to blame for the casting but seriously - NYCB has NUMEROUS ballerinas who regularly grace the stage in NY as the Sugar Plum Fairy and deliver luminous performances on a regular basis. Kowroski, Mearns and Peck are my favorites but Somogyi and Ringer are also beautiful. Bouder and Reichlin have assumed the role more recently and IMO, are not in the same league but still give lovely performances that are much more expressive & nuanced than Fairchild's. Too bad the world couldn't have seen one of them.

Bart - regarding the tempo - I've always felt that Otranto went for pretty moderate tempos compared to other NYCB conductors. They have always favored brisk tempos, especially their principal conductors, Karoui and Andrea Quinn before him.

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I'm not a big Kistler fan, but to my eyes this is so much more enjoyable than what we saw on Wed. Kistler luxuriated in the steps, her dancing had amplitude, warmth and allure.
Perhaps aided by the security that, in the studio shooting, if she messed up, they could retake.
I've always felt that Otranto went for pretty moderate tempos compared to other NYCB conductors. They have always favored brisk tempos, especially their principal conductors, Karoui and Andrea Quinn before him.
Interesting. I find Otranto the fastest of the bunch. While I acknowledge that Karoui and Quinn can/could be brisk, it's Otranto who most often makes me wish that she'd hit the brake pedal.

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... Btw, how do they create the traveling arabesque en pointe? It's magical.

The traveling arabesque just entails the ballerina pique-ing firmly onto a little square of marley, which is then pulled from the wings.

I remember Suzanne Farrell discussing this in her memoirs that she and Mr. B came up with this step. Am I recalling correctly?

Yes, you are, MakarovaFan. (May I say in passing that I'm happy a Makarova fan can be a Nichols fan, too?) Here's what Farrell says (Holding On to the Air, p.100):

... During one of the most climactic moments of the pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier in The Nutcracker [balanchine] declared, uncharacteristically, that he wanted to try what could only be called a visual trick. He arranged for a small, thin metal slide, pulled by wires, to be cranked invisibly across the stage and, instead of doing the usual choreography, I was to step onto the slide en pointe, in arabesque, holding my partner's hand while two stagehands, in opposite wings, pulled the wire and me across the stage. The effect was magical, and to this day audiences are thrilled and baffled by the seemingly impossible feat. Mr. B. was equally thrilled with his optical illusion, and I was thrilled to be his guinea pig.

To judge from the context, this seems to have happened in 1963 or 1964; and although Farrell's introduction to her book is undated, the book is copyright 1990, so that's what I take to be the meaning of her phrase "to this day"; and the discussion here shows that the effect endures to this day.

(I think carbro's description of marly is correct, but the plate isn't marly; my undertanding is that marly, something like linoleum, is thick stuff, and would be more visible and thus less magical to the audience. (Watching Ballet Chicago's Ellen Green and Bobby Briscoe in Balanchine's "Sugar Plum pas de deux" this evening, I even looked for it, but could barely make out a dark spot under Green's supporting foot, no more than a shadow, except that it was there before she stepped onto it. Exclamations to be heard scattered about the audience, of course!))

And I agree about the luxuriant amplitude of Kistler's dancing in the video. As I recall, it was evident in the theater too, not just in the studio, and we could believe she was the girl with four wrestler-brothers who had loved it when they picked her up and threw her around. She looked as though movement was a necessary luxury to her. (Frank Lloyd Wright was supposed to have said, "Never mind the necessities, it's the luxuries I must have!")

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The Kelly Ripa backstage bits are now on youtube. An example is here:

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Yes, you are, MakarovaFan. (May I say in passing that I'm happy a Makarova fan can be a Nichols fan, too?)

Thank you, Jack! Yes, I certainly am a Nichols fan.

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To judge from the context, this seems to have happened in 1963 or 1964; and although Farrell's introduction to her book is undated, the book is copyright 1990, so that's what I take to be the meaning of her phrase "to this day"; and the discussion here shows that the effect endures to this day.

However she wrote about it, I don't recall the traveling arabesque as happening before 1975. At least the Air Force provided me with a bright line in memory markers to remember things like this, and I was in 1970-74.

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CHOREOGRAPHY BY BALANCHINE sets the date of the introduction of the mechanical device for the Sugarplum at 1968.

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Thanks, rg; I don't recall it before I was in "the war" and then only occasionally in the year after. It must have taken awhile to become general.

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Aargh!!! I couldn't make the live cinema cast of this, so hoped to catch it on tv and asked for the evening off at work. So there I am--right channel, right time and....nothing but a 15sec promo that it will be shown Sat. evening at 9pm. So once again, I check work sched and luckily have evening free and once again I'm waiting until 9pm in front of the tv (after being at work 6AM!) and... on both the PBS stations in my overlap market (and both being in "Pledge" right now, so always open to pre-emptions--though luckily SFB's Little Mermaid appeared as scheduled) ... and once again, no NYCB Nut only "Celtic Thunder", "Celtic Women", Celtic hopscotch for all I care!!" When will I ever get to see this?!

PS. Thanks everyone who posted re camera placement/angles--at least that helped me visualize (or not) some of the action.

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In Seattle they showed "Jackie Evancho in concert" (sp?) for the umpteen millionth time. BUT I re-checked my TV listings for KCTS9 and it will show Tuesday 20.December at 8:00pm, and repeats later at 2:00am (technically Wednesday morning of the 21st)

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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.

Ray, thanks for posting this, I haven't seen it in so long! I'm not a big Kistler fan, but to my eyes this is so much more enjoyable than what we saw on Wed. Kistler luxuriated in the steps, her dancing had amplitude, warmth and allure.

We have only Martins to blame for the casting but seriously - NYCB has NUMEROUS ballerinas who regularly grace the stage in NY as the Sugar Plum Fairy and deliver luminous performances on a regular basis. Kowroski, Mearns and Peck are my favorites but Somogyi and Ringer are also beautiful. Bouder and Reichlin have assumed the role more recently and IMO, are not in the same league but still give lovely performances that are much more expressive & nuanced than Fairchild's. Too bad the world couldn't have seen one of them.

Bart - regarding the tempo - I've always felt that Otranto went for pretty moderate tempos compared to other NYCB conductors. They have always favored brisk tempos, especially their principal conductors, Karoui and Andrea Quinn before him.

The slowing down of tempi s one of my biggest disappointments of today's ballet. I saw a second run of Balanchine's Nutcracker tonight and there's definitely a difference between today's production and the recording with Kirstler regarding pace. I wish that instead of the obsession with placement and port de bras today's ballerinas, conductors and stagers would emphasize more in attack and brio, something you see way more in old videos. To do so with some pieces like some PDD's can-can sounding codas is a no-no, but to do it with, let's say, the Waltz of the Flowers is definitely a crime. Please, don't give us perfection-(there's no such thing)...-bring back fast, energetic ballet...!

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Please, don't give us perfection-(there's no such thing)...-bring back fast, energetic ballet...!

Reading this, I'm reminded yet again of a Balanchine quote I can't place right now; although I imagine he might have been talking to Martins, that's probably just me: "Never mind perfect. Perfect is boring."

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"Perfect is boring."
Does that reverse also apply? I mean, is IMperfect somehow more interesting. For me, this is a false antithesis. What's boring is calling attention to one's pursuit of perfection, usually by exaggerating something at the expense of something else.
Never mind perfect.

I think that Balanchine was saying that "perfect" was actually a non-issue. He wanted his dancers to look SPONTANEOUS, as though creating the steps on the spot. He also wanted them to look MUSICAL. Speed and attack were frequently an important part of this. But not when these qualities violated the intentions of the composer and/or choreographer.

A long, complex work like The Nutcracker demands an fluid and flexible approach to tempo.

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I think that Balanchine was saying that "perfect" was actually a non-issue. He wanted his dancers to look SPONTANEOUS, as though creating the steps on the spot. He also wanted them to look MUSICAL. Speed and attack were frequently an important part of this. But not when these qualities violated the intentions of the composer and/or choreographer.

Yes, and as part of this, as we know, he wanted them not to play it safe. Which is why Martins' playing it safe with a careful ballerina for the Sugar Plum Fairy is so antithetical to the spirit of Balanchine.

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SPONTANEOUS and MUSICAL, as though dancing what the music they heard was telling them to do now? Right now? As though "choreography" were not involved; invisible, even. Even though we know in the backs of our minds that it is, that no improvisation could be so good for so long. All the more amazing, what we're seeing, for that. Yes, that's Balanchine.

(No, IMperfect is not therefore interesting, although I wouldn't rule it out as part of it. It would depend. How about, say, off-balance? Now, could I be thinking of anyone's dancing in particular? Hmm...)

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Good point about "playing it safe, kfw. This performance was a high-stakes venture for NYCB, so the pressure must have been great.

You reminded me of something Dale wrote in an earlier post:

I think they [NYCB's principal women] 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.
"Going for broke" may be another way of describing the quality that both Christian and Jack are talking about. It's something I recall from the NYCB of the late fifties to the early 80s, my time of regular attendance. There were always some NYCB dancers who took this path.

Risks don't HAVE be of the falling-down variety. And if they are, one can always practice, practice, practise until one does it more reliably, as Bouder appears to have done.

I see Ashley Bouder's Dewdrop in this performance as "going for broke" on a high level. Of course she has the speed and footwork. What I raises the level of this performance for me is she also uses her upper body eloquently, despite the speed. Jeanette Delgado in Square Dance (Miami's PBS Dance in America earlier this fall and the first ballet on MCB's Program I this season) is like Bouder in this respect.

You can "go for broke" in non-allegro passages, too. Marzipan is a jewel of a role, with delicate music marked "andantino." The risk is blandness and affectation. With Tiler Peck, "going for broke means fusing delicate style, precise technique, phrasing, and charm. What is often the most insipid of Act II variations becomes lively and complex.

Surely "going for broke" like this should be a goal for all Balanchine dancers. All Giselles, too, for that matter.

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I missed the Tuesday evening theater broadcast of Nutcracker because I came down with an illness. And I have no TV so couldn't see it on PBS Wednesday night. But it sounds from all these posts that I did not miss a true Sugar Plum Fairy. So I splurged and bought a ticket to the very last performance of Nutcracker at the end of the year, but with Mearns at Sugar Plum and Tiler Peck as Dewdrop. The cavalier is Zachary Catazaro. Does anyone know anything about him? I was also thrilled to see Adam Hendrickson as Drosselmeyer, because not only did he get stellar reviews from the critical Alastair Macauley, but I met him the other week with his father outside the Theater Formerly Known As State - note to all Ballet Alert posters, I originated that bon mot and I expect full future credit when it is used by others, something along the lines of "My thanks to Eileen, who came up with this apt phrase." I am truly in the Nutcracker spirit, listening to Antal Dorati's recording with the Royal Concertgebouw and so grateful I can see Mearns and Peck at their most brilliant.

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My apologies to Mel Johnson, who actually originated the phrase in a post earlier this year I see from a Google search. I did not see his post and thought I had originated it. Great minds.....

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The cavalier is Zachary Catazaro. Does anyone know anything about him?

The only thing I know is that he was the long-time boyfriend of Ashley Bouder, starting before he even became an apprentice, if I remember correctly. I've only seen him in a few video clips and he looks very good in those.

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Good point about "playing it safe, kfw. ..."Going for broke" may be another way of describing the quality that both Christian and Jack are talking about. It's something I recall from the NYCB of the late fifties to the early 80s, my time of regular attendance. There were always some NYCB dancers who took this path.

...

I see Ashley Bouder's Dewdrop in this performance as "going for broke" on a high level. Of course she has the speed and footwork. What I raises the level of this performance for me is she also uses her upper body eloquently, despite the speed. Jeanette Delgado in Square Dance (Miami's PBS Dance in America earlier this fall and the first ballet on MCB's Program I this season) is like Bouder in this respect.

You can "go for broke" in non-allegro passages, too. Marzipan is a jewel of a role, with delicate music marked "andantino." The risk is blandness and affectation. With Tiler Peck, "going for broke means fusing delicate style, precise technique, phrasing, and charm. What is often the most insipid of Act II variations becomes lively and complex.

Surely "going for broke" like this should be a goal for all Balanchine dancers. All Giselles, too, for that matter.

I'll try to make the comparisons again when I can (Nichols's vs. Bouder's "Dewdrop", for instance) - but my sense right now is that "playing it safe" and "going for broke" bracket the quality I tried to characterize just above. Not that that it's easy to put into words, but the quality I have in mind is, as the truth often is, "somewhere in between".

My time with Balanchine's company, not unlike bart's, was from the mid '70s to the mid '80s, and the dancing was certainly energetic but never wild as I remember having seen a few of the present NYCB women who come in for comment do. (I do have very positive memories of Tiler Peck , but she was in Workshop, and prepared by the best.)

I do remember some Agon pas de deux in the old days in which the "contest" came to something of a draw - the two dancers, glistening with sweat, not quite collapsing on each other at the end instead of the tidy moves we see today, and some "Rondo alla Zingarese"s (the last movement of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet) by Farrell and d'Amboise where you could practically hear "dare ya" and "oh, yeah?" (we always hoped they were having as much fun as it looked) but the high energy level never broke the shape, the contour, of what they were doing, and so it was all the more legible for that, and, legible, it had effect, high effect, on us.

No "playing it safe" in those days, but no hint of violence to the role. But maybe I just misunderstand bart's phrase. Maybe bart will elaborate some more on this (for me) difficult-to-describe aspect.

Edited by Jack Reed

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