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


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#76 Natalia

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 05:24 AM

[size=5][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]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)[/font][/size]

[size=6][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Even though I bought 2 tix on Nov 18 (when they went on sale),[/font][/font][/size][size=5][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]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.[/font][/size]

[size=5][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]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'![/font][/size]

#77 kfw

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 07:15 AM

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,

#78 bart

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 07:18 AM

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." Posted Image

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.

#79 kfw

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 08:08 AM

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.

#80 dirac

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 10:42 AM

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.

#81 abatt

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 12:42 PM

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.

#82 Dale

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 01:04 PM

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.

#83 abatt

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 01:25 PM

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.

#84 bart

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 01:42 PM

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.

#85 abatt

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 01:53 PM

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


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. .

#86 ksk04

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 02:21 PM

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!

#87 Dale

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 03:18 PM

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.

#88 nysusan

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 08:18 PM


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!

#89 Jack Reed

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Posted 14 December 2011 - 09:25 PM

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...

#90 kfw

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 03:54 AM

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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