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


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#106 bart

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 09:56 AM

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..

#107 dirac

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 10:26 AM

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! Posted Image

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.

#108 Natalia

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 10:31 AM

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.

#109 California

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 10:40 AM

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?

#110 dirac

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 11:51 AM

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.

#111 carbro

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 04:09 PM

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]."

#112 dirac

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 06:11 PM

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.

#113 canbelto

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 06:14 PM

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.

#114 kfw

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Posted 15 December 2011 - 06:47 PM

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.

#115 Natalia

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 03:34 AM

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.

#116 abatt

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 06:04 AM

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.

#117 Barbara

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 07:14 AM

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!

#118 Ray

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 07:34 AM

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?

#119 Barbara

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 07:36 AM

Yes, I think so.

#120 Ray

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 08:10 AM

Here's a link to the PDD; 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.


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