Tchaikovsky’s score and the Sacramento Philharmonic’s performance are nothing short of spectacular, from the sudden popped-up head of conductor Henrik Jul Hansen at show’s beginning to each of the play’s famous Tchaikovsky melodies. The suites are performed beautifully, making it a perfect introduction to live classical music for children. Every costume and set, designed by Theresa Kimbrough and Alain Vaës, respectively, has been created with childhood Christmas wonder in mind.
This production remains a classic tale for young and old and has been staged by the Sacramento Ballet for nearly a quarter of a century. It is the perfect show for people who have never seen ballet and have heard little live music.
Thursday, December 15
Posted 15 December 2011 - 11:58 AM
Posted 15 December 2011 - 12:00 PM
Alberta Ballet's The Nutcracker is different than other versions by being set in Imperial Russia rather than in Germany. The opening scene takes place with onion domes in the background which immediately places it in Russia - the country where the ballet opened in the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in December, 1892.
Other changes - Clara becomes Klara and Rat King, the Rat Tsar - from the familiar and often imitated George Balanchine version for the New York City Ballet make the production resemble the opulent era of the czars instead of a schmaltzy Victorian one.
Posted 15 December 2011 - 12:14 PM
His version of the first act is a wickedly bleak deviation from the standard Victorian opulence of most productions. Relocated to a grey, Dickensian orphanage, the only festive colour on stage comes from a few limp balloons and sagging paper chains. In queasy contrast, the second act's Kingdom of Sweets becomes an acid-bright disco, in which lurid "sweetie" characters lick and grope each other with randy, lipsmacking appreciation. To underline Bourne's departure from everything pink and innocent, the anti-heroine – who ruthlessly hijacks Clara's Nutcracker prince – is named Sugar.
The fantastical extravaganza builds as Jackass Gobstoppers do Beavis and Butt-Head and dancers lick themselves and one another into an orgy of sugary bliss, climaxing (just before everyone wakes up) with the "Waltz of the Flowers". For this the sweets climb onto an enormous pink wedding cake to grind like podium dancers, the lycra-clad men enacting moves Tchaikovsky could not have foreseen. Gleefully dark and incessantly inventive, this is ballet to makes you laugh out loud and cheer.
I still struggle with Bourne’s staging of the grand pas de deux. Tchaikovsky’s grandest music is given to Sugar, the heroine’s bitch rival – which just feels wrong, especially since Sugar isn’t humanised by the process. Ashley Shaw is an icy-sweet Sugar, with Chris Trenfield is Dominic North is splendidly sulky as Fritz. This revival opens New Adventures’ 25th anniversary year: they’re in fine shape.
Posted 15 December 2011 - 12:17 PM
The Evening Standard
Most Nutcrackers locate their second acts in a magical kingdom of dancing sweets but Bourne's is the only one where the sweets go around sampling each other's flavour. There is an orgy of licking, dipping, smacking, auto-degustation, at one point some simulated fellatio and all in all more tongue than you would ever expect to see unless Kiss reunite to do an All Black haka. Parents needn't worry, because by some alchemy it comes across as good, clean fun ... Well, almost - in a phrase Salman Rushdie once coined to sell us cream cakes, it's naughty but nice.
Although it is ostensibly Clara’s dream journey, a rites-of-passage story of first love and first betrayal, she spends an awful lot of time in the second half away from the action. But the lurid, vibrant and inventive candies who entertain her as she tries to sneak past the bouncer are the sweet meat of the show.
The Arts Desk
Ever since Bourne produced this - his first big classic rewrite - far back in 1992, audiences have been happily laughing at and with it. The first half puts a smile on the face and warms the heart with its perfect, Bournish comedy - but the second is a let-down, repetitious and over-dependent on campery.
Posted 15 December 2011 - 12:19 PM
Homans shows how dance and dancers were influenced by the Renaissance and French Classicism, by Revolution and Romanticism, by Expressionism and Bolshevism, Modernism and the Cold War. Her book ends with the contemporary crisis in ballet now that 'the masters are dead and gone' and offers a passionate plea for the centrality of classical dance in our civilization.
Posted 15 December 2011 - 12:22 PM
Have you conducted "The Nutcracker" much? What's your take on it?
I never conducted a completed "Nutcracker," but I've probably conducted 90 percent of it in excerpts. With its regularity in the holiday season and so many different ways it's performed, there's always a danger it becomes overexposed or people are too used to it. I never experienced that with 'The Nutcracker.' I think it's one of Tchaikovsky's greatest, most brilliant inventions. The story alone is timeless and perfect. The music is so alive, so quick, so inspired and full of life.
Posted 15 December 2011 - 12:28 PM
In the opening moment of the song, the vampish dancer slinks across the stage with what company founder and choreographer Michael Smuin insisted must be "the world's longest feather boa." Costume designer Sandra Woodall constructed it by piecing together seven of the fluffiest red and white boas she could find to create a 42-foot-long monster that slowly followed Celia across the stage.
"It is much heavier to pull than it looks," said Fushille. "After a couple of tries, we realized someone needed to be in the wings carefully feeding it out - so it slides out as gracefully as the dancer. Otherwise it might catch. There is nothing sexy about a sudden backwards pull on your boa."
Posted 16 December 2011 - 05:22 PM
Helimets, in top form, wowed as the Nutcracker Prince. Anthony Spaulding and Elana Altman were the regal King and Queen of the Snow; Dores Andre made a fine role debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Martin West conducted the orchestra in a confident, sonorous performance.
Michael Yeargan’s scenery, set during the 1915 World’s Fair, and Martin Pakledinaz’s sumptuous costumes elicited oohs and aahs, especially in the battle between the mice and toy soldiers, the growing Christmas tree and the biggest onstage blizzard seen in local “Nutcracker” history.
Posted 16 December 2011 - 05:54 PM
Mr. Ratmansky’s “Nutcracker” is original in many other ways too — nowhere more so than in its dancing Snowflakes. Can there have ever been a production where the Snowflakes change in character so markedly during their long waltz at the end of Act I? They progress from images of lovely, artless innocence, by way of alluring beauty, to stormy, mazelike furor, to designing, vengeful cruelty. Mutating with the music, they show us the different faces of snow itself.
Posted 17 December 2011 - 05:05 PM
Mr. Goldweber was celebrated above all for his dancing of the Blue Skater, also known as the boy in blue, the lead role in Ashton’s “Patineurs” (“Skaters”). The work, a giddy, snowy holiday greeting card of a ballet, was in reality a demanding test of virtuoso classical dancing. Mr. Goldweber first danced the role in 1977, his first year with the Joffrey after two years with the company’s junior troupe. He was only 19, but his future was clear.
Posted 17 December 2011 - 05:07 PM
There is a problem with our Nutcracker – the story itself is weakly told, and the choreography is insufficiently fantastic. It matters little that it's been reset in San Francisco. Aside from a brilliant scene in Uncle Drosselmeyer's shop, where we see him (the excellent Val Caniparoli) putting the last screws into the Nutcracker before leaving for the party, plot points of the story are handled slip-shod. The staging too often leaves the music to carry the action forward.
It's SFB's dancers, who are among the best in the world, who made it all make sense. All praise to them: parents, children, grandparents, servants in the party scene, especially Luke Willis and Quinn Wharton as fathers, Anita Paciotti as the grandmother, Pascale Leroy as Clara's mother, and Nicole Finken, our child-heroine, created likeable, plausible people and projected these characters well out into the house. Clara Blanco was especially fantastic as Drosselmeyer's toy ballerina doll, who performs as one of his magic tricks at the party: you could almost hear her joints click into place.
Posted 20 December 2011 - 12:30 PM
No, the saddest thing was the sold-out balcony. Presumably, middle-class families bought tickets hoping for a good value in holiday entertainment. What they got can’t even be called a cheap thrill. The Moscow Ballet, a pickup company of third-rate Russian dancers, is ripping off Americans in 60 cities this season with a show that’s dull, soulless and chintzy. But, unless you’ve seen ballet before, you might not know that.
Of the nearly 30 dancers onstage, only the lead female, playing Masha and the Sugar Plum Fairy, had the comparable skill of a corps dancer at a top American company. Three more — the “Arabian” contortionists and a “Chinese” acrobat — would make the cut at Cirque de Soleil.
Posted 25 December 2011 - 10:06 PM
There was one new player: the first ever Boston International Ballet Competition. Valentina Kozlova, a former principal with the Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet, drew 92 young dancers - ages 13 to 25 - from 23 countries to compete at John Hancock Hall in front of a stellar seven-member jury that included Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen, former NYCB principal and Boston Ballet artistic director Violette Verdy, and former Bolshoi star Andris Liepa.
The prizes were generous: cash awards (starting with $9,000 apiece for the best man and woman in the senior division), summer scholarships, company contracts, and opportunities to perform in Moscow and Paris. The sessions ran like clockwork; the presentation was remarkably professional for a debut event. Next year, moreover, the competition will be moving to the Cutler Majestic Theatre, June 12-17.
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