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Critics go toe-to-toe over Sugar Plum Fairy!


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#1 creativejuice

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Posted 21 December 2002 - 06:53 PM

In my years of reading Nutcracker reviews, never have I read a more contrasting opinion over the performance of the Sugar Plum Fairy! I guess some reviewers will agree to disagree.

Paula Citron of www.globeandmail.ca

 He also had to act for two because Ogden, who is one of the most technically gifted dancers in the company, is soulless. Ogden must start developing interpretative skills to realize her awesome potential, because, at the moment, her Sugar Plum Fairy is a beautifully dancing cipher.  


Shena Wilson of www.nationalpost.com

 Heather Ogden as the Sugar Plum Fairy has the special gift of making technique almost disappear in her visible joy. Her precision, lovely smile and gentle presence make her a pleasure to watch. Together, Ogden and Côté exude musicality, generosity and complicity.  


The above quotes were from the December 14th debut of the National Ballet of Canada’s 2002 Nutcracker. I was quite surprised at the stinging criticism levied by veteran ballet critic, Paul Citron. Soulless really needs no explanation. The dictionary definition of cipher is a person of no value or importance. Ouch! I myself did not see the opening Nutcracker so I can offer no opinion. Other than James Kudelka must be happy with Miss Ogden, as she was promoted to Second Soloist in 2002, her 4th year with the NBoC.

One would think a seasoned journalist like Paula Citron could have found a more sympathetic way to convey her opinion of Miss Ogden’s performance. If she found it wooden, perhaps a comparison to the Nutcracker would have been more apropos than “soulless” and “cipher.” Bah Humbug to Paula Citron!

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 21 December 2002 - 07:01 PM

I think it's quite possible Ms. Citron used the word "cipher" not to signify a nonentity, but in its other meaning, something in code. I guess she could not discern from Ogden's performance what she was feeling, thinking or communicating.

I didn't really think her language was out of bounds either. It certainly wasn't positive, but not every review will be.

As for disagreements like that? Fact of life! I've learned which reviewers I tend to see eye to eye with and which I don't.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 21 December 2002 - 07:11 PM

Thanks for posting that, creativejuice -- but when I click on the links, I get the home pages. I found Citron's article by searching for "Heather Ogden" but the same search on the nationalpost site didn't find the article you cite.

The opinions -- I don't like/I like -- are certainly apposite, but Citron is saying she doesn't think the dancer can act, and Wilson is saying that the same dancer has a nice smile and presence -- and those are different comments.

Not that critics don't disagree, of course! I'd second Leigh -- I don't expect them to. I don't read these two regularly, so I don't know which one I'd "trust" and which one not :) But I don't think what they wrote cancel each other out; they're ddressing different aspects of the same dancer. What this tells me is that Citron demands good acting, and Wilson is happy with good, clean dancing.

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 December 2002 - 07:22 PM

There's also a third meaning of "cipher" that could be in play here - "a calculation, an arithmetical process" - this is less likely, but does call up images of Gelsey Kirkland's over-calculating approach to acting that worked all right for her, but maybe nobody else. In any case, what's being called is a job of non-acting.

#5 creativejuice

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Posted 21 December 2002 - 07:39 PM

Me thinks Paula Citron’s criticism over acting ability would carry more weight if Miss Ogden had been dancing the role of Juliet, Giselle, or Odette/Odile. The role of the Sugar Plum Fairy is rather lightweight stuff.

#6 Farrell Fan

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Posted 21 December 2002 - 07:54 PM

I think it's unacceptably presumptuous to call anyone "soulless."

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 21 December 2002 - 07:57 PM

I agree that the use of the term "soulless" could be discussed, Farrrell Fan :)

While Sugar Plum isn't an acting role in the same way that Lady Macbeth is an acting role, it can still be bombed by non-acting, as Mel put it. Things like carriage, awareness of one's surroundings, relationship with other dancers including one's partner, etc. Cardboard princes (or sugar plums) aren't cardboard because of the nature of the role, but because of the way, unfortunately, at times these roles are danced.

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 22 December 2002 - 04:46 AM

I don't think I'm ever going to forget the acting lesson offered by Melissa Hayden doing the SPF in Balanchine's production. By her very demeanor, she "told" the audience, "I'm motherly, and even queenly, but in the scheme of society here, I defer to the Nutcracker Prince!"


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