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McFall Nutcracker ends with 2017-18 Atlanta Ballet season

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"After 21 years, the Atlanta Ballet’s traditional holiday production of “Nutcracker,” as choreographed by former artistic director John McFall, will have its final run this year. New artistic director Gennadi Nedvigin has commissioned Yuri Possokhov, resident choreographer with San Francisco Ballet, to create a new version of the holiday classic, set for a 2018 premiere."

http://www.myajc.com/entertainment/arts--theater/beloved-version-nutcracker-ends-with-2017-atlanta-ballet-season/SQNFByQFjnJy12RKxySAYN/

 

More inevitable changes - hopefully Possokhov will come through with a really worthwhile production. I do wonder if it's a little soon though to redo The Nutcracker given that those productions are so tradition bound. If, after a couple of years, people are really excited about Gennadi's new programs, then it might be a better time to make the change. Just a thought.

 

 

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Thanks for this link. I'm very excited by the new direction the company is taking, but still have respect for McFall's accomplishments. I don't fully understand what goes into the decisions to make changes like this (unless sets and costumes are actually falling apart). I saw the McFall production of Nutcracker for the first time this year and, though I could only speculate on what brought McFall to replace Balanchine's, which Atlanta danced at one time,  I found his production charming and--in broad strokes--quite traditional with the nice scenic touch of being set in Russia; it also had plenty of opportunities for soloists--eg a pas de deux for Snow Queen and King as well as the one Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. But when the  new Possokhov production premiers I do hope to see it. (It may be it's simply easier to get  a community to notice a new Nutcracker--perhaps even easier to raise funds for it...than other productions.)

 

Re the season as a whole, I guess Nedvigin is working out what will be his distinctive balance of traditional classical ballet,  standard neo-classical works seen elsewhere (Welch, Tomasson) while having enough in the way of commissions etc. that the company still has a creative and distinctive stamp. Was rather intrigued that next year's commissions include choreographers from Australia (Craig Davidson) and Russia (the Mariinsky's Max Petrov). Plus Atlanta Ballet's own senior ballerina and choreographer Tara Lee.

 

Of all the contemporary or modern dance repertory to bring back from McFall's tenure, Naharin is probably the most exciting--so that strikes me as an excellent decision and I'm especially eager to see the company dance Who Cares?

 

A Possokhov Don Quixote? I assume that's the same as the Joffrey Possokhov Don Q I found listed--but wasn't sure of its relation to the  SF ballet production credited to Tomasson and Possokhov. I will do searches to see what people said about these productions. I had thought the Atlanta Ballet considerably smaller than either of those companies. (Hmmm...I wonder if they will need supers...)

 

And an Act III of Swan Lake? Nedvigin seems to mean to capitalize on Black Swan, and I wonder if he has in his mind's eye the possibility of a full-length production down the line. The article suggested in its comments on both Don Q and Act III of Swan Lake that Nedvigin alluded to the value of returning strong classical traditions of character dancing to Atlanta Ballet: that strikes me as itself something of a Quixotic venture. 

 

I've been a big champion of Atlanta ballet dancing substantive ballet-centric programs, but was really imagining more neo-classical works -- not quite such a leap  into the deep- or, rather,  '19th-century' end of the pool as a full length Don Quixote let alone a stab at any part of Swan Lake. The dancers will have their work cut out for them. And I'm looking forward to all of it...

Edited by Drew

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8 hours ago, Drew said:

Thanks for this link. I'm very excited by the new direction the company is taking, but still have respect for McFall's accomplishments. I don't fully understand what goes into the decisions to make changes like this (unless sets and costumes are actually falling apart). I saw the McFall production of Nutcracker for the first time this year and, though I could only speculate on what brought McFall to replace Balanchine's, which Atlanta danced at one time,  I found his production charming and--in broad strokes--quite traditional with the nice scenic touch of being set in Russia; it also had plenty of opportunities for soloists--eg a pas de deux for Snow Queen and King as well as the one Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. But when the  new Possokhov production premiers I do hope to see it. (It may be it's simply easier to get  a community to notice a new Nutcracker--perhaps even easier to raise funds for it...than other productions.)

...

 

And an Act III of Swan Lake? Nedvigin seems to mean to capitalize on Black Swan, and I wonder if he has in his mind's eye the possibility of a full-length production down the line. The article suggested in its comments on both Don Q and Act III of Swan Lake that Nedvigin alluded to the value of returning strong classical traditions of character dancing to Atlanta Ballet: that strikes me as itself something of a Quixotic venture. 

 

 

Several companies have rotated their Nutcracker recently (Pacific Northwest Ballet, Joffrey,  and Houston, off the top of my head).  At some point I think it would be interesting to do an analysis of how often people have switched, what the art climate was like, and what the results were.  Jennifer Fisher's Nutcracker Nation examines how the ballet has become so ubiquitous, but doesn't do the statistical stuff.  But you put your finger on one element -- Nut is the high profile ballet for most companies, and a relatively easy way to rebrand an ensemble or generate some fundraising.

 

As far as the stand-alone third act, that's not unusual.  Back during the Ballet Russe touring days, they would often include a reduced SL on a mixed bill program.  The duet alone, titled The Magic Swan," was a standard, but there are also examples of the full act being performed alone as a kind of party scene.

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"I could only speculate on what brought McFall to replace Balanchine's, which Atlanta danced at one time,  I found his production charming and--in broad strokes--quite traditional with the nice scenic touch of being set in Russia"

My guess, is that Gennadi and Possokhov have both been influenced by Tomasson's idea to locate the Nutcracker action in the current location - a golden, genteel Atlanta of the past. That worked well in San Francisco. Or, to avoid racial controversies, the piece could be located in an indeterminate Land of Sweets a la Ratmansky and Ryden's new Whipped Cream. The fact that both A.D. and choreographer are Russian probably will NOT result in a Russia-centered Nutcracker. But who knows? Maybe they are both tired of that particular ploy too.

"A Possokhov Don Quixote? I assume that's the same as the Joffrey Possokhov Don Q I found listed--but wasn't sure of it's relation to the  SF ballet production credited to Tomasson and Possokhov"

Tomasson has used Possokhov to help out with the many dances in full-length ballets. Romeo and Juliet would be another in which Tomasson enlisted Possokhov's aid (this was shown in North American theaters more than once -  I thought it was a very effective production). This partnership is in the Petipa/Ivanov tradition, I guess you could say.  ;)

"I've been a big champion of Atlanta ballet dancing substantive ballet-centric programs, but was really imagining more neo-classical works -- not quite such a leap  into the deep- or, rather,  '19th-century' end of the pool as a full length Don Quixote let alone a stab at any part of Swan Lake."

I don't think Gennadi is at all down on Neo-Classical works, but it may be true that he shown particularly well in character-based roles, so some of his interests may lie in that direction. And he seems to recognize that the Atlanta dancers are lacking any real training in that area. Mime skills are useful in story ballets, so what the heck? There's a lot of work to be done there. Possokhov's Firebird (upcoming) would be the perfect example of a shorter ballet that requires some basic acting skills, but should be totally doable if the dancers have any acting talent. That is going to be interesting to hear about - do the dancers have the talents to bring it off properly - will they be believable? Or does it degrade into something kitschy and amateurish?

Edited by pherank

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The Atlanta Ballet dancers have been very effective in character-based dramatic works. I have taken  a pass on a lot of the story ballets they have been dancing in recent years (Great Gatsby, Dracula, etc.), because the choreography didn't interest me -- though I have acquaintances who have loved the company's performances in those works -- but they certainly have a lot of experience with character-driven work. When I HAVE seen the company in narrative works (eg the Maillot Romeo and Juliet or Tharp Princes and the Goblin) I thought they were terrific. 

 

Edited to add: "character" may be, perhaps, an equivocal term in this discussion. Atlanta Ballet dancers have, I think (and, according to the article, Nedvigin thinks) less experience with "character dancing" of the kind one finds in Act III of Swan Lake etc. But narrative, character-driven ballets they have done quite a lot.

 

Edited by Drew

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22 hours ago, pherank said:

"I could only speculate on what brought McFall to replace Balanchine's, which Atlanta danced at one time,  I found his production charming and--in broad strokes--quite traditional with the nice scenic touch of being set in Russia"

My guess, is that Gennadi and Possokhov have both been influenced by Tomasson's idea to locate the Nutcracker action in the current location - a golden, genteel Atlanta of the past. That worked well in San Francisco. Or, to avoid racial controversies, the piece could be located in an indeterminate Land of Sweets a la Ratmansky and Ryden's new Whipped Cream. The fact that both A.D. and choreographer are Russian probably will NOT result in a Russia-centered Nutcracker. But who knows? Maybe they are both tired of that particular ploy too.

 

 

Wheeldon has done the same thing with his Chicago setting for his new Nut at the Joffrey.  And like the SF version (set near a World's Fair) Wheeldon incorporates that specific public event in his staging.

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I very much hope that is not what they have in mind.

 

 

 

 

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8 minutes ago, Drew said:

I very much hope that is not what they have in mind.

 

 

What are hou hoping to see?

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Honestly, I don't have much in the way of thoughts about what I hope to see (and I suppose I'm not the target audience as I've only been to see Nutcracker once in the past decade).  I just prefer to avoid any and all Gone with the Wind vibes whatever era the production is actually set in.

Edited by Drew

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3 hours ago, Drew said:

Honestly, I don't have much in the way of thoughts about what I hope to see (and I suppose I'm not the target audience as I've only been to see Nutcracker once in the past decade).  I just prefer to avoid any and all Gone with the Wind vibes whatever era the production is actually set in.

 

I see you've edited your post, Drew, but I'll just say that what you were describing is basically the SFB production in a "Nutshell" (shall we say?) It's not at all wistful or nostalgic, really, imo. But anyway, Possokhov will do what he will do. He's an intelligent man, so hopefully something good will come of the effort. But I can't imagine Atlanta Ballet really has the budget to do something on the scale of the SFB production's ACT 1 (ACT 2 employs a much more minimal stage setup). I'm as curious as anyone to know what he might come up with. Could it be he will draw upon his early days at the Bolshoi and borrow from that tradition?

 

 

 

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As far as setting is concerned, the original story is German, and many productions continue to use that as a focus.  The "local touch" strategy seems to be as much about fundraising and marketing as it is about finding a new way into the story.

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1 hour ago, sandik said:

As far as setting is concerned, the original story is German, and many productions continue to use that as a focus.  The "local touch" strategy seems to be as much about fundraising and marketing as it is about finding a new way into the story.

 

It can be very effective though, unless the current local has little remembered history (not impossible in parts of North America). But then there's the matter of "which culture's history do you mean?" I haven't heard of a Nutcracker for the Sioux Nation, or Cherokee tribes, but what an interesting challenge.

In most of the Nutcrackers that I've seen, the "location" merely provides a starting point for the Act One sets and costumes - and the designers often play fast and loose with those references.

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On 3/19/2017 at 1:53 PM, pherank said:

 

It can be very effective though, unless the current local has little remembered history (not impossible in parts of North America). But then there's the matter of "which culture's history do you mean?" I haven't heard of a Nutcracker for the Sioux Nation, or Cherokee tribes, but what an interesting challenge.

In most of the Nutcrackers that I've seen, the "location" merely provides a starting point for the Act One sets and costumes - and the designers often play fast and loose with those references.

 

I remember hearing a bit about a Nutcracker that did have Native American elements, and then there was the CT Ballet Nut with the American colonial elements (I think Kirk Peterson created that one?).  When you look at the basic structure of the ballet, it's actually pretty amenable to invention.  The first act is very clearly rooted in some kind of community holiday, but the "Land of the Sweets" can be almost anything.

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On 3/21/2017 at 5:06 PM, sandik said:

 

I remember hearing a bit about a Nutcracker that did have Native American elements

 

I've found the following reference online, in Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition by Jennifer Fisher (Google book search)

 

http://www.burntscarlet.com/_test/ballet-alert/nutcracker_quote.png

 

(I don't have any OCR software at the moment to try to convert this to text)

 

 

Edited by pherank

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Is there is a Childrens book illustrator with name recognition that they could hire as the designer?  Seems to be a successful approach. 

 

 

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On 3/22/2017 at 5:17 PM, pherank said:

 

I've found the following reference online, in Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition by Jennifer Fisher (Google book search)

 

http://www.burntscarlet.com/_test/ballet-alert/nutcracker_quote.png

 

(I don't have any OCR software at the moment to try to convert this to text)

 

 

 

I loved the final comment (about the rather haphazard cultural references in the Hartford Ballet production designs, touching on Native American elements)

 

"Which might have made it 'American' in a way not at all intended."

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15 hours ago, Jayne said:

Is there is a Childrens book illustrator with name recognition that they could hire as the designer?  Seems to be a successful approach. 

 

 

 

That certainly does seem to be the current solution, doesn't it?

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2 hours ago, sandik said:

 

I loved the final comment (about the rather haphazard cultural references in the Hartford Ballet production designs, touching on Native American elements)

 

"Which might have made it 'American' in a way not at all intended."

 

Cliché and stereotyping as the American way? At least the description makes me want to see what the production was like.

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