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Nutcracker 2017

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I attended last night the much anticipated new production of the company's Nutcracker.  Balanchine's backbone stays, but the sets and costumes are redesigned, the company engaging this time the work of NYC based Cuban Americans Ruben and Isabel Toledo , with mix emotions from this ballet aficionado.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/05/arts/dance/isabel-ruben-toledo-nutcracker-miami-city-ballet.html

Much fanfarre has been done by Lopez about this new production.  Apparently this is a well known couple, and among the two they envisioned the inclusion of digitized visual media for their creation. So let's talk about it.

The bulk of the digital addition comes during the ballet's overture.  Instead of a painted screen we're offered an elegant 3-D vintage perspective of Nuremberg with moving sequences of the snowing town and a flying angel, all very resembling of early XX Century cartoons.  That certainly work, as the Da Capo overture sometimes get's on peoples nerves.  

The Silberhaus interior looks less elaborated than the previous one, but still the whole thing looks pretty much the same as what we had before. Historical time is not changed, thank God. First noticeable change come with the dancing toys costumes. Columbine is stripped from her previous mask and her skirt is now a pancake tutu with colorful patterns reminders of her character. Harlequin is given a beautiful costume with puffy crispy sleeves. It all looks good, although Columbine now looks less toy and more human sans mask.

Image result for mcb nutcracker digital tree

Advancing to the most problematic issue of the new production, here comes the Battle and Transformation scenes.  And here's where the whole digitized mess start.

Cutting thru the cheese.  The issue with the growing Christmas  tree.  What a mess...what a complete, total, inexplicable mess.  What happens is that the Toledos decide to go away with the physical growing tree, and instead the whole transformation scene and tree growing is replaced with a phantasmagorical, Disney-like, Fantasia-inspired mess of digital debauchery. The previous real tree disappears and a projection takes its place instead, growing but not showing the whole length, as the top part  completely goes off the viewers vision field, instead leaving visible only the growing of the tree's base.  At the end of the unfortunate sequence we're left with yet a rather lame view of the lower foliage of the tree during the whole battle.  Very disappointing and cheap looking.  I can't even imagine why, oh why Lourdes Lopez would allow such disrespect to Balanchine's legacy, knowing that he was extremely particular about the tree, famously declaring that he would not do without the very mammoth tree he envisioned, as his ultimate homage to the Imperial production he so cherished and was inspired by.

More to come . 

 

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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Cubanmiamiboy, I was happy to read your comment about the tree. I have not seen the NYC production live and have heard wonderful things about the tree, including your comments about Balanchine.  I go every  year to San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker and I am thrilled like a child when the tree grows - it is utterly magical and I even noted that the lights on the tree last season were different but still very beautiful.  I can't wait to see it next week, four times.  It is an incredible moment. 

 I saw two performances of Miami City Ballet's Nutcracker two weekends ago and was waiting for the tree to grow, but the effect totally fizzled out. It was a bad, uninformed choice by the set designers and, as you say, "cheap looking."  I agree with you completely.  A major disappointment.   

I also have to mention that the majority of the dancers gave emotionally wan performances in the Saturday matinee (Dewdrop Jennifer Lauren and Frau Lauren Fadely were exceptions).  Generally, they seemed to be mentally elsewhere and disengaged in giving anything you could call a performance, though the steps were executed very accurately. I was sitting in the front row  and could only wonder whether some of the dancers  think that we in the audience do not look at their faces.  This is not the Miami City Ballet I knew under Villella.   The Sunday performance I saw had more vitality from everyone - it was their last performance in L.A. before flying back to Miami, so perhaps their enthusiasm to get back home worked to pick up their collective energy level. 

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Another report of a depressing trend - the new Wheeldon Nutcracker for Joffrey Ballet I watched here in Chicago a year ago was also dumbed down with digital projections, projections onto downstage scrims and upstage screens - like the MCB treatment seems to have been - we were shown something to think about while the Overture plays!  Here I may disagree with my friend Cristian - I think we should have the music alone to listen to, and to help and encourage our imagination come to life.  Tchaikovsky is setting the scene there, before the dramatic action begins. 

But why?  Why did Lopez or anyone do that?  Multiple reasons, I'd guess.  A practical reason?  We were told about the new Joffrey production that these screens are more easily portable, so that the production can tour more cheaply.  (Like MCB touring to San Francisco?) 

But artistically, Lopez may want to feel up-to-date, with a kind of mixed-media, post-modern production - part traditional staging, part high-tech.  I think the Joffrey people - the company bills itself as the "premiere" company - thought along those lines when it mounted a new production.  "New" sells. 

Because there's always marketing.  Traditional theater, especially ballet, creates worlds for us to visit - those of us with the imagination to do so - that's what Balanchine was doing for us.  (Not only him, of course.)  Marketers sense that this "product" appeals to cultivated taste, a narrow market, and want to bring it down to the uncultivated masses, a larger market.  "Newbies." 

But nobody was born cultivated, we were all newbies once, and denied the opportunity of developing taste as we did by being denied the experience of better art like we had, they won't develop it.  This is a tragedy worth anger in addition to what Cristian expresses over the "digital mess" onstage.  I think he and I love good art enough to want to share it with others, and we are angry when it's messed up and that possibility is taken away, besides what it takes away from our own experience.  But I may only be projecting my own feelings about the contemporary situation now.

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You have really resumed much of my feelings, Jack. This art form has more or less stayed the same for centuries now. Live music, painted backdrops, dancing. This simple trilogy has really worked, and it doesn't require much "updates". I was just thinking last night...what would happen if right before a performance all this high tech computerized stuff shuts down...? No performance..? It really shouldn't come to such dependency on technology to present ballet. Sad indeed.

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15 minutes ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

You have really resumed much of my feelings, Jack. This art form has more or less stayed the same for centuries now. Live music, painted backdrops, dancing. This simple trilogy has really worked, and it doesn't require much "updates". I was just thinking last night...what would happen if right before a performance all this high tech computerized stuff shuts down...? No performance..? It really shouldn't come to such dependency on technology to present ballet. Sad indeed.

Cristian how were the performances of the leads? I know MCB's roster has undergone some reshuffling in the past few years.

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58 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Cristian how were the performances of the leads? I know MCB's roster has undergone some reshuffling in the past few years.

I saw two different casts. I had bought tickets for three, but one last minute substitution wiped off Simone Messmer from the Land of Sweets. So I got Tricia Albertson/Reyneris Reyes and Katia Karranza/Renato Penteado. The four of them are MCB veterans, Albertson, Penteado and Reyes probably in their 40's. They are not spitfires, but the quality of their artistry is wonderful. I truly enjoyed the performances. Also, there is this guy, Kleber Rebello, who is the BEST Candy Cane I have ever seen-(even compared to Ulbricht). I read a review by rg somewhere in which he agrees with me. The guy is weightless! 

As I said...I missed Messmer in the Sugarplum role, but I have never cared too much for her dancing.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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16 minutes ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

I saw two different casts. I had bought tickets for three, but one last minute substitution wiped off Simone Messmer from the Land of Sweets. So I got Tricia Albertson/Reyneris Reyes and Katia Karranza/Renato Penteado. The four of them are MCB veterans, Albertson, Penteado and Reyes probably in their 40's. They are not spitfires, but the quality of their artistry is wonderful. I truly enjoyed the performances. Also, there is this guy, Kleber Rebello, who is the BEST Candy Cane I have ever seen-(even compared to Ulbricht). I read a review by rg somewhere in which he agrees with me. The guy is weightless! 

As I said...I missed Messmer in the Sugarplum role, but I have never cared too much for her dancing.

I saw Kleber Rebello when he was in NY. Such a tiny but powerful dynamo, as was Natalie Arja. 

I had kind of wished that MCB's new production in the second act would have more of a South Florida tropic decor. That would have set it apart and given the well-known Balanchine production a local flavor.

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41 minutes ago, canbelto said:

I saw Kleber Rebello when he was in NY. Such a tiny but powerful dynamo, as was Natalie Arja. 

I had kind of wished that MCB's new production in the second act would have more of a South Florida tropic decor. That would have set it apart and given the well-known Balanchine production a local flavor.

I am glad that Nuremberg stayed as Nuremberg. Transpositions are rarely successful.

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15 hours ago, canbelto said:

... I had kind of wished that MCB's new production in the second act would have more of a South Florida tropic decor. That would have set it apart and given the well-known Balanchine production a local flavor.

Not so much "The Land of Sweets" anymore, but "The Land of Palm Trees and Surf"?  Aw, shucks.  Not as much fun in that. 

What's art about, anyway?  The experience of it takes us away, to another "place," different from our everyday situation, doesn't it?  And then we return, changed, like from a little vacation (and no jet lag).  (Sometimes, we're changed permanently.)  

I'm sorry, but these "localized" Nutcrackers I hear about (and sometimes see) seem to me to deny the audience a fuller, more valuable experience by being brought down to our everyday world instead of inviting us to go up into their special worlds.  

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Actually I found this picture from the new production. It does seem to have a pineapple tree in the center!

25734072_10154879346146090_5396709124016

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6 hours ago, canbelto said:

Actually I found this picture from the new production. It does seem to have a pineapple tree in the center!

25734072_10154879346146090_5396709124016

Yes. The canopy descends over the throne as Sugarplum takes the kids up there. It is indeed a pineapple, and those pieces on top are slices of the fruit. Act II had no projections. It was pretty much as we know it.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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On 12/20/2017 at 8:27 AM, cubanmiamiboy said:

The bulk of the digital addition comes during the ballet's overture.  Instead of a painted screen we're offered an elegant 3-D vintage perspective of Nuremberg with moving sequences of the snowing town and a flying angel, all very resembling of early XX Century cartoons.  That certainly work, as the Da Capo overture sometimes get's on peoples nerves.  

The newly designed production (for the Balanchine choreography) at Pacific Northwest Ballet also has an animated film during the overture -- we fly over a small New England town until we find we're following a sleigh traveling to the Stahlbaum's house, where there's a cross-fade onto the opening hallway scene with Clara and Fritz.  Peter Boal has said in interviews that they chose to make this addition to capture and keep attention from the opening of the show.  They also show a short film during the violin cadenza at the end of the party scene, looking at the house from the outside and following the action through the lighted windows.  I know that some people feel this is unnecessary, but I didn't mind it -- this is a family audience, full of people who see ballet once a year.  I appreciate the desire to engage them.

On 12/24/2017 at 2:28 PM, Jack Reed said:

But artistically, Lopez may want to feel up-to-date, with a kind of mixed-media, post-modern production - part traditional staging, part high-tech.  I think the Joffrey people - the company bills itself as the "premiere" company - thought along those lines when it mounted a new production.  "New" sells. 

Because there's always marketing.  Traditional theater, especially ballet, creates worlds for us to visit - those of us with the imagination to do so - that's what Balanchine was doing for us.  (Not only him, of course.)  Marketers sense that this "product" appeals to cultivated taste, a narrow market, and want to bring it down to the uncultivated masses, a larger market.  "Newbies."

Yes, they're newbies, and they're often more accustomed to big special effects in films -- I'm not suggesting that we transform the entire repertory for them, but I think this is an appropriate place to make this kind of accommodation.  Interestingly, the old production at PNB, with designs by Maurice Sendak, used a couple of old-fashioned stage tricks -- the high-tech innovations of their day. (the trip to the Land of the Sweets is played on a stage within a stage, with artificial waves lapping the side of the little boat as a panorama of different lands unrolls behind them).  Balanchine wasn't above a little stage trickery as well -- his tree used the fanciest technology they could muster at the time, and he introduced the "magic carpet" effect for the SPF.

On 12/24/2017 at 4:54 PM, canbelto said:

I saw Kleber Rebello when he was in NY. Such a tiny but powerful dynamo, as was Natalie Arja. 

I had kind of wished that MCB's new production in the second act would have more of a South Florida tropic decor. That would have set it apart and given the well-known Balanchine production a local flavor.

I saw Rebello and Arja when the company was on tour to Vancouver BC -- they were lovely!

Nutcracker seems to be a flexible ballet -- able to accommodate all kinds of changes and modifications to fit the skills of the performers and the desires of the presenters.  I wound up calling it the Schmoo of ballets in an essay last year -- I know the reference dates me, but I still think it's true.  There are productions out and around that maintain what we know of the original choreography and staging, and there are productions that wander far afield.  Honestly, I love almost all of them.  (except that Barbie film...)

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Tonight (I guess last night, since it is already past midnight) I saw MCB's new Nutcracker at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. I really loved it. I was really expecting to be disappointed by the tree due to previous reports, but I sat close and I saw the tree growing. I could be wrong, but it might have grown as tall as the NYCB tree. I just saw two performances by NYCB earlier in the month, and that tree did not look bigger to me than the MCB one. However, the MCB one had lit up projections on it as it grew and the projection grew larger so spreading beyond the actual physical tree and eventually the physical one went up and away as the projection became the main focus. The actual physical tree that grew behind the video projection might have been smaller than NYCB's tree, but to me it looked about the same size. So I actually did not mind the tree, and during the fight it made sense for them to be the toys and mice under the tree imho.

Also, at NYCB Columbine does not have a mask, so I did not miss it at MCB. I don't remember if MCB's previous production had a mask. Apparently it did.

I do not think the video projections during the overture distracted from the music (to allay anyone's worries about that). I was able to hear everything and enjoy the music even with the projections which were not so busy that they distracted.

Basically, I really liked the production. It had the same general overall feel to it that NYCB's does, even though the sets and costumes have a slightly "alternative" look to them. I love the Marzipan tutus that remind you of filo dough pastries. Somehow it is still traditional but fresh at the same time.....traditional and "alternative" as odd as that may sound. To me it looked like they tried to make the South Florida motif almost hidden...sort of like a winking nod at the fact they made this for South Florida......a palm tree off to the side in the first act, pineapple motifs in the chairs and then later in Act 2 as part of the canopy. Ice cream cones are also on the sides during Act 2 and I think those are usually eaten in warmer weather. So the "South Florida" motif was very subtle. This was not a Nutcracker set in Miami. I think anyone who likes traditional Nutcrackers would like this one, but even people who like some artsy or "alternative" concepts would like this production too. There was an apple core at the top of set with candles sitting around the bottom edge.....so there is humor.....

My only complaint was that I thought some of the angels did not have long enough skirts and the design of the skirts made them look less like they were gliding. Seeing some feet made the movements look choppier and somehow the cut of the costumes seemed to keep it from looking like they were gliding.

I was thrilled to see that Emily Bromberg (a friend of a friend) as Sugar Plum Fairy. She was beautiful and danced elegantly. Her off balance balances were well done and she looked gorgeous. She and Jovani Furlan made a handsome couple on stage.

Simone Messmer must be injured. She normally gets every Opening Night, and I expected her to be Sugar Plum Fairy. Instead, she was Frau Stahlbaum. I have to say that her arms were very elegant in this role. I think I mentioned before that I did not understand what Lourdes Lopez found so great about her, but I think she is getting better each time I see her, although this was a small role with very light moments of dancing. Still she seems to act well and her arms are lovely.

The snow storm looked very much like a storm with tons of flakes falling especially as the music got faster and faster, and the video projection in the back also had snowflakes projected which probably helped make it seem like a lot.

Ashley Knox was a great Dewdrop, although she couldn't erase the memory of Tiler Peck's incredible attack to every movement in one of the Nuts I saw in NY earlier this month. I am not sure anyone could match Tiler Peck's Dewdrop, but Ashley Knox was no slouch. She was very good.

Alexander Peters was great as the main candy cane. The crowd loved him. Everyone else was good too. 

I mainly reported about the production because I think people outside of South Florida are most curious about that. I really enjoyed tonight's performance. I thought I was going to dislike the tree after reading reports here, but I had no problem with it.

The great thing this season is that MCB is doing all the Nutcrackers with live orchestra.....I hope this continues to happen every year. In the past they have used a recording for Nutcrackers even though they have their own great Opus One Orchestra which performs all their other shows. It makes such a difference. There is nothing better than hearing the instruments reach your ear from the orchestra pit.

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On 12/29/2017 at 12:49 AM, Birdsall said:

I was really expecting to be disappointed by the tree due to previous reports, but I sat close and I saw the tree growing. I could be wrong, but it might have grown as tall as the NYCB tree. I just saw two performances by NYCB earlier in the month, and that tree did not look bigger to me than the MCB one. However, the MCB one had lit up projections on it as it grew and the projection grew larger so spreading beyond the actual physical tree and eventually the physical one went up and away as the projection became the main focus. The actual physical tree that grew behind the video projection might have been smaller than NYCB's tree, but to me it looked about the same size. So I actually did not mind the tree, and during the fight it made sense for them to be the toys and mice under the tree imho.

 

The tree-(projection or physical)- totally dissapears during the whole of the battle scene. Only a backdrop of a lower foliage is in view once the growing section is over. 

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Yes, that's what I said. It goes up and away as the projection takes over, but the excitement of the growing tree is over by then. The growing part is what most people get excited about and it grows about as big if not the same size as NYCB's tree and then the projection takes over and enables it to grow even larger and so the physical tree flies up and away from our view b/c we are finished watching it grow as big as we are used to and the projection makes it much larger. And it makes sense for them to be fighting underneath. I always thought the NYCB tree was not big enough compared to the soldiers, mice, etc. It didn't give the illusion that Marie/Clara/Masha is shrunk down to the size of the mice and toys. But in this version it attempts to do that. It didn't bother me in the slightest. I initially thought it sounded lame because I thought the tree was just a projection the entire time and only grew as a projection. I prepared myself to be disappointed and was surprised that there was a physical tree and it grew just as big (to my eyes) as the NYCB tree and then the projection kept the growing......so I went from expecting major disappointment to loving it.  Another BA member I met with and ate dinner with felt the same way I do about MCB's tree. But we all have our differing opinions.

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5 hours ago, Birdsall said:

Another BA member I met with and ate dinner with felt the same way I do about MCB's tree. But we all have our differing opinions.

Well, I didn't have dinner with Lourdes Lopez, but I sat next to her on Sunday at her box during the matinee, and told her that going away with the real tree had been a minus. Her response was that she would had hoped to replicate the measurement of the NYCB tree, but it wasn't possible due to the lack of that huge trap door the State theater has just for this purpose.

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It looked like it grew to about the same size as NYCB's tree to me, but I thought it might not be exactly the same size......so you confirmed that Lopez says it is not as big, but to me it looked almost as big, so there was a growing tree that was pretty large and the projection grew also at the same time but then the projection took over as the physical tree was lifted and pulled out of sight. To me it was sort of magical. When I originally read the reviews you made it sound like the growing was only done by projection and there was no physical tree growing, so I thought I would not like the tree at all. It sounded really lame. However, in person I saw a growing tree very similar in size to NYCB's if not quite the same and then the projection took over after the physical tree grew to full size. So I was actually pleasantly surprised after thinking I would be very disappointed. I find that if I go into an opera or ballet sometimes expecting a disappointment I actually am pleasantly surprised once I see the production. The opposite can be true too. If you go in expecting the world you can be disappointed.

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1 hour ago, Birdsall said:

It looked like it grew to about the same size as NYCB's tree to me, but I thought it might not be exactly the same size......so you confirmed that Lopez says it is not as big

As per the measurements, hell yeah. None of the trees of MCB-(the old one and the current semi-growing invention)- can really compare in size with the NYCB mammoth tree.

 

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I didn't feel the NYCB tree was "mammoth" but maybe it was. I liked both the NYCB tree and the MCB tree in the end.

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5 minutes ago, Birdsall said:

I didn't feel the NYCB tree was "mammoth" but maybe it was. I liked both the NYCB tree and the MCB tree in the end.

The new MCB production is,indeed, quite enjoyable despite the projections.

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On 1/16/2018 at 1:09 PM, Birdsall said:

..the physical tree flies up and away from our view b/c we are finished watching it grow as big as we are used to and the projection makes it much larger. And it makes sense for them to be fighting underneath.

Here's a briefly moment of said section, at 0.06. The initial projection with the Nuremberg panorama is also shown.

 

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