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NYCB Nutcracker reviews

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Eric Taub reviews opening night of NYCB's Nutcracker for DanceView Times:

A Whirlwind Nutcracker

I was going to start this review by noting that there are two long-awaited moments in the first Nutcracker of the year which invariably bring a smile of joy to my lips: the first sight of Rouben Ter-Arutunian's curtain, with its airborne angel, and, even more, the appearance of the first Snowflake, who seems to be saying it's finally time for the real dancing to start. Then I realized I'd have to add the growing Christmas tree, poor Fritz rescued from being a wallflower by his mother in the party scene, Dewdrop, Candy Canes, and most of the ballet. So much for a brief, witty, lead; there are too many cherished, familiar moments to single out two, or even a handful.

Aside from the satisfaction of seeing the return of the snowflakes of yesteryear and the like, this was not a Nutcracker for the ages, as the recurring theme was not so much Balanchine's (and Tchaikovsky's and Ivanov's) evocation of the uses of fantasy in helping children mature into adults, but how well, or poorly, the dancers managed to keep up with what proved, unfortunately, to be a vintage performance by the conductor, Andrea Quinn, who seemed to have regressed to her early days at the helm of the City Ballet orchestra, where her enthusiasm would overcome her better judgment, and too many ballets were ruined by her ever-accelerating tempi. It's true Balanchine was fond of speed, but I doubt he'd have enjoyed the sight of dancers struggling to keep up with pace which barely allowed them, let alone the choreography, to breathe. I was actually very impressed with how well the dancers kept up with Ms. Quinn's Wild Ride, but I'd have preferred to see them succeed with the aid of the conductor rather than in spite of her.

Jack Anderson, in the New York Times:

Come On, Valiant Toys. Let's Fight Evil Mice

What may be ballet's most beloved party has gotten under way, complete with swirling Snowflakes and sparkling Sugarplums.

But malevolent mice have amassed to maraud. Fortunately, valiant toys are ready to defy them. All will go well, and several casts of Sugarplums and other delectables are waiting in the wings to dance. This is the world of "The Nutcracker," which the New York City Ballet offered for the first time this season on Friday night at the New York State Theater. Performances of George Balanchine's version of Tchaikovsky's fantasy will continue there through Jan. 4.

On Friday, Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard sought to provide the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier with majesty. Although there were rough spots in the company's overall interpretation, these should not prove difficult to smooth over.

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It was Taub's closing line,

Finally, I'd like to thank Jonathan Stafford for not taking our attention away from the nicely drilled Polichinelles by turning his Mother Ginger into the sort of Divine-meets-Harvey-Fierstein horror with which we've become all too familiar in recent years.
that made me nearly fall off of my chair laughing :D
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Has anybody been to the Nutcracker so far?

I went the first night last Friday and pretty much agree with the review by Eric Taub. The conducting really got in the way of what could have been a very good performance. There was just no way the dancers could breath in their parts. To me, the tempos weren't so fast that you could notice, but I got the feeling that Quinn was just plowing through. The tempos were unyielding, and I'm not one for indulgent tempos. But the conductor has to have some give-and-take with the dancers. I read an article from a British newspaper that quoted the concert master of the Royal Ballet, who said Quinn gets nervous during performance. That could be even worse than a conductor who favors fast tempos - if the tempos are always fast a dancer knows what's coming. But if the tempos are relaxed during dress rehearsal and fast during the performance, that's trouble.

Still, I enjoyed Kowroski's grand Sugar Plum - her problems in the first solo notwithstanding (although she performed that very well on TV) and it's going to fun watching Sylve make her way through the rep., although Taub pointed out to some of her limitations. The first week of the Winter season might bring her Hippolyta.

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This is a week old but must add:

Funny that Quinn was so fast on Friday. On Saturday afternoon Fiorato's tempi were so slow as to be almost maddening for an audience-member who is familiar with the score. Jenny Somogyi was fabulous in her Dewdrop, however, showing a level of aplomb, and control of physical and dramatic effects, of phrasing and dominance of the stage we might wait a decade to see again -- I'd see her in anything right now. She is performing on a such a rare level, in recent performances seen here only Gillian Murphy remotely in her class. Good performances from Miranda Weese and Nilas Martins, but given how Somogyi is performing, no one else could be discussed as more than a footnote.

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Good house last nigth inspite of the house and a terrific performance. Ulbricht as the Soldier was a cleaner, more musical rendition of this role than we usually see. Inspite of a slight slip, Reichlen was a terrific Coffee. Very sexy and provocative as well as nicely danced. Weese was spectacular as Dewdrop luxuriating in some of her arabeques in a way I don't see often. She had a nice contrast of speed and slowness and as always great musicality. Ringer and Soto were terrific in the ppd. His partnering was magnificent, using only one hand to support Ringer at moments when most men need two. The ppd had a magical atmosphere that the whole audience really appreciated. It was the high point of the evening as it should be.

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I echo your comments on Weese as Dewdrop...everything so easy, light & brilliant...and those long balances...she really seemed to be enjoying herself.

I was at the Sunday 5:00 where Taylor & Marcovici made a fine impression in the adagio. She is a dancer I am coming to like more and more. Small detail: her hands are getting really lovely. Hands are not always given due attention at NYCB...maybe Martine van Hamel could come in and give a class in hands...I always thought hers were so beautiful.

Bouder replaced Fairchild in Marzipan and gave one of the best performances I have seen from her, more focussed than last week...her backup quartette were especially pretty: Arthurs, Hankes, Dronova & Keenan. de Luz was an amazing Tea and then Tom Gold came out and he was a pretty amazing Candy Cane. Hanson was the lithe Arabian; Jon Stafford is improving by leaps & bounds and Saskia Beskow is a real beauty (Spanish).

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I guess it's about time I posted! Long time, no post...

So, I have seen 3 perfs of the 2nd act so far (many more to go). All in all the leads have been all great in their parts.

Of course I have my faves, and they didn't disappoint. But before I get there, I just wanted to note two things I haven't seen posted yet.

Acc. to the program Daniel Ulbricht is the Janice Levin Award Honoree for this year. And, as far as roster changes go, Deanna McBrearty retired from the company after performing Coffee the first weekend. She definitely had a large crowd there, helping to give this hard-working corp member her final due. It's so odd to have so many long-time corps members gone now!

Anyway, back to Nutcracker. My first perf back (Sat the 29th mat) gave me Bouder back, in Marzipan lead, and how happy was I. She's back in top-notch form, with the same amount of joy in her dancing as I recalled. I thought for sure she wouldn't be able to live up to my expectations, but she did! She had it all-- clarity in the footwork, softness in the upper body and that intelligent gleam in her eye. Couldn't take my eyes off her when she was one of the yellow Marzipans or one of the snowflakes, either.

Somogyi was the Dewdrop, and she just gets better and better. I'm not one to get wowed by balances, but I couldn't help it here. She's just so solid in those turns. You don't fret watching her.

In contrast, but incredible in her own way, was Janie Taylor's Dewdrop Sat the 6th eve. Her Dewdrop was lighter than a dewdrop! Lighter than air! When she did the diagonal sequence she barely touched the ground. She almost bounced. She really did take my breath away. It was amazing. Of course, coupled with that go for broke attack was the feeling she was going to hurt herself in other sequences-- she's still not fully stable in some of the turn sequences. But in order to get that flying sequence, I guess we still have to take some of the daredevil turn sequences...

The other Dewdrop I saw was Ansanelli, at the 6th matinees. She was beautiful in her own right, with her growing and growing maturity. So different frm the Dewdrop of 7 years ago when she debuted on or around her 16th b'day.

Sugarplum-wise, I saw Weese, Ringer, and Somogyi, so, again, I was in heaven. I know that some on the board find Ringer's continual sunniness not right in some roles-- but it's definitely key here. Her warmth fits perfectly in the role of the fairy. All three seemed to have little trouble with that ridiculously difficult turn sequence where the Cavalier must often rescue his fairy. No matter who I watch do that sequence, I still get nervous every time. But, Askegard and Martins were the partners, and they were there just in case.

I don't know that I have much to say about the rest of the casts. Nothing bad or disappointing to report, nor anything of particular note. Well, there was Ulbricht's take no prisoners Candy Cane--- I'm starting to take such performances frm him for granted-- which i know i shouldn't!

With so many Hot Chocolate ladies departed now, there have and will be a few debuts in that role. I did get to see Hankes. For better or for worse, there's not much room in that role to make it your own or special. All I can say is that she looked as comfortable in it as if she had been one of the long-performing Hot Chocolates.

Oh, I did particularly like J. Stafford's Mother Ginger. It wasn't simply that he wasn't over-the-top as some have been in the last few years. He exuded a particular WARMTH in the role that I don't recall ever seeing. I actually felt like he was the odd mother of these children and quite proud of them, too. Now, that is something of note.


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I went to Act II of the 5:00 today (12/14) planning to see Ringer/Tewsley/Kowroski. But when Jenifer came out for the adagio, her escort was Philip Neal. Maybe they announced this replacement prior to the first act; it was not mentioned on the cast change slip in the programme. I was sorry not to see Tewsley but Neal was as always a perfect cavalier; his bravura dancing is more dutiful than inspired but his partnering smooth as silk. Ringer to me is much more than a pretty face; I find she always brings an unexpected dimension to each role. In SERENADE, OPUS 19 and esp. IN THE NIGHT she manages to make a living personality out of abstract dance. Today she and Philip drew me in to the adagio; one gesture, where Ringer gave a slight flick of the wrists when opening her arms in the supported back bends gave me a little frisson...just a tiny touch but I'm always going to keep that "picture" of Ringer in my mind.

"Legs" Kowroski was having a smashing go at Dewdrop, extension to the ceiling and some nice balances. Ulbricht had one flashing triple jump thru the hoop but glitched the next one (Candy Cane). Fairchild was a very good Marzipan but my opera glasses kept wandering to Mandradjieff and LaBean who were backing her up. DeLuz was Tea, Hanson Arabian and a very attractive pairing of Hankes and Orza in Spanish.

Things haven't gone smoothly for Tewsley since he joined; the very few times I've seen him he's been a real prince so I continue to go when he's announced. Wishing him and the other "missing persons" all the best.

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Tewsley did dance at the opening night gala, SYMPHONY IN C 1st movement and was looking good. He is announced for another NUTCRACKER, so we'll see...there is a bad flu bug going around NYC so some of the dancers might be sick rather than injured.

Last season he danced TCHAIKOVSKY PIANO CONCERTO #2 with Whelan and I think it was one of the greatest things I've ever seen in 30+ years of ballet-going. They both danced beautifully and had a wonderful rapport.

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Tewsley's absence could have been weather related, not illness/injury related. The snow/sleet/rain delayed and/or cancelled many flights and made driving a challenge. Thus, a possibly perfectly healthy Tewsley might have been stuck somewhere else (like Peter Boal was a week earlier).


Kate (who made it safely into NY yesterday and can't wait to see the Nutcracker tomorrow!!)

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Has anybody been noticing the kids in all this? I recall when Judith Fugate was the "eternal Marie" and thinking, "This kid's gonna make it!" Or seeing Jean-Pierre Froehlich and thinking, "What an actor!" Or picking someone out of the Candy Canes, "WHO is she?" and have it turn out to have been Starr Danias. How are the kids handling the acting parts? Is there a singular standout cast for Fritz, Marie, Nephew? We must remember that many people see this, so I don't want to hear about good performances contrasted to some other kid's disparagement, but sometimes, you can pick out tomorrow's company from the students of today.

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To answer Mel's inquiry, the lead kids are cute, and tell the story well, but I wouldn't say much more than that. Jerimy Rivera, as the Little Prince in Act II, mimes extremely well, though -- probably the clearest I've seen the mime in a couple of years (since that "Baby Baryshnikov" kid outgrew the role).

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Yes, Peter Boal was supposed to have danced the Cavalier on December 6th, but the weather prevented him from getting back to NYC from Washington (where he'd been performing with Suzanne Farrell's company).

There was a mention of it in one of the NY papers, as that performance was the celebration of all the children who'd ever danced in The Nutcracker.



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Just back from tonight's (Dec 16) performance, and I'm afraid there might have another injury to add to the list. Joaquin De Luz appeared as the Candycane, dancing nicely, though with a stumble at the end, but was replaced by Daniel Ulbricht in the finale. I do have a faint memory of Ulbricht replacing another Candycane in the finale of a show last year, so perhaps DeLuz needed to leave early.

On to other performances...

Antonio Carmena was wonderfully crisp and soaring soldier, one of the best I've seen in a long time. Also of note was Jason Fowler in Hot Chocolate.

Alexandra Ansanelli was an energetic Sugarplum Fairy, though with a couple of tiny stumbles. Ben Millepied was excellent in his solos, lacing in high leaps into the circle of grand jetes, though he stumbled on the final double tour to knee (I think that's what he intended to do...). The jumps-to-shoulder were a little nerve-wracking, but were solidly performed. However, it appeared, at least to me, that Millepied was laboring over some of the lifts. Not sure if it was a timing thing or something else, but they didn't look quite so smooth as when they danced together in "Coppelia" last spring.



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Millepied is a dancer I greatly admire and while his partnering has been improving and I have noticed a slight bulking up of the upper body, he needs to continue to develop those skills. From watching her, I would guess that Ansanelli might be a handful for a less-than-experienced partner: she can be a bit wild, which is what makes her exciting.

When I first started seeing Philip Neal, he was a skinny kid and not very adept at partnering. Over the years he developed the shoulder and chest area and became far more confident. His long partnership with Nichols is a testimonial to his hard work. They are a great match-up.

Say what you will about Nilas Martins, but I think he's a pretty good partner and am often reminded of his father's partnering style...confident hands and a sort of calm control.

Soto remains the king of partnering; Fayette seems to really be into it, and Marcovici has been coming along nicely. Steven Hanna and Seth Orza always look like they know what they're doing.

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Another great night at "The Nutcracker" on Friday (19th)!!

Alexandra Ansanelli was wonderful again, but seemed more restrained than on Tuesday night. Not that it was in any way a bad performance, in fact I thought this was the best I'd seen her dance in long while. She was more elegant, more mature...giving the role some presence instead of the more kinetic, abandoned feel on Tuesday. Bravo!

Damian Woetzel also seemed more restrained, but like Ansanelli, gave the role an approrpiately regal feel. Woetzel and Ansanelli appear to have a formed a great partnership, and Woetzel handled the tricky partnering very well. He had to plie way down to catch her on the second shoulder lift, but the lift was solid.

I was a bit surprised by the restraint Woetzel showed in his brief solos-he eneded the menage with just plain grand jetes off the stage, and actually split his pirouettes in second into two sections, slowing down (in perfect control again) and pushing back off from fifth (fourth). He jetes were all beautifully stretched and his pirouettes, as usual, were fast and his leg in perfect second, but it was less "showy" than one often sees from Woetzel. Not a bad thing, just different and maybe a bit refreshing!

Henry Seth ably replaced an ill Ask laCour in Hot Chocolate and Adrian Danchig-Waring was an unusually mobile Mother Ginger. Daniel Ulbricht made the most of his very brief solo in Tea, his elevation in jumps and jetes as stunning as usual!

I relished the opportunity to see Jennie Somogyi as Dewdrop and was not disappointed! Actually for me, one of the highlights was Ashley Bouder's crisp and sparkling Marzipan!

All in all, about the best performance of Nutcracker I've seen in several years. Almost no glitches at all, and plenty of gorgeous dancing! Bravo, Bravo!


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Once again last Friday Andrea Quinn seemed to let her enthusiasm overcome her better judgment. It wasn't fun seeing the Snowflakes rush around like they were performing some exotically garbed form of step-aerobics. Sheesh.

Ansanelli is a sweet, if a bit wild, Sugar Plum. She danced her solo beautifully, finishing with a priceless and surely unintended "Oh, hi there!" grin to the little angel on top of whom she'd almost landed. In the pas de deux, she showed her almost metaphysical attachment to the music -- there's nobody who can ride Tchaikovsky's crests quite like Ansanelli -- but she faded a bit as towards the end of this very long and tricky adagio. As noted, the second shoulder-sit required some effort from Woetzal to rescue. Woetzal's latest trick seems to be concluding his multiple turns a la seconde by pulling into fast, multiple turns in attitude tightening into passe. He did this twice, finishing the second combination by eking out a few extra turns while falling out of the pirouette, then finishing to the knee with a big, "I-meant-to-do-that" flourish. Sloppy, but fun.

I was a bit disappointed in Somogyi's Dewdrop. She's certainly strong and, while she didn't shortchange the choreography, it was still a very safe and contained performance. She didn't devour the stage as do many of the more exciting Dewdrops today (or as I recall she did herself, when I saw her last year). I don't know when Dewdrop turned into the machisma go-for-broke role it's become today, but I'm always disappointed when I see dancers play it safe, unless they bring something else to the table, which Somogyi, as much as I admire her elsewhere, didn't.

Perhaps Quinn has met her match in Ashley Bouder, who, if she'd chosen another occupation, might've said of Quinn's frightful tempi, "bring 'em on!" As one of the lead Snowflakes, Bouder seemed totally at ease with a pace that had the other girls scrambling. Her Marzipan was one of the best I've seen. Bouder exudes power, and made short work of Marzipan's tricky pointe-work, and I can't recall when I've seen the gargouillades and other leaps bigger or clearer. There must be tempi too fast for Bouder, but I haven't seen (or heard) them yet.

Adam Hendrickson started out a bit low-key, but rose to the challenge of Quinn's rapid-fire conducting of Candy Canes by dancing ever more quickly, becoming almost a whirling Dirvish by cramming in even more hops over his flipping hoop than normally might've fit into the music. Ulbricht did his usual rocket-assisted job in Tea, and Teresa Reichlen appears to have the beginnings of the right idea for Coffee, although she seemed to become less sinuous and more punchy as she progressed.

It was a nice Nutcracker, but certainly not a great one.

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