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I saw PNB's Nutcracker this past Thursday. Kaori Nakamura danced older Clara, Jeffrey Stanton danced Prince, and Olivier Wevers performed Drosselmeyer and Pasha.

If Nakamura's name hadn't been in the program, I would not have recognized her. In the past I've found her movement harsh; she seemed to muscle and "punch" out her leg movements especially. On Thursday she left the forced movement behind, and, for the first time, appeared to be performing entire phrases. By doing this, her dancing looked that much stronger and authoritative, as her upper body was in balance with her footwork and her shoulders were relaxed, and the clarity of movement was enchanced by not having it be so emphatic. She was lovely.

The Sendak Nutcracker is a nightmare vision, not of the wake-up screaming type, but the kind where there is a pulse of anxiety, that something isn't right, and the whole thing is going to turn out badly. In the many performances of this production I've seen, Drosselmeyer is a bit mystical, and Pasha is a bit of a bragging buffoon, albeit a whip-brandishing one. There's always a bit of posturing between Prince and Pasha, but most of the real tension comes at the end, when Clara literally misses the boat, Pasha reveals himself as Drosselmeyer, and adult Clara is alone in a panic, until child Clara realizes that she's had a bad dream and goes back to sleep.

In this peformance it was clear what caused Clara's nightmares: Wevers' Drosselmeyer was the embodiment of that horrible old relative who is a bully, thinks he's funny when he's just cruel, and is mean to children, especially the quieter ones he can pick on. Once Clara backs off from him -- hard to tell if this is the first time, or this is from experience of Christmas' past with him -- he spends the rest of Act I tormenting her. He incites the boys over and over again, not as a kind joke, but as an overbearing sadist: he pushes her around, grabbing her by the wrists, stomps his feet no, and hovers over her menacingly. During the closing group dance, when Clara graciously dances with him, he manhandles her again. It's no wonder she turns him into the cruel Pasha during her dream.

The Act II performance that tied into the sense of foreboding was Melanie Skinner's Peacock, performed to the Arabian music. Usually Peacock emerges from the cage on which she is brought in and dances either in a cool, detached way in constrast to the music, or sensually to the music. In this performance, Skinner portrayed Peacock as a creature dependent on Pasha as her controller and looking for direction and/or approval, with the energy of a caged animal whose been let out under strict observation. Skinner conveyed this sense in only a few minutes, and it was eerie.

There were many lovely performances, played "straight": among the children, Andrea Toulouse played the child Mouse King in Clara's original dream about Princess Pirlipat, the Nutcracker, and the Mouse King, in which the Mouse King bites the Princess, and she turns ugly. Since she was wearing a mouse head, she only had her body language which which to convey the character, on a very narrow front strip of the stage, it was remarkable how much dignity and pride she managed to show in her poses, just by the way she held her chest and shoulders. In the Toy Theater there was a tall boy -- the last boy out -- who seemed to be made for ballet. Like in its counterpart in Balanchine's Mother Ginger the children in this piece do very real dancing.

In Act I Stowell interpolated a piece (to Mozart I think, there are no credits I can find) which tells the Princess Pirlipat story again in a Masque provided as party entertainment. As Mouse King Kiyon Gaines had beautifully-turned out and crisp leg work; what makes the Masque so difficult is that all three dancers have to hold masks on sticks in front of their faces while performing the story and the choreography.

Mara Vinson was very fine in the Ballerina's dance, Stowell's turn to be sadistic: in the movie the Ballerina performs her dance in a doll house. On stage the Ballerina has to perform, and then stand perfectly still with her arms out to the side (lower than 2nd position) through not only the Sword Dance, but the Masque, and then some stage busienss after the Masque. During this partI always think of Toni Bentley's description of dancing one of the first roles in which a new corps member is cast at NYCB: [i'm paraphrasing] she said that in the Fourth Movement of Symphony in C the dancer dances her heart out for five minutes, and then has to stand still along the sides for what seems like an eternity, as her foot throbs in pain.

Carrie Imler was radiant as Flora. (I wish Suzanne Farrell's company had these flowing, tulle-filled dresses for the Waltz of the Flowers.)

This was the most theatrically complete performance of the Sendak production that I've seen in the last ten seasons. I had my own interesting dreams on Thursday night! And I even got to buy a bobblehead from the gift shop.

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Helene - many thanks for your report. I know last year there was some discussion on this version of the Nutcracker and thanks to a good pal on the board, I now have a copy of PNB's version, albeit no the exact same one as you saw - nevertheless, I think it might be time to pull it out and plug it in. thumbsup.gif

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I saw Tchaikovsky's opera Queen of Spades for the first time last week, and found out that it is the source of the "masque" music in the first act of The Nutcracker; according to Kobbe's opera book, the "Mozartean" flavor of the music was deliberate.

In the opera the heroine Liza, betrothed to Prince Yeletsky, is in love with and is loved by Ghermann (at least in Act I). The music used by Stowell for the Nutcracker/Mouse King/Pirlipat masque appears in Act II, as a pastoral performed at a ball in honor of the Empress. In this piece of light party entertainment the heroine is betrothed to silly, pompous rich man, but true love wins the day and she ends up with the young, romantic, poor hero. In the opera it provides a marked contrast to the wretched triangle of Liza/Ghermann/Yeletsky.

In this context Stowell's use of the music in The Nutcracker parallels Tchaikovsky's use of it in the opera; and although the consequences aren't as tragic in the ballet, it is a wonderful way to foreshadow the relationship between Marie/Prince/Pasha in Act II. It does that without knowing the source, but knowing it gives the piece added piquancy.

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