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ABT's Nutcracker (D.C.)

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ABT Nutcracker Sat 12/8 Matinee

Big thumbs down. This was the first time I've ever really disliked a ballet, especially the Nutcracker. Don't waste $55+ dollars on this version of the Nutcracker, especially if you are bringing a young child.

In his attempt to add more dancing to the Nutcracker, Kevin McKenzie has muddled the story so much that even I, at the ripe old age of 25, had a hard time following what was going on. Needless to say, McKenzie totally lost his main audience, the little kids.

The party scene was not bad, though it seemed to be a very underpopulated holiday party. Sascha Radetsky was not listed in the program, but appeared as an increasingly tipsy party guest who did an impromptu dance with the grandmother. Since only four men were listed, I don't know if this was a late addition, or even a little bit of ad-libbing.

The kids from the Kirov Academy, Washington Ballet school (and one other place) did an admirable job, considering how little rehearsal time they must have had with the ABT dancers. I was disappointed that the program did not list the kids by name, as is done by NYCB and other companies. Fritz, BTW, was played by a SAB student who last appeared as the little pied piper.

While being a touring production obviously limits the use of "special effects", ABT could have done a little better. For instance, Drosslemeyer's dolls quite obviously came from behind his cape/the tree/the wings. All but the littlest kid could have figured that out...I prefer the trapdoor/gift box used by NYCB. The Nutcracker is all about holiday "magic", so the more "real" it looks, the better. The soldier (Jerry Douglas, I think) was excellent-one of the rare pieces of nice cheoreography.

Here we were introduced to the unicorn. As the Washington Post put it, McKenzie has a fetish with unicorns. GET RID OF THE UNICORN...the first unicorn was played by a woman, and then was played by a guy after that (more confusion). And the costumes were UGLY and we felt really bad for the poor dancer (David Halberg). The unfortunate unicorn reappeares later on to further confuse the story.

McKenzie also adds a quuintent of fairies to action,which pop up in both acts, mostly adding more confusion, though some nice bits of dancing.

The battle scene was nice, but again, too complicated to follow (according to the program notes the soldiers don't want to get their unfirms dirty so they abandon the battle...huh!).

Some nice cheoreography for the little mice-a series of single turns on one foot, one mouse at a time. Joaquin de Luz was the Nutcracker Prince-not at his best, but no-one can dance well in such a large, ugly, cumbersome Nutcracker head.

The mouse king appears on the top of the now giant toy box, and then has to make a very ungainly hop off the side.

Once the mouse king is defeated we proceed to the snow kingdom. Here, instead of proceeding quickly to the Land of the Snow, McKenzie sticks in a pas de deux between Clara and her Prince. The cheoreography was none too interesting, and it clearly lost the interest of the little kids in the audience

Finally we get to the snowflake dance. As someone who is fond of the lines/patterns of the NYCB snowflakes, this abbreviated, odd cheoreography was not at all pleasing. Also, the corps seemd quite underrehearsed, so that one wasn't sure what was cheoreographed and what was a mistake. Clara and her Prince remain on stage, and participate in the dance at times. And the snow effect was limited to the center section of the stage and wimpy at that.

Once the dancing finishes, the snow queen starts to lead Clara and her Prince to her land. Then enters the unicorn, who I guess gestures for them to come with him (to the land of the sweets...). Confusing isn't it...the little kids sure didn't seem to have any more clue than I did!

The second act didn't get any better. My vision of the Kindgdom of the Sweets is a kind of a winter wonderland. Not so to Kevin McKenzie-he put his ballet in an overgrown garden, complete with giant inflating ballon flowers. I kid you not. IMHO, this is just plain confusing-how did we get from snow to spring (and in the Nutcracker??). The divertissments were, for the most part well danced, especially Marcelo Gomes and Carmen Corella in "Arabian" and the Russian dancer (though the little Russian dancer was never identified in the program).

NO Dewdrop, and an interesting Waltz of the Flowers, complete with cavaliers. The chereography was done by John Meehan, and was quite well done. I could've done without adding the fairies and Clara/Prince into the mix however.

At this point there is some interplay between Clara and the poor unicorn, which ends with it sleeping with it's head in her lap. Ughh..something about it made me uncomfortable-maybe almost some sexual undertones..the unicron being assoicated with virginity. Don't know.

The Grand Pas de Deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier was uneven. McKenzie's chereography and choice of music was uninspired.

Carlos Molina looked a bit out of sorts,-maybe injury, but more likely nerves and a lack of rehearsal (this was his first time in the role this season). His turns in second were quite slow. Gillian Murphy was excellent however-quick, precise and daring!

The end was almost a relief. McKenzie needs to scrap this version or make some major repairs. The Nutcracker is the one major ballet that is aimed at a young audience, and thus the story needs to be kept simple and the dancing tailored to a younger audience (and better mime). This version is WAY TOO CONFUSING.

Sorry if this review soundsw harsh, but for $70, I was expecting something better. My friend and I felt bad for the dancers, since they were constrained by the cheoreography and storyline.

If anyone else has gone, I'd be interested in seeing your comments. Feel free to post any questions etc.


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Hate to tell you, but it's already been simplified three, maybe four times, and clarified. As a friend of mine commented about this production, the next time some bright soul suggests they bring in a playwright (USA) or dramaturg (Europe) to "fix" a production, this is the poster child. Wendy Wasserstein was the librettist originally. There were several pieces in the first act that got axed -- some saw it in New York or California, and might be able to report.

Last season, there was a totally confusing scene in the first act where Drosselmeyer read the Hoffman tale (not the Dumas version, of course, only the "darker," hence, more modern and right-thinking version) which was acted out. Never did I think the time would come when A) a company would actually ADD a mime scene and B) I would join the chorus of thousands saying "Cut that mime!"

I think the unicorns (there used to be two) and the fairies were aimed at the "market" of people who buy calendars with unicorns and fairies on them. I can't see any other reason. The Giant, Popping Rubber Flowers (which may not look quite so menacing at the Met) are special though, aren't they? biggrin.gif

The drunken party guest was there Thursday night, I heard from a friend. Perhaps this is a nod to the Baryshnikov version? In that, all the guests were a bit ill-behaved and it was a particularly tipsy one who smashed the Nutcracker.

[ December 09, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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I saw the full Wendy Wasserstein version in New York (at least I think it hadn't been modified yet), and nobody has any right to complain about confusing who hasn't seen that one! Believe me. It had something to do with illusion and reality, and dreams and dolls. There was originally a Dew Drop, too, who wore a little beaded flapper cap. But what I remember most is that there were no children, just dancers dressed as children behaving badly, so that these poor male corps members had to run around acting like naughty children. It looked like a very very bad Jerry Lewis movie with Lewis playing all the parts.

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I remember being rather awe-struck by the awfulness of this Nutcracker's second act when ABT did it at City Center. One of the poor unicorns kept on having his head slide off, and I felt sorry for poor Shelkanova having to dance Dewdrop in that shower cap with the dangly, jewelled fringe. Perhaps the Waltz of the Flowers has improved (I don't recall it being attributed to Meehan a year ago), but it could hardly have gotten worse. I gather at City Center we were spared the tumescent flowers -- thank God for small favors.

When Alexandra posted awhile ago about parts of this production being cleaned up or reworked, I was tempted to post "You mean that nasty bit when the curtain isn't lowered?" But I didn't want to spoil the fun of any folks who might've wanted to see this Nut without any preconceived notions.

This "My Little Pony" version of Nutcracker was way too cute for words, except, perhaps, Dorothy Parker's deathless dismissal of A. A. Milne: "And then, Tonstant Weader frowed up."

[ December 11, 2001: Message edited by: Manhattnik ]

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Before those who enjoyed ABT's Nutcracker are driven away, I'd like to point out that this production is a polarizer -- as this thread shows. The audience seems to like it -- there's lots of applause. And it's a good opportunity to see a lot of ABT dancers, especially soloists.

I hope those who've enjoyed it as well as those who won't see it again will chime in here.

Bard's B, how was Sunday afternoon???

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I think most of the shows, at least during the weekend, were pretty close to sold out. However, there did appear to be some empty seats (a couple next to me, for instance).

Unfortunately, there were a number of parents who left early with kids-for various reasons, most I think linked to the fact that the kids were losing interest.

Glad to know that my friend and I are not the only ballet fans that have emerged less than pleased and quite confused from ABTs version of the "Nutcracker". Should've known better when the Washington Post mentioned McKenzie's unicorn fetish smile.gif


P.S. Why the exorbitant ticket prices at the Kennedy Center? Granted, the NYCB prices get higher, but NYCB tickets start at $28 and there are very few bad seats at the State Theater (not to mention a much better Nutcracker!)

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Guest 4luvofballet

I attended ABT's Nutcracker at the Kodak Theatre is L.A., and, though I wasn't too impressed, I didn't find it as appalling as some others do. Surprisingly, the house was near full too. Minor complaints (of mine) include, the choreography (espically Clara and the Nutcracker's pas de deux) was pretty dull. The costumes and some characters were strange, and sometimes rather ugly (as everyone else said, espically the unicorns with their giant heads) Also, the party dragged on a bit, and, to answer an earlier post, I did see Sascha Radetsky (who was listed in the program) but he didn't dance at all--which is weird, why would he tour all the way to LA, if he didn't have atleast a small dance part?

I have to say though, the part where the mice each did a piroutte in succession was really cute.

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According to the cast list on the ABT website, Sascha was supposed to dance the Nutcracker Prince in two peformances. Perhaps he just didn't dance in the performance(s) that you saw-usually contracts limit the number of performances per week that a dancer has to perform(fewer on tour).

If he didn't dance in any performances, it could be that he was injured after they arrived in LA. Sascha is from Santa Cruz, so it wouldn't make any sense for him to return to NY, and then go all the way back to CA for Christmas holiday.



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