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Balanchine's The Nutcracker video


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I can't believe something this insignificant is bothering me, but there it is!

I've always wondered about the shoes the dancer in the Arabian dance (in this case Wendy Whelan) wears during her solo. Most of the dance is on flat or demi-pointe and it looks almost as if she is barefoot. At first I thought she was wearing ballet slippers but she does go on pointe very briefly. Is it a deshanked or very old worn in pointe shoe?

In the finale of the ballet she has clearly changed into a standard shiny pointe shoe.

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More questions for the NYCB crowd: In the part between the battle scene and the snowflake waltz, does Marie's bed actually fly in the stage production, or is this just something they did for the video? And how does the stage production treat the "Sleeping Beauty" part? Am I correct in assuming they don't do a video montage of Marie's "memories" of the party scene? :dry:

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Ballet Nut - the bed moves slowly about the stage with Marie sleeping on it during the Snow adagio.

During the entr'acte music from Sleeping Beauty Marie slips back to the parlor in her nightgown to check on the Nutcracker doll, then falls asleep on the sofa. Her mother comes down, walking in front of a scrim (assumedly in the hall) and then goes into the parlor to find Marie. She wraps her shawl around her and leaves her alone to sleep.

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I think the Arabian is danced in old, soft slippers dyed a skin-tone. I do not recall any moment in the solo where she is on pointe...

But in the finale, she's on pointe. Which brings up another question: in her solo during the finale (in the film version) Wendy does these pirouettes which culminate with the leg whipping out into arabesque - sorry, I don't know what this step is called - I think she does three of them. I have seen other Arabians do this also, but this season so far I have seen 3 girls in the role and none of them have stretched the turns into arabesque, they finish in attitude. The flash to arabesque is really exciting. Would this be a difficult step to do? (Wendy makes it look easy...but then...she's Wendy). Would the dancer eliminate such a passage if it proved too tricky? Or did someone get injured trying it and they changed it to be safe? Anyone know the passage I'm referring to? Anyone seen it done the "Wendy way" lately? Could it be Wendy added it and others have tried to emulate it? I seem to remember Dena Abergel doing it with the arabesque. Or have I seen too many NUTCRACKERS and I'm imagining the whole thing?

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I agree with Oberon- the dancer wears an older pair of pointe shoes (not sure if they're shankless) dyed a deep tan color.

The only part of the solo where the dancer goes en pointe, as I remember it, is toward the end... the dancer does a jump bringing the leg up in a high attitude behind her, she then closes to fifth position and quickly goes into releve and turns to perform the jump again. I hope I explained that clearly enough. This is followed by her walking in a circle around the stage, then going into the final split, etc, if that helps you place it.

And yes, Oberon, I know exactly what part you're refering to in the coda. In almost every live performace I've seen, the turns end in an attitude, not in arabesque as Wendy executes them in the video. I remember one performace where I did see the arabesque... it might have been Deanna McBrearty dancing, but I'm not absolutely sure. Judging from my relatively limited experience as a dancer, I don't think the turns are terribly difficult to do. What might be the problem is the speed- keeping the leg in attitude instead of arabesque might make it a bit easier to bring it back in and start again with another pique turn.

While we're on the topic of oddities and special effects in the Nutcracker, I've always wondered how the young prince's "nutcracker" attire is quickly ripped off of him to reveal the suit he wears in the second act. Does anyone know how this is accomplished? Also, I know this is a trademark of the grand pas de deux, but how exactly is the Sugar Plum Fairy pulled across the stage in arabesque?

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Ballerina 1023, thank you for clarifying the arabesque vs. attitude finish to those Arabian pirouettes. Your description is excellent and I think you may be right about speed being the key element. I have to say, the attitudes are nice but the arabesques give it a really flashy quality.

I am not sure how they wisk the Nutcracker costume off the Prince, but I do know that the ballerina "floats" in that arabesque by stepping on a small metal plate attached to some sort of wired pulley mechanism and the cavalier "pulls" her across the stage. I have to admit that the first time I saw it (Merrill Ashley was my first SPF - lucky me!) I was dumbfounded. I was seated in the orchestra for that performance and had no idea how the effect was achieved. Now that I'm poor and relegated to 4th Ring, I can see her aim her pointe for the magic spot on that metal plate. Apparently, if you are off by a centimetre or two it can be a bumpy ride. I think someone here recently wrote about seeing one SPF miss the plate altogether or something???

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re: the moving bed, there is no electronic mechanism at all involved in the movement of marie's bed to the snow-laden fir forest; it's a dance student crawling around on his knee-padded knees. for years he was known as 'bed boy' to some of those around the company. during his particular student years at SAB kevin hagen - then kevin higgenbotham - was this 'operator' and one co. follower nicknamed him 'kevin bed'

i understand btw that the muliple revolutions now favored by the 'bed boy's is something mr. b. was not happy about; i think he corrected one over-active/zealous bed boy to cool his eagerness and simply to revolve the bed once before stopping to await the little prince's transformation and awakening kiss.

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Mention of Deanna McBrearty is enough to give me pre-Christmas depression...Santa, could you please bring Deanna back, along with Samantha, Monique, Eva, Aesha, Lindy, Riolama, Emily Coates...and Helene, too?? And the Tracey sisters? And Robert Tewsley? And Robert Wersinger, while you're at it?? And several others...I have a list...

I always assumed the bed was automated...I can't believe anyone can crawl that fast and that accurately! I did see it collide with one of the hanging set pieces once but I assumed it was a technical error.

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Re the Nutcracker prince's costume transformation: I have no definite knowledge of this, so if someone who does will jump in I'd be grateful, but from the audience it has always looked to me that the prince comes onstage dressed in his pink satin costume and holding in front of him a lifesized replica of the Nutcracker's costume, which he then flings into the wings. The Nutcracker's costume has always looked stiff and artificial to me, so I think it's on a board of some kind.

Just a guess, though. I'd appreciate it if someone who knows how it works would enlighten us. :dry:

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Re: the Coffee solo in the coda.

There are definitely two different sets of choreography for that segments. Different dancers seem to choose which choreography to do. I have always thought the options were there since one is more difficult than the other, and Balanchine often adjusted choreography to the talents of the different dancers.

I don't remember positively who has done which, but I am pretty sure Abergel has done the harder one. Reichlen, who is the only Coffee I have seen this season, I think tried the harder one out during one of the performances. With her long limbs, I think she looks best with the attitude poses.

I personally think the harder version always seems to look a bit awkward even with someone like Wendy doing it. The one with the attitude poses just seems more in keeping with the role.


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The ballerina's "float" (on the moving plate) was instituted considerably later on; the original climax was Tallchief in a sustained unsupported balance in arabesque, I think. seems to me the moving "float" first appeared in the early Seventies?

Agree with Oberon that the arabesque version of Coffee's coda passage is more brilliant. I'd bet anything that Gloria Govrin, on whom the solo was made, did the more difficult steps; she had better double sauts de basque than most men!

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The ballerina's "float" (on the moving plate) was instituted considerably later on; the original climax was Tallchief in a sustained unsupported balance in arabesque, I think. seems to me the moving "float" first appeared in the early Seventies?

Wasn't it in the 60s? I think Farrell mentions in her bio that Balanchine used her to work out the idea.

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There are two possible balance moments for the SPF in the adagio...one after her "ride" on the metal plate, which is usually not sustained, and the big one at the very end when the cavalier has brought her down to the front...she does these supported quarter turns, she and the cavalier changing supporting hands after each, then he brings her around to the final arabesque in profile. He slowly goes down on one knee and then she lets go and (hopefully) holds her pose. Jenifer Ringer adds a nice touch here, she seems to elongate the arabesque as he lets go. God knows how she does it. The balance inevitably creates a wave of applause which obliterates the remaining bars of music.

I believe there was a link posted here earlier where Kowroski & Askegard talked about the difficulties of this pas de deux...there are the wrist catches, the shoulder sits, the backbends, the "glide", the slow turn to the final arabesque and the final fish-dive pose where her cheek is inches from the floor. Since it's done 40 or more times a season, I think we take for granted that it's a walk in the park for the dancers but I think it's really alot of work. Then there is Dewdrop, which calls for the full array of turns, jumps, balances, etc. and Marzipan which some people think is tougher than the other two female roles.

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Um, Just to tell you, The Nutcracker Prince runs up and holds out the crown, then whisks just a frontal piece of the Nut costume off and throws it onto the floor, where it is whisked off by the stage manager.

Yes, if the SPF is like a centimeter off, she can fall off the plate to slide!!

During Nut, Marie's bed is spun by a bedboy on the stage it doesnt fly (and yes, the bedboy is usually the old Prince as there's no other part for him) and the montage in the movie is just Marie creeping to find her Nutcracker, falling asleep in the living room, and her mother covering her with a shawl. The clock does not actually howl.

On a side note: Ever wondered what it is like to accidentally trip Mother Ginger? The 8 of us accidentally pushed too far back on the skirt and made Bill Otto wobble(he was Mother Ginger in the movie) and it was like his first wobble in 30 years!

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Dale is correct, as usual, that it was Farrell, in the 1960s, who first stepped onto the metal slide in the Nutcracker. "The effect was magical, and to this day audiences are thrilled and baffled by the seemingly impossible feat," she wrote. "Mr. B was equally thrilled with his optical illusion, and I was thrilled to be his guinea pig."

Another Farrell first, this without mechanical intervention: at Mr. B's request, she touched her head to her knee in the adagio of Symphony in C.

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Oberon, re Marzipan, Pat Wilde says that she was the original Shepherdess (or whatever one wishes to call Ms. Lead Marzipan) and that her choreography had entrechats-six from pointe to pointe, jetes on pointe, tour en l'air landing on pointe.... and then she became ill, couldn't do the premiere, and the version we now have is completely different. and we thought THIS variation was hard!

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'Am I correct in assuming they don't do a video montage of Marie's "memories" of the party scene?' –Ballet Nut

On memories, I thought this passage might be of interest to some readers.

“Ballet time is a continuous present: every experience which depends on historical time lies outside its capacities. It cannot express memory: the recollection of that which is absent for either the recollection body is on stage and immediate or it is off and non-existent. Memory distinguishes between the object and its invoked image: ballet deals only in the object." -- W.H. Auden from BALLET’S PRESENT EDEN

Regarding Leigh W.'s response/description above:

I hope they have the couch on some sort of Magic Sliders to protect the floor from being scratched.

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