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New Year's Eve Nutcracker

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Years ago the New Year's Eve performance of the Nutcracker at NYCB was the occasion for lots of unscripted merriment and bizarre costume changes. I'll admit I didn't always understand what the insiders in the audience were horse-laughing about, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the prospect that the long Nutcracker season would soon be over. Does this still go on? Or is the New Year's Eve performance now just like any other?

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Interesting, because I'd seen New Year's Eve performances where a LOT was changed in both Acts, some short and sweet and others, well, one of the Harlequin and Columbine dolls would leave the other alone on stage. Maybe they've cleaned it up in recent years?

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One reason for the toning down may have to do with the calendar. In the old days, New Year's Eve was always the final Nut of the run. Even if New Year's eve was a Tuesday, the house would be dark on Wednesday, and Thursday would return to rep. Now the final Nut is on the last day of New Year's Week, so the catharsis of going nuts from Nuts overdose on Dec. 31 may not be quite the same if you return to it two days later.

Perhaps the dancers pull some shenanigans on the final Nut instead? I don't know.

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Well, I haven't seen Balanchine's Nutcracker enough to sit out an act, but if I had to choose, it would be act 2. I think his Act 1 is one of the greatest things he ever did.

For the most part, it is a "regular" performance of Nuts. This year I sat out Act I, so I can't comment on what went on, but Act II was unmodified except for a brief orchestral diversion (the brass broke out into Auld Lang Syne during the finale).
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Well, I haven't seen Balanchine's Nutcracker enough to sit out an act, but if I had to choose, it would be act 2. I think his Act 1 is one of the greatest things he ever did.P

Paul: I go to between 7 and 10 Nut performances a season, so after a while I just "rest" during Act I, and watch the varying casts in the Act II diverts.

Helene, Carbro, and FarrellFan: Nuts would often continue after New Year's Eve, but in prior eons NYCB would have an actual evening performance on Dec. 31. More recently, NYCB realized that the audience was not there as much, and eliminated the night performance. This year they had a 3pm perfo, which let out at 5, allowing lots of time to get home and prepare for the "adult" activities of the evening.

Additionally, I remember the last New Year's eve evening performance, and it actually got a little TOO bizarre. Not only did the Act I Soldier shoot off "firecrackers" from his fingers (thank you to Michael Byars for his years of masterly Soldier performances), but guests delicately took candies from the maids' trays and then spit them out, gracefully depositing the remains back on the trays. The guests also nicely displayed their blacked-out (missing) teeth, etc. All of this was in line with the prior years' antics. What I believe threw it over the top (and put the kabosh on the acting up) was the appearance of a large Mouse center stage during the Snowflakes scene. After that, the company clamped down on modifying Mr. B's production.

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"If I had to choose" is a nice thought, because it gives me something to be glad about: I can have both acts!

But I agree with Paul. "If I had to choose" it would be Act I. I admire and enjoy the virtuoso dances etc. in Act II, but Balanchine's magic is very strong in Act I. It's a different magic from the way he evokes multitudes with his odd little cast of eleven in Mozartiana, for example, but that's another thread.

Balanchine cast his spell on me the first couple of times I saw the production, when the two little kids have a little pushing and shoving to see who gets to look through the keyhole in the parlor door at the party preparations Tchaikovsky is telling us about. It was charming the first time, just what kids would do, as natural as anything, but when they did it the second time in exactly the same way, I was a goner. Carefully rehearsed, perfectly natural. Wonderful! And it's only the beginning.

But the gags can get out of hand. (For what it's worth, I think the idea of spitting out the candy is revolting, but much has changed there since my day, when we heard Mr. B. stopped Robbins from staging dances from West Side Story with the remark, "Our boys don't fight.") There's something in show biz about not knocking your own material. It takes the whole thing down a notch or two. I've never been to a New Year's Eve Nutcracker, but I believe the "cutting up" began when Karin von Aroldingen, a good friend of Balanchine, cast as Sugar Plum, wore a black moustache. Not too much. Nothing too much.

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The tradition of "New Year's Follies" was already established back in City Center days. I recall seeing Balanchine doing Drosselmeyer when he produced a little yellow rubber duckie and whispered instruictions to pass it on to the farthest-opposite man on the stage (was it Frank Ohman as Herr Silberhaus?) Von Aroldingen was still in the corps then.

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