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Nixon in China

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Act II of the John Adams/Alice Goodman "Nixon in China" is the centerpiece of the drama, and between the opening key scene for Pat Nixon and the closing key scene for Madame Mao Tse-tung is a ballet.

In the drama, the Nixons are taken to a performance of a stereotypical Communist Era message ballet: Evil Landlord exploit and beat a peasant girl, she escapes and is recaptured, a young soldier saves her -- classical pas de deux ensues -- young soldier and his cadre gather up the Evil Men. This is Adams/Goodman though, and part of the way through Wei Wei Wang's wry commentary on the set piece, Henry Kissinger interrupts by making lewd comments about the exploited heroine and becomes an Evil in the ballet, garbed in Chinese clothing, exclaiming "Whip her to death!". At one point in the ballet, Kissinger is wounded, and in the part where the Evils recant their evil ways and embrace the peasantry, Madame Mao joins in and insists on discipline, takes a pistol, and kills Kissinger.

I can't remember the last time a ballet has a ballet been central to the music and drama of an opera -- a turning point in it -- but although the choreography wasn't particularly memorable, even allowing for the tight space, the dancing, particularly by Fei Guo as the heroine, and the dramatic impact was.

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And on a related note, next season will see the Met premiere of Nixon in China with a production directed by Peter Sellars.

According to the Met website, this production was originally created for the English National Opera. I found a review that lauded "the remarkable choreography by Mark Morris" for Madame Mao's ballet "The Red Detachment of Women". The Met website doesn't mention the choreographer, but I hope they keep it. (Although it is NOT listed for HD broadcasts next year, wuzrobbed.) The Lucinda Childs choreography for "Dr. Atomic" at San Francisco Opera was dull, dull, dull.

I know the role's originator, James Madallena, got great reviews for his performance as Nixon. It's hard for me to imagine one better than Robert Orth's, especially how he showed how Nixon could turn from a lap-dog to a paranoid attack dog over the course of a single sentence. Also, Richard Paul Fink is last in the Met cast list. I hope that means he's Kissinger, because he'd be perfect for it.

ETA: Adams himself will conduct!

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"The Chairman Dances" was originally part of the third act of the opera. I don't remember the music well enough to know how much made it into the scene where the Nixons and the the Maos reminisce and dance, but it was never part of the Act II ballet. "The Chairman Dances" is rooted in social dance music, while the music for the ballet is quite different. The music for big rescue pas de deux, for example, is "Tristan"-like until the couple heads offstage, which sounds like the transition in "The Nutcracker" between what Balanchine used for the big swelling music for the moving bed and the beginning of the "Waltz of the Flowers".

While the Maos do dance in the opera, the story of their courtship is in the text rather than in choreography.

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