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This production is 27 years old and wears its years very well, in large part due to the imaginative stylistic choices that Maurice Sendak and Kent Stowell made during their initial meetings about their collaboration. By placing the second act in an “Oriental” court, full of Asian, African and Middle Eastern references, they found a setting that has more substance than a Land of the Sweets, and a remarkably coherent set of dance cues. It also meshes extremely well with Sendak’s eccentrically baroque style, so that mouse heads peek out from the curliques in the set, and the high-waisted Empire-style dresses in the first act are related to the long tunics of the Moorish dancers in the second. And since they chose to follow the ‘coming of age Clara’ pathway, the double casting of Drosselmeier as the slightly lecherous Pasha makes dramatic sense as well.

The stage tricks are mostly from the same era that the work is staged in (the toy theater elements, the wave effects during the voyage (with dolphins!), the panorama. And tangentially, most companies can’t afford to use the full panorama effect in their productions of Sleeping Beauty, including PNB, but we’ve got it here for Nutcracker!

I saw the November 27 matinee, during the opening weekend of the run. In the first act Jerome Tisserand had a great hostly/fatherly vibe, especially when he was managing Drosselmeier – it was clear he was an old family friend.

Uko Gorter’s Drosselmeier is a grown up jolly boy, egging the other boys on as they rush the girls to disrupt their game.

Are the flapping owl wings on the clock a tribute to the Balanchine production, or are they from the original story?

In this production all the toy soldiers pile out of a tiny guardhouse – is this an echo of the Mother Ginger house in the second act?

The cannon are quite loud – I see lots of startled jumping in the audience. And once we’re finished with the battle, the ship leaves stage left, only to apparently turn around off stage and re-enter from stage left.

Seth Orza makes a nice prince here, and Maria Chapman is a very lovely Clara.

The Sugar Plum variation is the first solo in the second act, which makes it less of a climax overall. Chapman does a very nice job with this, but is a little awkward in spots during the duet later in the act, which could be just opening weekend adjustments.

After the Prince tells his story, the courtiers “clap” by waving their hands in the air – the same gesture as American Sign Language.

Stowell’s big group dances here (Snow and Flowers) start fast and stay there, which can make them feel a bit agitated if there’s any sign of trouble in the corps or leaders. As Flora (leads the flowers) Lindsi Dec does a great job – fleet and rhythmic. She rides on top of the flow, so that things get done, but they don’t feel rushed.

Alastair Macaulay’s review, in his Nutcracker journal, talks about the convention of “theaters inside of theaters,” which seems very appropriate here with all the old-fashioned stage technology on display, but it also reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, especially at the end, where Clara literally misses the boat and has to return to her time and place empty-handed, rather like Dorothy waking up after her big adventures, only to realize that no one believed her stories of Oz.

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When Balanchine choreographed "Nutcracker" in 1954, the Grand Pas de Deux took the standard form: adagio, variation, variation, coda. According to "Choreography by George Balanchine: A Catalogue of Works",

1958, GRAND PAS DE DEUX (Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, end of Act II), replaced by PAS DE CINQ with Cavalier omitted and Sugar Plum Fairy supported in adagio by men from CHOCOLATE, COFFEE, TEA, CANDY CANES; variation for Sugar Plum Fairy moved to beginning of Act II from traditional placement at climax of GRAND PAS DE DEUX; 1959, adagio and coda of GRAND PAS DE DEUX restored with Cavalier, replacing PAS DE CINQ, but without variation for Cavalier; Sugar Plum Fairy variation retained at beginning of Act II.

(The original Coffee was Francisco Moncion, described in the Catalogue as "hookah-smoking nobleman fanned by four parrots"; in 1964 Balanchine replaced it with the solo for Gloria Govrin.)

Stowell kept Balanchine's placement for the female solo, here the adult(ish) Clara, but he also added the Prince's solo at the beginning of Act II, with a few phrases of partnering, one for Clara and the Prince, and one for the Prince, Clara, and Pasha that quickly reflected the Pirlipata, Nutcracker, and Mouse King trio.

I remember reading somewhere that Maria Tallchief, the first Balanchine Sugar Plum Fairy, was terrified to go onstage for the beginning of the Pas de Deux in the original version, because it would be the first thing she danced in the performance, and she could hear the ovation for Leclerq's Dewdrop and knew she couldn't let down the audience and the ballet after that. The change gives SPF something to dance early in the act. In Stowell's version, the adult Clara has already danced the Act I Pas de Deux during the transformation music and before the Waltz of the Snowflakes, and the pressure isn't the same.

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(The original Coffee was Francisco Moncion, described in the Catalogue as "hookah-smoking nobleman fanned by four parrots"

I wish I'd been around to see that one!

I'd forgotten the anecdote about Tallchief and the SPF -- I can certainly understand the difficulty of waiting until almost the end of the ballet to dance 'the big one.'

I'm always fascinated with how malleable Nutcracker seems to be -- almost more than any other ballet that we seem to know, Nut flexes with all kinds of changes, and still maintains its identity.

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I'd forgotten the anecdote about Tallchief and the SPF -- I can certainly understand the difficulty of waiting until almost the end of the ballet to dance 'the big one.'

Especially after the tour de force that is Dewdrop. She dances it in a modified corset, and the role is one of, if not the most, well-constructed applause machines I've ever seen. Flora, in that huge, multi-layered long tulle skirt to match the Flowers is an elegant role, more in the Romantic mode -- the flash from the ankles down -- although it looks pretty difficult to me.

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