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The Nutcracker, 17-19 December 2010, Athenaeum Theatre

Jack Reed

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17th December 2010, Friday evening: This evening's cast was led by Ballet Chicago alumna Ellen Green, listed on the RDB web site as a corps dancer, whose clear, rounded dancing made a large effect. In particular, the bits in Balanchine's "Grand Pas de Deux" (or "Sugarplum Pas de Deux") where she runs at her partner (the very able Hamilton Nieh), leaps, half turns in the air, and lands sitting on his shoulder, went more smoothly than I can remember seeing it. (The audience didn't hesitate to show its appreciation of this trick, but it didn't stop the show.)

I still miss Alicia Fabry in this part for bringing a certain finesse to it, but Green and Nieh were very satisfying. Nieh performed the male variation here; you don't see that a lot any more.

(Disclosure: My admiration of her dancing led to some friendship with Fabry; which, since she's pursuing her career with the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, has become a distant friendship.)

One of the distinctions of this production is a pas de deux in the Snow scene, and I very much enjoyed Rachel Seeholzer and Ted Seymour's dancing of it, as well as the rest of the scene, with its corps of twelve girls. I think it's mostly choreographed by Daniel Duell, who shows awareness of Tchaikovsky's detailed instructions, not to mention overall plans, for this number. It was also better lit than Act II.

(Seymour had taken the role of Dr. Stahlbaum in the Act I party scene, making his simple gestures clearly legible in the last row downstairs. So clear, I wished the occasional clapping his role called for could also have been silent, making it of the same kind, something for us to see and interpret; the realistic sound seemed intrusive.)

Seeholzer reappeared four numbers later as "Arabian Coffee", giving the dance a sinuous power at once seductive and slightly threatening. Five numbers further on, with somewhat less presence and another change of costume, she was one of two demi soloists in the Waltz of the Flowers, led by Camille Plesha, who I think needs to be more than "correct" in it. Could she abandon herself to it a little, without becoming in any way sloppy?

(Matthew Renko, in "Russian Kvas," had been not so much sloppy as losing control in places, and I was happier watching him with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, where Seymour also dances, in November.)

And then, in the Finale, there was Seeholzer again, in her "Arabian" costume this time! No rest for the talented, not in this company.

There are three more performances, tomorrow at 2 and 7, and Sunday at 3, although I gather that last one is more heavily sold.

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18th December 2010, Saturday evening: Watching Green with Nieh again this evening, it came to me that this RDB corps member brings some depth and complexity to her this role, as some NYCB principals do not to theirs. That may seem like a lot to say, but I don't think I'm the first one to say something like that. (I watched that company on stage in June and have been looking at a surprisingly good video of one of their principals, Jennifer Ringer, on nytimes.com recently.) And Nieh continued to be the partner she needed - the up-on-the-shoulder trick going as smoothly as before, for example - and he again showed us as best he could in what may be too little space, the Cavalier's variation, which again I thought I could remember Peter Martins showing us decades ago on the huge stage of the Arie Crown Theatre, designed for automobile shows, when Martins and Violette Verdy came as guests in Ruth Page's Nutcracker. It had already disappeared from the stage in New York, if I remember correctly.

This evening's "Snow Pas de Deux" was performed by Camille Plesha, with Ted Seymour; Plesha also performed "Arabian Coffee," and she made both roles look rather academic: Very clear, analyzed and demonstrated, and I think this is necessary but yet, not quite sufficient.

Rachel Seeholzer had brought something extra to that last night, but tonight instead her big role was Dewdrop in "Waltz of the Flowers," which she enlivened with the classically-contained energy it needed, as well as a couple of understated "stunts" in the form of sudden freezes into motionlessness in the midst of the fully-flowing motion of the waltz. Very satisfying. (These had made less effect in Plesha's rendition.) Her only other role this evening was as Mrs. Stahlbaum in the first scene, the Christmas party, where she imported some of the sensuality of her "Arabian," and I thought it a little out of place, especially compared to Elizabeth Quander's cool and slightly pretentious tone last evening, which had been just about right for this bourgeois couple.

Matthew Renko had the virtuoso "Russian" dance under some better control this evening, and I want to mention that both last night and tonight, the large, classical clarity of his dancing in the Nutcracker role brought out the nobility in the choreography, so that we wanted this character to win his duel with the Mouse King. (This, by the way, is where there are substantial cuts to Tchaikovsky's score in this production. The battle is very short, and there's little transition into the Snow Scene remaining. No dancing bed; the Nutcracker and Herr Drosselmeyer escort Marie into the left wing as the Snow Pas de Deux couple enter from our right. I'm not complaining, just recording the facts as best I can; there's lots to like here.)

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No, I hadn't, bart, thank you. I don't manage to see everything Macaulay writes, worse luck, but having seen the same performances he did in Washington, I think Renko earned that praise. "Fair and square," as we say. Farrell earned hers, too. I've long been impressed by what her dancers accomplish with her "in very limited conditions," as Macaulay says.

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