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Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center

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Did anyone go? It was sold out, and one of the most mixed-in-age audiences I've seen in awhile. A few kids, but mostly adults, young old and in the middle, and the audience seemed both excited and happy. (I'll write a review later. I liked it a lot, and was happy to see something new that was truly new, and not a pale copy of something else, or a turn-it-upside down for the hell of it version :) )

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I loved it!! I'll write a review later. I'm not as technically proficient as some of you on this board, but I loved what I saw, especially the first act smile.png

I add my pleas to Alexandra's, sphillips. Those of us who can't see the performance depend on our posters' reports. Would love to read anything you have to say about it.

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I've danced probably every role in Nutcracker, staged many productions for my studio, and of course hear the music everywhere. What I loved most about this version is that it made the story truly come to life. I loved the first act when Clara wakes up in the middle of the night and is looking for her "toy'. The way it was staged, when her bed rises, and it appears that everything is happening underneath...to me it was a great job of conveying was it a dream, or really happening. The rest of the ballet continued in the same vein. The children dancing were outstanding! Especially Clara and the little boy who was supposed to be her Nutcracker/Prince. I loved the Snow scene and the ominous undertones, i.e. Clara being in danger of freezing or being lost in a snow storm. I guess what I'm trying to say is that this production put a different enough spin on a classic to make you pay attention, but like someone else here said, it didn't change the choreography and story just for shock value. I'm dying to see this again, and am tempted to travel to Brooklyn from DC to do so. I was literally in tears at the end of Act 1, which in my opinion is what set this apart from other Nutcrackers. Hope this is helpful. I'm a ballet nut and long time lurker, but so shy on this board :)

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Sorry but not everybody is jumping on board the Ratmansky Choo-choo. My family & I went to the final performance last night, starring Hallberg & Murphy. All in all, we were quite disappointed, with a few bright exceptions.

Positives: Tchaikovsky's glorious music, played in order & completely. Wonderful soloists and ensemble! (However, I noticed that Hallberg struggled a bit with his tours & landings...still coming back from his Bolshoi injury, it seems.) The JKO School's children were magnificently drilled and acted convincingly; kudos to them! Choreography? I liked the two very intricate and acrobatic pas de deux, as well as the nice ensemble dances, most notably the 'icy-menacing' Waltz of the Snowflakes. There was an innovative concept of 'mirroring' the child and the adult Clara & Nutcracker Prince in parts...but the child-like "aw, chucks!" moves by the adult Clara & Prince are straight out of the Mariinsky-Chemyakin &Simonov version (much more on that below).

Negatives, alas, outweigh the positives:

Damn bees! Seriously, the 4 silly male bees in the midst of what should be the most serious and lyrical segment of the work -- the Waltz of the Flowers - were the 'last straw' in what, to me, is an utterly irreverent and Imperial-Era-bashing take by Ratmansky. Exhibit A: in the climax to the waltz, the 4 bees gently lie down and repose in front of the footlights, each with a hand demurely by the face, as Petipa often designed for female corps in ensembles. Yuk. It's one thing to pepper an old ballet chestnut with comedy; it's another thing to insult the heritage by diminishing it with silliness. Ratmansky appears to be a comedic specialist...because he most certainly is not a grand romantic-classicist. (We can thank mostly Yuri Burlaka for the reverent pro-Petipa tone in the Bolshoi Corsaire, no doubt.)

'Chemyakin-on-the-cheap': I could fill a book listing the bargain-basement derivations from the ca-2000 Mariinsky Chemyakin version on display for ABT. Not only concepts...but even the designs, such as the first-scene kitchen strung with sausages, are nothing more than a Poor Man's Chemyakin! I felt like screaming at the unsuspecting audience (who lapped this up) and yelling 'This is not original. Wake up, people!' Where the Chemyakin-Simonov produces art, Ratmansky goes for Micky Mouse...with a cute little pale mouse running throughout the story, garnering the biggest guffaws and applause.

This is what 5 million bucks buys us in 2010/11?: Granted, the costumes (not the sets) were colorful and, in rare cases, such as the silvery romantic tutus for the snowflakes, truly sublime. However, many of the designs, such as petal skirted pinkish-red romantic tutus for the flowers, were just garish and even ill-fitting for some ladies (making them appear top-heavy). The best of the Act II diverts for me -- the Mirlitons dance - presented one of the ugliest costumes and dopey top hats on the 5 female dancers.

Worst of all: What the heck was up with the El Cheapo sets? ('Ratmansky Productions' seem to thrive on cheap-looking backdrops...e.g., Cinderella, Little Humpbacked Horse, ABT version of Bright Stream. What will it be for his Firebird? Let me guess: a bare red backdrop, maybe with one onion-dome stencilled in black.)

Let's go scene by scene and examine the sets:

Front curtain before the lights go down - Plain blue with a little white house in the corner. Not bad. At least the movable train and toys from the McKenzie-version's proscenium are gone.

Prologue in the kitchen - we've already established that this is Chemyakin on the cheap. A pale-colored, unluxurious version of the first scene of the Mariinsky's Chemyakin version, sausages and all.

Act I, scene 1 - Compare the spartan, mostly-undecorated Act I Stahlbaum living room with, say, the Joffrey's richly decorated, magical interior...or the Washington ballet's luxurious Georgetown residence...or NYCB...or countless Nutcracker living rooms across the USA and around the world. This was a plain-jane living room! Poor-poor-poor.

Act I, sc 2 - Living Room at midnight & transformation - Did a tree grow? No, the regular tree was wheeled off to audience-left wing and a few big branches wheeled in. No magic! No luxury! The big chair was effective and served the purpose of keeping our attention above the stage, so that we did not notice the cheapness of everything else.

Act I, sc 3 - the forest - a painterly backdrop evoking birch trees...nice but "not all that." Not worthy of "$5 million production" compared to lavish forests in hundreds of other productions I seem to have seen around the world. Snow? It barely fell. But at least there was some snow.

Act II - Kingdom of Sweets - the Art Nouveau-ish gate in the foreground, at the beginning, was nice, through which we first saw the divertissement characters cavorting as a group. Gates up....and we saw one of the poorest, plainest 'kingdoms' around...simply a flat aqua backdrop with etchings of the same art nouveau gate (a projection?). For the main pdd, the 'gates' projection is replaced by a large version of the little white house previously seen in the front curtain...flat, plain, with nary a hint of Tsarist-era luxury and magic.

Epilogue - curtain down and Clara's white bed has been placed front-stage center, where the final seconds play out. No pretty bedroom...just a bed in front of a curtain. Like we can see in 'Dolly Dinkle's Academy' in Podunk....actually, all of the Dolly Dinkle school productions I've seen are richer...and I bet they didn't pay $5million for their sets/costumes/lights!

Bottom Line: This is the 'Wal-mart Edition' of the Mariinsky's luxurious Chemyakin Nutcracker. I applauded for the dancers...and for Tchaikovsky.

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You should be proud balletmor! I loved the bees too. There was a family siting next to us, and I heard her mom whisper "Wonder why there are bees in this act?" Her little girl, who was probably about ten, whispered back, "Bees pollinate flowers, Mom" Lol Just her tone cracked me up. I'm on the Ratmansky choo-choo! Still can't get over how much I loved this performance. I've never seen Xiomera Reyes dance before, and she just sparkled, in my opinion. Also, in my opinion, the kids nearly stole the show from the main company :)

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I liked the bees, too, although several friends didn't. I had thought they'd be annoying and cute, buzzing about where they weren't wanted, but I didn't see them that way at all. I reviewed this for danceviewtimes (link on Links smile.png ) and wrote that flowers need bees. Also, as several critics have pointed out , there were men in the original Waltz of the Flowers.

Congratulations to all the mothers! You should be proud. (And congratulations to the coaches who did such a great job with that many children.) Opening night was a bit rushed -- it always is, because of limited rehearsal time (the company just got there Wednesday, I believe, and I don't think they've danced this for a year), but this one was stage ready. I wish I could have seen it Saturday night! Partly to see other casts, but also to see how it settled in.

For those who missed it, I think ABT is headed for BAM with this soon. New Yorkers will know.

Editing to add: I checked BAM's site, and "The Nutcracker" opens there on December 14th.

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I'm going to look for your review. Thanks for the heads up :) In the lobby during intermission, it seemed like there was a 50/50 split of people who either loved or hated this version of Nutcracker. You know what side I'm on :) I usually try to get the Saturday night performances, as I've found the company is more rehearsed and relaxed. I've had a number of ABT dancers kind enough to "friend" me on Facebook, and yes, they got here Wednesday afternoon. I have a question, and don't know if I'm breaking any board rules, so please tell me if I am, because like I said, I'm really shy about posting on here. From what I remember that has been posted publicly, Herman Cornejo has been injured a lot this past year. There were a few times during the Grande Pas De Deux, that I was worried he wasn't going to be able to catch Ms. Reyes and they improvised the way that great partners do. I was wondering if it was the change in choreography, or improvisation, like I just said. Nonetheless, I loved the performance, but I am biased, because ABT is my favorite company. And again, just my opinion :)

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I like the classics to stay "true" to original choreography just like most ballet lovers, but i make an exception when it comes

to "The Nutcracker", as long as they do not veer to far away. Most of us "Dance parents" have sat through at least 5,500 Nutcrackers in our "Dance Parent Careers", so a little bee sting here, a little fierce snow storm there is welcomed. I love Alex Ratmansky's delightful Russian Humor. I think he is a Genius and I became a huge fan a few years back while watching his RDB version in Copenhagen, and of course this past summer after experiencingt three nights of The Bright Stream!(Cant wait to see it again). I feel his ABT version is beautiful, colorful, and magical. The very fact that he has based it on the Mariinsky-Chemyakin &Simonov version, (as " Foreign Corresponden"t has graciously reminded us) to me is also very special. I wouldn't expect it to be an exact replica, but instead to have a brilliant "Ratmansky" twist to it!. As far as the set goes, I for one liked the simplicity so one could enjoy the Vibrant whimsical costumes a little better, but i know that may be just My taste! Thanks to all for the reviews from The Kennedy Center for those of us who couldn't make it! Hope to see it at BAM.

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Bottom Line: This is the 'Wal-mart Edition' of the Mariinsky's luxurious Chemyakin Nutcracker. I applauded for the dancers...and for Tchaikovsky.

Natalia, I asked this question under the topic "Nutcracker choreographies" but since you brought up the Chemyakin Nutcracker, I wanted to ask you if you knew what the Mother Gigogne and children scene means in the Chemyakin. To me it is as if grown men come out from under her skirts and start beating up on little babies they carry in their arms. What in the world does that mean? Overall, I found the production fascinating and different and loved the green snake during the Arabian coffee dance, but the beating up on babies and then tossing them was a bit much. Maybe you understand it, and I hope you could explain what that meant. Does the ABT Nutcracker you describe do this too?

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.... The very fact that he has based it on the Mariinsky-Chemyakin &Simonov version, (as " Foreign Corresponden"t has graciously reminded us) to me is also very special. ....

'Foreign Correspondent' actually has a name. My name is Natalia. (wink)

Balletmor, you and the other proud parents may not be aware that Ratmansky was, in fact, the initial choreographer for the Mariinsky-Chemyakin version in 2000 but was released of his duties by Mariinsky management, due to creative conflict of ideas with the designer (as Ratmansky himself has cited in interviews). I suspect that a lot of the ideas retained by the final choreographer, Kirill Simonov, were generated by Ratmansky, in conjunction with, of course, the designer Chemyakin. [Actually, I had assumed that ALL ideas in 2000 Mariinsky version were Chemyakin's and was quite surprised to see many of them in the new ABT version. I had incorrectly assumed that Ratmansky had been unable to get a single idea through to the 'diva designer'!]

In the final Chemyakin-Simonov ballet, three female bees dance the Mirlitons pas ("flutes"). I don't like bees there either but at least it was not as important a segment as the Waltz of the Flowers. At the Mariinsky, BOTH the traditional Vainonen & newer Chemyakin versions play the Waltz of the Flowers totally 'straight' -- in other words, seriously, with joyous reverence. Both versions also employ both male & female dancers. I have no problem with men in the waltz...just not silly 'idiots' waving their hands and mocking classisism, in the midst of a sublime piece of music. (No offense to the fine quartet of male dancers. They dance what they are given.)

Bart, at this moment, I honestly don't recall what Mother Ginger does in the Mariinsky-Chemyakin version or even if there is an MG! By 'Wal-mart Edition' I am referring to the degree of richness and details in the designs, including the backdrops, which are exceedingly 'luxe' in Chemyakin but super-simple in ABT. I'm a Tsarist snob & love 'ultra-luxe' in my decors....a-la recent Petipa-Era reconstructions at La Scala (Raymonda), POB (Paquita), Bolshoi (Coppelia, Corsaire, Pharaoh's Daughter), Mariinsky (Bayadere, Sleeping B, Ondine, Flora's Awakening) and so on. I don't care for 'linear simplicity' as in so many full-length Ratmansky ballets, commencing with the (to me) horrendously cheap-looking Cinderella for the Mariinsky in 2001, a.k.a. 'the Milkman Danceth." But Ratmansky's original Bright Stream for the Bolshoi -- not the one for ABT -- looked gorgeously deluxe.

Long live the Tsar! smile.png

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Natalia, I like luxurious sets too. I am open to minimal sets or avant garde ones too, if done well, but luxurious is almost always eye pleasing.

In the Chemyakin production Mother Ginger is like a flat cardboard cut out (nicer than cardboard, but I don't know how to describe it otherwise). She's not a real person. Then, all these men come out from under her skirts holding dolls that I assumed were babies, and they beat up on the babies. It was the most confusing moment in the entire production, and I did not "get" it at all. I was hoping someone could tell me what it meant.

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Bart, I still can't picture the MG...but I think I remember what you mean. Aren't the 'beaters' white-garbed commedia dell'arte figures, polichinellos? Italian Commedia dell'Arte (despite the 'comedy' in the name) could actually be quite brutal - slapstick brutality. Just as the Three Stooges of AmericanTV (I'm dating myself!) punched and slapped one another, in the Commedia dell'Arte manner. I took the polichinellos episode of Chemyakin to be a hearkening to Commedia dell'Arte. The polichinellos were trying to get their baby brothers to shut up & stop crying. The 'kids' in the Chemyakin Act I party scene were also quite nasty, except for Masha.

Eureka! I just realize that that's another connection that Ratmansky has made with the Chemyakin-Simonov version (which was originally his own first version): 'spoiled-brat kids' who stomp their feet and are quick to fight (see Act I party children of ABT...not at all the demure little darlings of traditional versions, with the exception of Clara/Masha).

p.s. I'm open to minimal sets...in new ballets. My favorite Ratmansky ballet -- Bizet Variations for the Georgian Ballet -- is danced against a plain backdrop. I love Ratmansky pdds and one-act works, in general.

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'Foreign Correspondent' actually has a name. My name is Natalia. (wink)

OM Goodness! I do not know why I only saw "Foreign Correspondent" and not your name! I must be getting old! YOu are one of my favorite contributors since I started 'lurking' 6 years or so ago! LOL

I do not usually comment for obvious reasons, but read every day. I had a laugh when I originally posted about my son (THE DAMN BEE haha) because first I m reading about how ridiculous his part was then I read how proud the YOung prince's Mom was and knowing how she feels, i thought it would be funny to remind the readers that no matter what part they are given, we still are proud! Im just as proud as when he is a guest Prince somewhere because I know how hard these dancers work and yes sometimes you have to be a bee, but thats ok. I'd rather he be a bee with ABT than a Prince here in town! (Though i'd stiil be proud of course)

Again when I thought your name was "Foreign Correspondent" and saw how many posts you had, i thought, "Why havent I ever heard of her?" Keep up the excellent work, some of us really depend on your eyes for the reviews and your opinions as we sometimes aren't as fortunate to be there in person!

Long Live our "Foreign Correspondent"

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p.s. about the performance that I attended (Kennedy Center Sunday night):

I don't know how I failed to mention my utter admiration for the lovely blonde corps lady who gallantly coped with a 'Wardrobe Malfunction' during the Waltz of the Flowers. About 3 minutes into the number, the white lower ruffle of her petalled skirt ripped-off about three-quarters of the way around the hem! While other ladies' skirts ended a couple of inches below the knees, this flower's hem dragged just about the floor. It's a miracle that she did not fall! Near the end, when the four 'darn bees' lift each flower one by one, our lady in distress gave us the widest smile imaginable -- there was no place to hide! -- and danced gloriously to the end. A perfect example of the old motto: "The show WILL go on!"

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