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Which U.S. companies have the best Nutcracker productions?


Tapfan

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I know that City Ballet has one of the most famous productions, but is it the best? Am I correct in assuming that PNB and SFB's are highly regarded?

I know that ABT's relatively new production was well-reviewed if not well-attended. Is their version one of the best? How do Houston , Miami City, Tulsa, Washington and Orlando's versions rank?

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Oh lordy -- what a can of worms!

We might want to talk a bit about what constitutes "best" here -- for all that we have an fairly intact version of the work as it was premiered, Nut is probably the ballet that has the widest variety of interpretations and versions in current production. Did you want to know about historically accurate, dramatically compelling, choreographically innovative or felicitous, scenically exciting... there are a lot of options here!

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Very few people have seen enough to judge. There are four American productions that were aired and/or are commercially available-- five with Mark Morris' modern dance version of The Hard Nut" -- the Kirkland/Baryshnikov from ABT, Balanchine's, PNB's from 1986 that is newly available on DVD and was adapted for the camera, since, like NYCB's it was meant for a theatrical release, and San Francisco Ballet's, which was streamed into theaters one year and later aired on PBS. For most people, there are the local production(s) -- professional and school performances, sometimes with professionals doing the leads -- and the one(s) they've seen on vacation and/or visiting for the holidays, supplemented by available recordings. There was a CBS TV special of the Balanchine way before the days of [X]VR's narrated by June Lockhart and with Balanchine playing Drosselmeier, but that takes a visit to the NYPL to see.

For example, my father took me to see a local production at the theater in the Bergen Mall in Paramus, NJ -- he took my sister to NYCB's where she fell asleep, and forty+ years later, I'm not bitter -- I saw NYCB's live every year for many years and then the movie version, while living in NYC, I was one of the 237 who saw PNB's at the movies -- it was a bust, attendance-wise -- and since moving to the West Coast in 1994, I don't think I missed a year of the Stowell/Sendak, I've seen some local semi-pro/school versions in Seattle, I saw Houston Ballet's the year I visited friends in Texas, some friends and I took a day trip to Portland to see OBT's, I saw SFB's in a Vancouver theater complex that's now becoming an apartment building -- a recent recorded performance, it was scheduled opposite National Ballet of Canada's, and they wondered why the audience could be counted on my fingers and toes -- and then on PBS, and then there was my well-worn VHS recording off PBS of "The Hard Nut," the Goh Ballet's semi-pro production with guest stars -- last season I saw Bojesen and Birkkjaer -- and Matthew Boune's at Sadler's Wells one year I was traveling for work. (I much preferred the grim orphanage first act to the Pepto Bismol second.) The only ones I regret missing are Royal Winnipeg's -- Ballet BC replaced it with Alberta Ballet's as its "Nutcracker" import -- and one in Denver or Boulder, a "Black and White Nutcracker," which Phil Otto, who taught adult open ballet at the time, told us was great. (Unfortunately, it was the pre-Google days, and I couldn't find it in time.) I've missed so many important ones that I couldn't begin to answer the question for myself.

In 2011.Alastair Macaulay traveled across the US and saw "37 times in 27 treatments" and wrote about in the NYT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/03/arts/dance/03nutcracker.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I'm not sure how many of the 10 were repeat performances and how many were different companies performing the Balanchine version. I know at least Miami City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and Oregon Ballet Theatre perform it, and this is the last year for the Stowell/Sendak version at PNB, where next year Seattle will also see the Balanchine, with a new design by the illustrator of the "Olivia" books.

I think the most important points in Macaulay's essay are these:

Then there’s the immense fun of seeing just how many different ways the music can be treated and the story can be told. Sometimes in small points, sometimes in large ones, productions in Seattle (Pacific Northwest Ballet), Denver (Colorado Ballet), Salt Lake City (Ballet West), Phoenix (Ballet Arizona) and Richmond, Va. (Richmond Ballet), all featured scenes that seemed to me the best solutions for handling individual details. Those dolphins in Seattle jumping from the waves exactly in time with the woodwind shrieks! The adults fondly preparing the tree in Denver before their children enter to see it illuminated!

In Richmond (my 25th production this season), I laughed out loud to see, in the battle, the adult mice hauling out a giant mousetrap, loading it with a colossal cube of orange cheese and catapulting it into the massed ranks of the toy soldierettes. Yet that didn’t make me wish for Ballet Arizona to alter its battle in the least, with its strange clash between its inscrutable Nutcracker and its nine-foot Mouse King, with his huge belly and corpulent tail.

There are so many approaches to take. Even among the traditional productions, the balance between adult-focused and kid-focused can make all the difference. Because so few productions-- in North America at least -- have much original text -- Balanchine brought the Prince's mime and Hoop divert he knew from his youth at the Mariinsky, but that's rare -- the arguments are more about preferences, unlike the other Petipa ballets or Romeo and Juliet, where the arguments are over omissions and additions.

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I agree that the criteria for "best" is at issue in such a question. I suspect most on this board have seen a few versions in person and many more on DVD or cable TV. (Along with others mentioned above, Ovation did a Nutcracker marathon a few years ago which included Royal, Bolshoi, SFB, and a few others.)

For me, as Nutcracker is the financial lifeblood for American companies, the main issue is whether they've adapted to their locale to attract the large audiences they need to balance their budget. Sorry to sound crass, but they can't afford more interesting things during the year for serious balletomanes without that budget.

By that standard, I love the SFB version set in historic San Francisco, which I've only seen on Ovation. I understand that Balanchine came up with Nutcracker as a way to shore up the NYCB budget, and if it's accomplished that in the years since, fine. Colorado Ballet's version has been almost sold out for four weeks in recent years and helps them end the year in the black (no small accomplishment these days); add to that the live orchestra, a few local touches (like cameo appearances by the governor and mayor in recent years), and some very clever adult jokes scattered throughout, and it's a winner for me.

Ballet San Jose had disappointing attendance last year and had to cut way back on other performances and switch to recorded music. I don't know what the problem was, but something is awry from that standpoint alone, regardless of which version they present.

But I'm grateful for the Baryshnikov/Kirkland version for a different reason: a permanent record on DVD of Baryshnikov and Kirkland in their primes, especially Kirkland, as we have so little of her available on DVD. And I'm grateful to PBS for showing it for free for so many years for people who otherwise can't afford to get to the ballet.

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Having seen both City Ballet and Miami for Balanchine's, I prefer Miami-(costume design, faster pace of the snow scene and waltz of the flowers..). On the traditional side, I have the past experience of Alonso's version, which follows the design of the Fedorova's 40's staging-(Snow PDD , Sugar Plum's original adagio and solo and the Three Ivans) plus Clara on pointe. One choreo I would like to see is the staging of the historical production-(original sets and costumes)- done for Berlin.

ec_194ad2c0afe5780f83fdb442c71cafb3.jpg

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I read about the Neumeier (back when I did a lot of calendar listings) and wondered what it was like -- I thought the premise (older sister as a ballerina) was a believable one.

This is the last year for PNB's version -- it's served the company very well and I'll miss it when its gone (the dolphins that Macaulay mentions in the above review are just one of several truly smartypants elements in the work). I'm sure that Ian Falconer will do an excellent job for the Balanchine choreography, but I think it's been a plus having a distinctive production.

The SFB Nut ran on PBS a few years ago, and I remember how charming it was -- the first act had some very homey moments.

But Morris's version is the one that really helps me hear the score -- his physical musicality is exceptional. I particularly like the accents in the snow scene.

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One choreo I would like to see is the staging of the historical production-(original sets and costumes)- done for Berlin.

ec_194ad2c0afe5780f83fdb442c71cafb3.jpg

I hadn't seen this image before -- what a beautiful arch over the top, and the costumes echo the color choices.

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One choreo I would like to see is the staging of the historical production-(original sets and costumes)- done for Berlin.

ec_194ad2c0afe5780f83fdb442c71cafb3.jpg

I hadn't seen this image before -- what a beautiful arch over the top, and the costumes echo the color choices.

They used the original Vsevolozhky design...

Nutcracker_set_designs.jpg

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I grew up in Winnipeg and LOVE Neumeier's Nutcracker (once I got past the fact that there are no snowflakes - replaced with quite exquisite Degas ballerinas). I loved it as a child and now that i know more about ballet I can appreciate how densely it alludes to the history of ballet, too.

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off%20topic.gif The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Canadiana production is coming back to Vancouver this December.

http://www.balletbc.com/nutcracker_2014.html

(Although I was happier when the RWB was still doing the Neumeier version a long time ago.)

Thank you -- I'll be in Vancouver that weekend!

I'm sorry I missed the Neumeier, but I look forward to the fight on Parliament Hill.

I don't love the Goh Ballet production except for the magnificent Arabian, but I couldn't miss the Royal Danish Ballet guests.

For me, as Nutcracker is the financial lifeblood for American companies, the main issue is whether they've adapted to their locale to attract the large audiences they need to balance their budget. Sorry to sound crass, but they can't afford more interesting things during the year for serious balletomanes without that budget.

In the US -- and I'm guessing Canada -- "Nutcracker" generally provides the biggest chunk of revenue for everything companies do for the rest of the season, interesting or not. Sometimes a major donor or donors will subsidize a production, especially a new production, but "Nutcracker" plus donations have to cover everything else.

"Nutcracker" brings in new audiences and once-a-year holiday tradition audiences, although that is eroding with other holiday shows and entertainment.

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I haven't seen it, but I understand the Ballet West version (originally choreographed for SFB by Christensen) is completely charming.

I've attended the PNB version for years, and will probably buy a cheap seat to see the final run this year. I'll miss it, but the costume colors are starting to deteriorate in the first act, and the second act Whirling Dervishes are misappropriated to blackface. I wish they would just replace the costumes with true Dervish white coats.

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The Dervishes in the Stowell/Sendak production have been one of the great ???? since the beginning. They are nothing like Derviches: they look like caricatures of some non-existent tribe in Africa. That may have been their point, since the second Act is a dream, and maybe that's what a tween in the period might have imagined a Dervish was based on lots of disinformation, but it's still weird.

Had they been costumed like real devishes, they could not have done that choreography.

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I haven't seen it, but I understand the Ballet West version (originally choreographed for SFB by Christensen) is completely charming.

PNB used to do this one, before the Stowell/Sendak -- it was indeed a lovely production.

I've attended the PNB version for years, and will probably buy a cheap seat to see the final run this year. I'll miss it, but the costume colors are starting to deteriorate in the first act, and the second act Whirling Dervishes are misappropriated to blackface. I wish they would just replace the costumes with true Dervish white coats.

The Dervishes in the Stowell/Sendak production have been one of the great ???? since the beginning. They are nothing like Derviches: they look like caricatures of some non-existent tribe in Africa. That may have been their point, since the second Act is a dream, and maybe that's what a tween in the period might have imagined a Dervish was based on lots of disinformation, but it's still weird.

Had they been costumed like real devishes, they could not have done that choreography.

The PNB dervishes have always felt a bit off to me -- the references to blackface make it hard to see it for the choreography.

Tapfan, if you're curious about the role that Nutcracker plays in the life of American ballet companies, look for Jennifer Fisher's "Nutcracker Nation" She examines several different productions, from a small studio version to the large company versions -- the backstage perspective is quite interesting.

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If they changed the costumes to some sort of wild animal instead, I could live with that. I do hope that PNB ends up alternating productions from year to year. Maybe if the Ratmansky version doesn't take off in LA, then PNB could rotate all 3:

Balanchine with Falconer Sets

Stowell with Sendak sets

Ratmansky with ???? sets

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I suspect not. A number of the costumes look pretty fragile, and there are only so many miracles Larae Haskell's staff can pull off.

As much as I'd love to see a regular revival of the Stowell/Sendak, I don't think it's practical for a company to keep switching, especially after the investment of time and coaching they'll need for the Balanchine, even if it's familiar to a number of the dancers from their student days.

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I asked at a Q/A last season if there was a possibility that the Stowell/Sendak production might go to another company (I remember Lincoln Kirstein admiring it when it first premiered) -- Peter Boal didn't sound like there was much chance of that. And to be fair, the current hard goods (sets and costumes) would need some work. Some of them are indeed pretty fragile.

Is there anyone here who has seen the Joffrey production recently? I've heard from colleagues that it's quite lovely, and wonder how it's wearing?

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