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Nutcracker casting at Segerstrom Center

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I'm planning to take a friend to the Nutcracker at Segarstrom tomorrow. Any advice on whether we should see Stella Abrera/Alexandre Hammoudi or Gillian Murphy/James Whiteside?

We saw Stella and Alex last year and loved them. Honestly, their take on specific nuances in the grand pas made more sense to me than any other pair I have seen perform Ratmansky's production. I love Gillian and James but Stella and Alex nailed it last year in Brooklyn.

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As previously mentioned in prospect, was at the Saturday evening perf. (last night). Just a few notes to record. A general word: The dancers were committed and focused, but--the audience was not very receptive, it seemed to me. I finally laid this to the account of the audience being largely made up of not balletomanes but rather families doing a Christmas event and so unfamiliar with what to appreciate and how to appreciate it. Our Harlequin (Craig Salstein) and Columbine (Luciana Paris) were, I thought, particularly splendid, and I was startled by the weak or indeed non-existent response by the audience, same with the Russian Dance in Act II. Setting the audience aside: The kids in the production--pardon me, the young dancers--were unusually amusing, professional, and successful: George Buford (Little Mouse), Justin Souriau-Levine (Fritz), Seth Koffler (young Nutcracker), Claudia Schuman (young Clara) as the top-liners, but all the young'uns are to be complimented. Marcelo Gomes and Hee Seo gave lyrical and confident performances, beautifully so. At one point, just before the end of the entrée of their pas de deux, something went momentarily awry, I think (did anyone else notice this?): I saw Marcelo's face take on a startled look for a split second, and he braced his body as if about to lunge to catch an off-balance Hee Seo (I didn't see what happened to make him react this way). They quickly both got a look of relief on their faces, and it seemed to me that they shared a little smile of "Whew, barely averted a disaster!" for the next moment or two. Ratmansky's vision of The Nutcracker has very much to commend it, with its freshness and wit (though I miss the weirdness and menace of Alexander Minz's Drosselmeyer in the familiar TV Baryshnikov version). Last night, I felt one or two of the Bees were contemptuous of their role; nevertheless they all danced with appropriate pollinating fervency. The Pacific Symphony gave a sensitive, beautiful performance; and the Southern California Children's Chorus was flawless--the whole effect of the Snowflakes number--dancers, music with chorus, scenery--brought an appreciative tear to my eye.

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Marcelo Gomes and Hee Seo gave lyrical and confident performances, beautifully so. At one point, just before the end of the entrée of their pas de deux, something went momentarily awry, I think (did anyone else notice this?): I saw Marcelo's face take on a startled look for a split second, and he braced his body as if about to lunge to catch an off-balance Hee Seo (I didn't see what happened to make him react this way). They quickly both got a look of relief on their faces, and it seemed to me that they shared a little smile of "Whew, barely averted a disaster!" for the next moment or two.

I saw that, too. It was right at the end, after they had done a gorgeous, secure torch-lift (or whatever we're calling it). It happened so fast all I noticed was that something seemed to have slipped during a turn and he had to grab to get things back. Not even so noticeable that the audience gasped or thought it was a big problem.

On his Instagram this morning, he posted a picture thanking Hee Seo for trusting him as a partner.

https://www.instagram.com/p/_OXJVWCuaK/?taken-by=marcelua

We'll never know, but I wondered if this was also a subtle reference to Part for possibly not trusting him as a partner to get through her cancelled performances.

The matinee with Boylston and Stearns did have a major disaster on the torch-lift, but I'm not sure the audience recognized that one either. He first turned on the diagonal to get into position and, near the end, slipped. He didn't fall, but it was noticeable and I wonder if that spooked both of them. When she ran toward him, she really slowed down as she approached. He tried to heave her upward (she was no help at all), got her as far as his shoulder where she just sat, while he had both arms wrapped around her legs in front. Very clumsy and awkward. If they had planned to simplify the lift, it would have looked better (just a standard shoulder sit), but this seemed to be a "save" to avoid catastrophe.

I agree with Odinthor that the audience doesn't really know much about what it's seeing. I was ready to burst in with applause at the end of the Act I PdD with Murphy-Whiteside - but the audience was dead silent.

I've been captivated by the flowers/bees -- so many interesting and surprising groupings. Waltz of the flowers is usually such tedium, but this version is genius. I have also been struck at how often Ratmansky finds a beat or accent in the music that was always there, but not noticed until he put a flourish on it. Some of that comes in the PdD - accents and cuteness which don't work at all if the dancers are not really committed to them. Gomes-Murphy and Whiteside-Murphy were best. Boylston-Stearns just slid through those and they looked sloppy.

I really dislike the Russian trio. There are some nasty stereotypes about people of Slavic origin (Russians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks) being doofuses. Ratmansky surely knows that and I hated seeing it become the central motif of the Russian dance. (Americans are familiar with ugly Polish jokes. Hitler thought Slavs were a close second to the Jews in being lesser human beings...) Just gratuitous nastiness.

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I've been captivated by the flowers/bees -- so many interesting and surprising groupings. Waltz of the flowers is usually such tedium, but this version is genius.

Wow, it seems like everyone is loving the bees this year. I love Ratmansky (I think he is a genius), but the biggest thing I disliked about his Nutcracker was those darn bees. The concept is cute and all, but when I think waltz of the flowers I think about Balanchine's version, and the bees were just too cutesy for me. Although, I only watched the Ratmansky version once, and I often find I enjoy his choreography more each time I view it. Maybe next year I'll take a road trip and see if the bees grow on me.

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About the Russian trio: California, I see where you're coming from on this, and would feel the same way if the choreographer weren't a Russian native; but my read on this is that making them three sillies is a sort of gracious joke from Ratmansky: He's saying, "Yes, I'm Russian, and we're very proud of our extraordinary ballet history and notoriously wonderful dancers; but here I am in America and I'm going to show that a Russian can poke a little fun at his fellow Russians." Had Nutcracker had an "American Dance," and made its dancers loonies, I'd feel insulted; but I take this as a sort of good-natured bonhomie.

And, Kaysta, I liked the Bees and the Waltz of the Flowers too, and very much. (Earlier in the show, during the Battle I think, I remember reflecting to myself that Ratmansky was very lose to being a modern Petipa--same imaginative, daring spirit.) For those non-balletomanes in the audience who didn't know the female dancers were supposed to be flowers, I wish there had been some way to clarify this (somehow, perhaps, detaching from an enormous and obvious "plant" at the beginning, or something). I'm sure many were confused why there were bees flitting about.

(Meantime, not sure why, but the "quote" command doesn't want to work for me here when I'm responding, not just now, but lately.)

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Alright, I am just back from the Sunday matinee with Abrera/Hammoudi so I want to comment both on this show and opening night. First, there was a mention of Gorak being removed from the casting; however, he did the Russian dance this afternoon and was the Recruit doll on opening night. So if he's injured it isn't likely severe; if he's not injured, then I don't know what is going on. The mysteries continue perhaps...

I really like this production overall, though like others, wished for a more imaginative take on some of the 2nd act dances. Ratmansky is obviously capable of it, given the reversal in Arabian (which I think is still a little problematic). I am actually surprised how much I liked it based on the idea I had in my head from the past several years of reviews. I think the first act is fairly masterful (as far as Act 1 Nuts go). I love the kitchen scene, and I love how it eats away at the party time (as a former Nut performer, the first act has always been interminable). The mirroring between the young couple and the principal couple is adorable and I admit to getting a little misty upon the ending both times I've seen it. The snow scene is also a wow, though I think we have a lot of students performing in the corps for the tour, and new corps members. I find the cast sheets almost unrecognizable from the Sleeping Beauty tour and there are several names that I haven't seen in either show who are still listed on ABTs website: Elina Miettinien and Gemma Bond were two I was looking for after the SB tour and I have seen neither.

Victor Barbee was Drosselmeyer on Thursday, and it was a fine portrayal, but Alexei Agoudine took over the Sun mat and was better: more flamboyant, more clearly separate from the rest of the party goers. The Clara/Nut/Fritz were really well done by all the young kids.

Some other standouts and casting:

Like Josette said, Sarah Lane was luminous as Clara's friend, as was Skylar Brandt (Chinese) who casually tossed off about 4-5 pirouettes at the end of the tricky apotheosis turning sequence. What a stunner. She was also the "canteen keeper" doll on Thursday, and she was really robotic with her movements. Zhiyao Zhang was the Harlequin doll for the Sun mat and he was very impressive and clean with his dancing. Cassandra Trenary was Chinese today and I thought she was a little smothered by wig and costume, though fine. She was better in tandem with Lane as Clara's Friend on Thursday evening.

On to the main couple.

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes were gorgeous, stunning, luxurious, etc. on opening night. Gomes, in particular, seemed to be in much better shape than he was on the SB tour. I thought his age showed in March, but he was really crisp. California is right that the lift is not a dead lift. In fact, it looks distinctly different in origin than what Gomes posted on his instagram. Perhaps this is a recent change, but it seemed much more similar to the other video posted (maybe someone who has seen it in NYC, also, can comment).

Stella Abrera and Alexei Hammoudi were also very, very lovely today. Stella took a big splat on a saute arabesque (really, a simple step), that seemed like she maybe hit a slick spot. She was flat on the ground. However, she was incredibly lovely the rest of the time and didn't seem particularly tentative after the splat, so big props to her. It looked like the lift wasn't going to go off but I'm not really clear whether Hammoudi was waiting for the music to hit the press lift, and Ormsby Wilkins was a little "late," or if Hammoudi was having a little trouble and Wilkins tried to give him an extra second for the crash. Either way, they hit the lift a second or so ahead of the music. I thought they gelled the best during the coda. And I completely agree with PAmom that Stella "got" the acting right: she had the childish moves down in a way Murphy did not (though Murphy certainly wins the technical prize, or whatever!). She reflected the tug between child and adult very well and I thought brought out more nuances to the choreography in that way. However, both couples were a true pleasure to watch.

I'm a little flummoxed by Segerstrom's unwillingness to put any promos or offers up for this (and trust me, I've called to ask). There are a LOT of seats available for the run (on average 1000 each show, aside from Copeland's soldout shows), and I would willingly plunk down for a few more if there was incentive on offer to return because I find this ballet delightful. I think if they want this to be a yearly tradition they need to do a little something to breed the audience further, to make people want to see multiple casts. A "come back again" for 15% off is a good idea, or expanding their rush policies. Unlike the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, which does do some promo specials year round for their dance series, there has been literally nothing here to develop the audience and it shows.

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Stella Abrera and Alexei Hammoudi were also very, very lovely today. Stella took a big splat on a saute arabesque (really, a simple step), that seemed like she maybe hit a slick spot. She was flat on the ground. However, she was incredibly lovely the rest of the time and didn't seem particularly tentative after the splat, so big props to her. It looked like the lift wasn't going to go off but I'm not really clear whether Hammoudi was waiting for the music to hit the press lift, and Ormsby Wilkins was a little "late," or if Hammoudi was having a little trouble and Wilkins tried to give him an extra second for the crash. Either way, they hit the lift a second or so ahead of the music. I thought they gelled the best during the coda. And I completely agree with PAmom that Stella "got" the acting right: she had the childish moves down in a way Murphy did not (though Murphy certainly wins the technical prize, or whatever!). She reflected the tug between child and adult very well and I thought brought out more nuances to the choreography in that way. However, both couples were a true pleasure to watch.

I also saw the matinee today. I thought Stella's fall forward on her face was heart-stopping. Coming so early in the Act II PdD I wondered if it would spook them for the moves to come, but it didn't seem to. It was eerily similar to the fall that Osipova took in Giselle at the Met last May - which gave Stella her NY debut in Giselle. [EDIT: RUKen has correctly pointed out that Stella replaced a different injured dancer (probably Semionova?). I thought of the Osipova fall when I saw Stella's - hope I'm not jinxing these people!]

I thought they had technical problems with the Torchlift -- her left leg, bent at the knee, was visible wobbling back and forth as he tried to push her up and I worried it would get worse, but fortunately it didn't.

Otherwise, I kept thinking "liquid gold" - she is so fluent and expressive in this ballet - really lovely.

The house has seemed only 60-70% to me at all five performances I've seen. It seats 3,034, so that's a lot of tickets to sell and they weren't cheap. Families on budgets had very good alternatives, with the Southland Academy at UC Irvine (with guest artists like Kochetkova and Mearns and top prices at $45) and LA Ballet.

http://festivalballet.org/fbt/nutcracker.html

Some of kind of deal or incentives to return do seem very much needed.

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Heart-stopping indeed. I guess I should specify that it was face down, legs splayed back, chest hitting first (thankfully not her chin/face). I was watching through the binocs from the Balcony and saw she gave Hammoudi a little reassuring nod/smile, so I figured she was more surprised than hurt, thankfully. But, really bravely finished that they didn't let it get to them.

And yes, there is a lot of competition for Nutcracker audience, with Long Beach ballet's also being very popular. Southland's particularly so due to the array of guests, which, in the past, have included many, many ABT dancers like Abrera, Radetsky, Irina&Max, etc. Also problematic is that those dancers and their parents/families will be at Southland's Nut during the weekends performing, so that gouges a lot of the young dancer audience. Personally, none of these productions hold a candle on ABT's, obviously, but they are certainly battling uphill to break people's routines.

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It was eerily similar to the fall that Osipova took in Giselle at the Met last May - which gave Stella her NY debut in Giselle.

i just wanted to offer a correction to this comment--Stella Abrera's Giselle performance at the Met was on May 23rd; Natalia Osipova's performance was on May 28th. Abrera was replacing a different injured dancer (Polina Semionova?), not Osipova.

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I attended both Saturday performances: Bolyston and Sterns in the matinee, and Seo and Gomes in the evening.

The Act 1 pas de deux started off well, with Sterns very princely and looking at Clara/Boylston with devoted attention. There was an awkward but quick mishap upstage where she was thrown into what seems to turn into a double assemble (sorry no accent on the e) but it came apart; the repeat of the step was an improvement. Then came the Act 2 pas de deux when, as California states above, Boylston's run into the big lift petered out and they did what they could to find a truncated position and carry on. Boylston registered disappointment which seemed to affect her concentration for the rest of the pas de deux, her variation, and coda, though the audience gave her a warm hand after her solo. She has a heavy way of moving and did not project energy upward through her back, torso, neck, and head. Things should improve for her second performance. Sterns remained unnerved by the mishaps and always generated warmth and affection for Boyston, which was lovely to see.

The evening show with Seo and Gomes went very well, but had the extra excitement of Marcello Gomes's extraordinary save at the end of the coda in the second act pas de deux. From my angle in the front row, from supported pirouettes with Gomes behind Seo, Seo did not make it up to pointe and was on demi-pointe in no real position, was about to lose control and balance, and then Gomes spontaneously put both his hands on her waist, lifted her straight in the air up a few inches to get her completely upright and set her back on her feet. The entire episode could not have lasted more than two seconds. It was thrilling to watch and they both looked so happy to have had that moment together of avoiding a disaster. It never looked bad because Seo's line and legs are beautiful and she was always graceful.

When watching the Russian dance, all I can think of are the Three Stooges.

I am planning to see the Abrera-Hammoudi performance on Friday. Until then, there's a repeat of the Bolshoi Nutcracker in Laemmle theatres on Monday (tomorrow) and the Royal Ballet's production on Wednesday in various cinemas in Southern California.

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For the last few weeks, Goldstar has been listing tickets at reduced rates for the ABT Nutcracker (as well as some other Nutcrackers in Los Angeles).

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Hi everyone new user here.

I'm planning to take a friend to the Nutcracker at Segarstrom tomorrow. Any advice on whether we should see Stella Abrera/Alexandre Hammoudi or Gillian Murphy/James Whiteside?

I saw Gillian/James yesterday and they were fantastic together. She is amazing in the role and I'd love for my friend to experience what I did, but I also really want to see Stella as well. Hopefully we'll get to meet/get a photo with one of them after the show at the stage door.

Thanks a lot!

So I actually attended Gillian/James' performance (again) and it was very good. I personally wanted to see Stella more, but the time ultimately became inconvenient. My friend who's not a huge ballet buff thought the corps was sloppy (she saw Mariinsky's Raymonda at Segerstrom and RAVED about them, so she was probably expecting that level of synchronicity). Gillian was radiant, but suffered a trip, which she bounced back from with resilience and determination to finish the variation at 200%. don't think it's serious at all. Didn't get to meet her since it was raining and we were too tired to walk to the stage door, but there's always next year/next time. Also seeing Isabella/Cory on Thursday. Hopefully that goes better than it did yesterday (judging from the posts here)

Even though ABT's Nutcracker sounds like a nice Segerstrom tradition, I hope they bring other works next year

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i just wanted to offer a correction to this comment--Stella Abrera's Giselle performance at the Met was on May 23rd; Natalia Osipova's performance was on May 28th. Abrera was replacing a different injured dancer (Polina Semionova?), not Osipova.

Thanks for the correction! When Stella fell, it immediately reminded me of Osipova's fall, which I also saw, and I didn't check dates.

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For the last few weeks, Goldstar has been listing tickets at reduced rates for the ABT Nutcracker (as well as some other Nutcrackers in Los Angeles).

Excellent suggestion: https://www.goldstar.com/venues/costa-mesa-ca/segerstrom-center-for-the-arts-segerstrom-hall

They list tickets from $27.50-$50. From the original prices shown (39-69), it looks like everything is in the balcony, but the sightlines at Segerstrom are very good, so this would be a great way for people on a budget to see this production. When I've gotten Goldstar tickets in Denver for the Colorado Symphony, you don't get to pick your own seat, and I assume that's true elsewhere, but that's not a bad trade-off for big price reductions.

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The matinee with Boylston and Stearns did have a major disaster on the torch-lift, but I'm not sure the audience recognized that one either. He first turned on the diagonal to get into position and, near the end, slipped. He didn't fall, but it was noticeable and I wonder if that spooked both of them. When she ran toward him, she really slowed down as she approached. He tried to heave her upward (she was no help at all), got her as far as his shoulder where she just sat, while he had both arms wrapped around her legs in front. Very clumsy and awkward. If they had planned to simplify the lift, it would have looked better (just a standard shoulder sit), but this seemed to be a "save" to avoid catastrophe.

They probably had one rehearsal together and Stearns and Gorak are way different in height, so it's a bigger jump for her. With the difficulty of that pas, it's not easy to just switch up partners at the last minute. I realize that Gillian did it with Marcelo, but she is more seasoned and has danced a lot with Marcelo before.

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They probably had one rehearsal together and Stearns and Gorak are way different in height, so it's a bigger jump for her. With the difficulty of that pas, it's not easy to just switch up partners at the last minute. I realize that Gillian did it with Marcelo, but she is more seasoned and has danced a lot with Marcelo before.

I'm sure that's true. Makes you wish Gorak had soldiered on, especially as he was able to do some soloist roles over the next few days. And given the sudden partner change, it might have made sense to change that one monster lift to a standard shoulder sit and just do a good job of that.

Others mentioned that Boylston shows how upset she is after problems like that and it seems to hamper the rest of her performance. Reminds me of figure skaters who take a fall - some are able to keep going and put it behind them, while others just seem to unravel for the rest of the performance. She needs to learn how to keep it from ruining what comes next. Mistakes happen, even to the best of them (see above, Osipova and Murphy).

Murphy/Whiteside and Seo/Gomes also did a good job on the torchlift.

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The calendar still says Stearns, but I was wondering why they would have posted it if he was not performing it. But, I will say that there is sometimes a "disconnect" between company instagram managers and the company itself.

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I (we) have been semi-heard. Just received this offer in the email:

Use code SHARE to "come back and save" $20 on orchestra seats.

*Offer valid on Dec 15, 17, and 18 performances only. Please use the special promotion code "SHARE" when ordering tickets at the Center's box office, by phone at (714) 556-2787 or online. The promotion code must be entered when you log-in, in order to take advantage of the special offer. Offer valid until Friday, Dec 18th at 7:30 pm. Offer not valid on previous purchases.

It says to "tell your family and friends." I do think it's a little abrupt to offer it for tonight as one of three options and send it at 2pm, but what can you do?

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I'm just home from opening night and will write more tomorrow; however, Veronika Part was replaced by (a truly divine) Gillian Murphy tonight and I was hoping that if anyone has info on whether she is injured, they could let me know publicly or privately--I'd really like to see her during the run, but I don't want to buy tickets to her second show if she's got a injury, only to be surprised again. They had enough time to print the cast slip with Murphy on it, so it doesn't seem so last minute (though ABT posted this morning on their Facebook that Part/Gomes were the opening cast).

PS. Glad you NYCers didn't like this one so much--glad to have it out here for awhile. Really lovely overall!

ksk04 I thought you might be interested to see this, but we will never know why Veronika pulled out of her commitments for the shows in Segerstrom. It is interesting though to know she will be dancing on the east coast in CT: <http://connecticutballet.org/index.php/performances>.Glad that you got Gillian as a resplacement :)

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That is incorrect. If you open the link, you will see that although Part's picture appears, she will not dance her scheduled performance in Connecticut. Part is replaced by Lauren Lovette as Ask La Cour's partner. The website states that Part is unable to appear due to injury. That should be interesting. One of the shortest members of NYCB dancing with one of the tallest. Actually, I'm very glad I opened that link because I had no idea Stella was dancing on Sunday in Connecticut. Will have to see if I can convince Mr. Abatt, who is a big Stella fan, to schlep out to Connecticut to see this.

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That is incorrect. If you open the link, you will see that although Part's picture appears, she will not dance her scheduled performance in Connecticut. Part is replaced by Lauren Lovette as Ask La Cour's partner. The website states that Part is unable to appear due to injury. That should be interesting. One of the shortest members of NYCB dancing with one of the tallest. Actually, I'm very glad I opened that link because I had no idea Stella was dancing on Sunday in Connecticut. Will have to see if I can convince Mr. Abatt, who is a big Stella fan, to schlep out to Connecticut to see this.

I stand corrected abatt :) Thanks for correcting and I am learning to scroll down as I saw the picture and completely missed the bottom half of the link! My eyes saw the price list and never even thought to look further. My apologies to ksk04 for misinformation! Thanks for catching this abatt :)

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Never thought to look at CTBallet for ABT guest performances. I thought they always hired NYCB dancers. I'm going to head down there to see Abrerra. It will be my almost 4 year old granddaughter's first Nutcracker. Took my daughter at the same age to see Darci Kistler and Jock Soto; she slept soundly through the entire second act.

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I thought it was interesting that the CT site says Part was injured "while performing." Not exactly. She cancelled before the first performance. More accurately, I suppose, "injured while rehearsing" or "injured while preparing to perform."

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Be warned on the CT performances. I saw this production a few years ago and was horrified (and bored). I wasn't expecting NYCB but it was not up to par. And Part performed Ratmansky's grand pas de deux, which I find lacking if not surrounded by the rest of the production. Maybe the NYCB dancers will perform Balanchine's pas de deux and solo. Nutmeg Ballet and Eastern CT's Nutcracker's were more satisfying. Anyway, I did not find it was worth what I paid plus the delightful bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic to see this.

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