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Nutcracker 2021

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I went to three performances of the Nutcracker, with three different casts.

First of all, I need to declare, once again, my complete devotion to this masterpiece.  Balanchine’s Nutcracker ought to be, among the current array of productions of this classic, the one that approaches itself with most devotion, honesty and simplicity to its honorable Imperial past.

I have said this over and over, but Balanchine’s greatness here is seen first and foremost in the simple, yet not very used way in which he approaches the ever present issue of this ballet ever since it was first conceived.  The fact that its heroine is not a full-fledged ballerina, but a soft slipper user…a little girl .  From Vainonen to Sir Peter Wright to Alicia Alonso to Grigorovitch they all have felt the need to try to get Clara/Masha to be THE ballerina…the Aurora, the Odette/Odile…the Kitri of The Nutcracker. As if fearing that following the original conception could diminish the whole work.  Well…not Balanchine.  I still look in awe as he fully dives into a full act I full of kids. As he fearlessly presents his little heroine sans pointes.  As he makes magic…pure, wonderfully crafted magic the real hero of the night.   And I’m willing to bet he wasn’t afraid that this would prove a failure among hardcore balletomanes, because I don’t think a real hardcore balletomane could resist himself/herself to the beauty of a creation so close to the XIX Century Russia where it was generated.

It is a strange feeling, but Balanchine makes his whole ballet in a quasi-hypnotic way.  Simple yet full of little surprises.  Surprises that never cease to pop up here and there for the first time no matter how many times one has seen it.  The dramatic development of his miming scenes remind me of how many of his dancers have described the way he wanted movement.  To be a constant development without impasse. One moment morphing into the next.  He gives the children constant movement, mimed actions, bits of “drama” and mini stories to be followed if one wants to change sights after a while. He’s such a brilliant choreographer for children, and one wonders how much of this did he take from the Nutcracker of his own childhood while at the Imperial Ballet School.

The other thing I always find fascinating about the first act is how Balanchine presents the children as an important piece of the societal ladder, with expectations from adults as well as carriers of little lessons on norms, rules and regulations….something sadly disappearing in our modern society.  The adults are not shy about scolding them in front of everyone else when needed, as well as praising them when they merit it. We see fathers introducing their daughters in social dancing with the deference of little ladies in the making.  Later on the kids themselves prove the effectiveness of such early social dancing training by emulating with success their parents minuet.  That’s precious.

The growing tree sequence in the Miami production is a complete failure. A disaster.  They tried to go very high tech by morphing real scenery with 3D animations and the result is just awful.  Now we don’t have a tree during the whole of the battle scene.  Some weird décor that stays after the animations are over that are supposed to be the lower foliage of the tree, but which for the untrained eye doesn’t really mean anything.  I asked my companion, who had never seen this production, what had happened with the tree, and he answered…”I t disappeared, right…?” So no.  It is NOT clear that what’s left onstage is the lower foliage.

Balanchine genius is again seen in how he tackles the always overdone “transformation music scene” .  Choreographers usually feel the need to fill all this music with elaborated choreography either for a Snow Queen and King or for Clara and the Nutcracker in a usually weird pseudo-romantic way.  Not Balanchine.  The moving bed and the Nutcracker leading its way into the Snow Kingdom is just enough…relaxing in the eyes and great for the ears.  Almost as an overture leading to the first grand balletic moment of this production.  Actually one of the grandest balletic moments in the whole history of the art form, in my eyes.  His unsurpassed, always emulated but never conquered Snow scene.

What can I say about this marvel…? I place it along the Shades scene from Bayadere and the Willis and Swans sections among the best “ballet blanc” moments ever.

Second big faux pas of the Miami production.  The absence of the children chorus.   C’mon…It can be done with a recording.  Many companies do it this way.

And as I always say.  Nobody tops Balanchine’s Snow.  Period.

To be continued.


Edited by cubanmiamiboy
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