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NYCB Nut, Sunday matinee, Dec 8

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I've been seeing a fair number of Nuts so far and I've been rather neglectful of posting about them, but this afternoon's performance was the best so far, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts and comments:

This was Adam Hendrickson's debut as Drosselmeyer, and I thought he was wonderful. Of course, anyone would seem wonderful after Kramarevsky's hamminess. Hendrickson's Drosselmeyer is dapper and mysterious, but never creepy, as with Kramarevsky, who often looks as if he's just escaped from the Home for Retired Loonies. Having recently viewed the film of NYCB's Nutcracker broadcast from the 1950s, I was happily surprised to see that Hendrickson clearly had been studying the same, using many Balanchine's bits of business and mannerisms, such as having the Nutcracker doll "bite" his finger while he's repairing it after Clara's fallen asleep, the way he rubs his hands together in satisfaction, or the little wave he gives to the sleeping Clara as he leaves after finishing the repair. More than this, Hendrickson captured a bit of the fussiness and punctiliousness of Balanchine's Drosselmeyer without simply aping the portrayal, and I'll never forget the wild glee with which he seemed to summon up the mice and soldiers while he was perched atop the grandfather clock.

Daniel Ulbricht's Soldier was quite spectacular, seeming to do almost triple tours, although that surely must have been my imagination. Regardless, his quickness and sharpness and energy made his Soldier by far the best I've seen this season. I also liked Andrew Robertson's dignified father, and was particularly impressed by Tyler Gurfein's astonishing grace as Drosselmeyer's nephiew/Nutcracker prince. When I saw the sweeping elegance of his fall to one knee after presenting Clara with her crown after the battle with the mice, I thought "here's a prince indeed." He reminded me of nobody so much as the young Peter Boal. And his mime in the second act was a model of clarity and grace. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a lot more of Gurfein in years to come.

Snowflakes was very prettily danced, as it's been all season, and then it was on to the second act, where I'd been particularly looking forward to Janie Taylor's Sugar Plum with Sebastien Marcovicci's Cavalier, and Ashley Bouder's Dewdrop. In a season in which we've seen many impressive Dewdrops (Somogyi, Taylor, Ansanelli), Bouder's stands out for her ferocious technique tempered by an unfailing musicality. While I've admired the passionate abandon of Taylor and Ansanelli (they're a fascinating study in similarities and differences), they both tend to give short shrift to the "in between" steps, if not blurring them altogether. Yes, this approach makes for great excitment with a dancer like Taylor, who looks as if she's throwing caution to the winds with her every leap, or Ansanelli, who is similarly daring, but with an artless spontanaety that makes it seem as if she's freshly inventing her steps as she charges through them.

Not so with Bouder -- she's simply too good, and too strong (and she's still in the corps because....?). Not only did Bouder nail Dewdrop's Big Moments, like the saute de chats, the ronds de jambe en l'air saute, the stag leaps (I'm getting tired just writing these!), but she finds opportunities for showing her virtuosity in steps through which Taylor or Ansanelli rushed or ignored on their way to the good stuff. Bouder showed us that if you're good enough, everything can be a Big Moment. Her Dewdrop was filled with balances held just long enough to demonstrate her strength and balance, but never so long as to get behind the music. It's a testament to Bouder's strength and quickness that she can somehow manufacture the time to hold a pose longer than a speed demon like Taylor. It wasn't just balances, though. Even little "throwaway" jumps were big and clear. True, Bouder doesn't provide the sort of thrill ride that Taylor, always defying death does, but that's not because Bouder holds back; it's because her technique is so strong she never for an instant looks like she's out of control or on the verge of disaster, even when she's flying above the heads of the waltzing Flowers. Bouder's genius was in the way she glorified all of the choreography, using her technique like a painter might use a fine brush to highlight and refine details that might otherwise be missed -- one of the most masterful performances I've seen in a long, long time. Who could blame Bouder for her huge cat-that-swallowed-the-canary grin througout Waltz of the Flowers?

In her long solo with the dancing angels, Taylor showed her innate sense of drama (she can turn a simple releve into something dramatic and heart-wrenching) and risk-taking, almost coming to grief trying to stretch out a pirouette, but blithely bouncing back from near disaster, and soldiering on. There were many lovely moments in her adagio with Marcovicci, but she stunned me at the two jumps into a sit on Marcovicci's shoulder, where she seemed to jump while still half a stage away, and somehow just fly into his arms. "If he doesn't catch her, they're both dead," I thought.

Anyway, it was another exciting afternoon at the ballet -- Marcovicci even made a credible effort at portraying a classical dancer.

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I am so happy to see that someone else had the same reaction I did yesterday and that they (Mannhatnik) had the gifts to be able to do it justice on this board. It certainly cried out to be noted.

Adding to what Mannhatnik said, I came to see Bouder but left thinking almost more of Taylor (and Marcovici), which is at it should have been, given their respective roles.

Taylor's performance was far from perfect -- There were some sketchy moments in pirouettes in her first variation for example (she has very high arches and long legs and I wonder if the particular trouble she sometimes has staying centered in passees pirouettes is due to this?) --

But never mind. Overall it was the most subtly musical performance I have ever seen from her, and may be the most subtly musical performace I remember seeing from anyone on that stage during the past couple of years. The way she "relaxed into" the music and showed me that music is potential for movement, that dance is music augmented and completed by movement (not sure I can quite express this) -- was quite unexpected. She also showed tremendous attention to detail.

I love Taylor's perfectionism, her attempt to attain perfection even if she doesn't get there yet. Details, little grace notes, such as the quiet pliee/reverence in attitude front with which she commenced her very first steps, or a particular deepening and rounding of her epaulement as she leaned back into Marcovici at the end of the pdd, just to cite two examples -- receive such loving attention from her. She is trying to make every step something of value. It may be a vain endeavor and itself even distorting, I suppose we will find out if she ever gets there. But

no one else I see even attempts this and it is so beautiful. Taylor is still a work in progress, to be sure, but there is a vulnerability/sensitivity and dance intelligence there, coupled with a committment to perfection that is utterly moving to watch. If, as reported, she was back taking classes whenever possible at SAB last spring, even though she's already a company soloist, I can well believe it.

I suppose it is too late to expect that Marcovici will begin keeping his shoulders down or carrying himself with truly classical deportement. He is what he is and yesterdays performance was good enough. His manege of turns, interpolating a big attitude air turn in every sequence was striking. And as his partnering of Taylor was very fine indeed. What I remember about her jumps to the shoulder was not just her long approach, but also the way he set himself with his arms spread wide to receive her. And how she went right up to the top in one leap.

If his partnering of Taylor, on the stage as elsewhere, is giving her the confidence to grow into the kind of performances we got a glimpse of yesterday (as it seems it is) -- we can look forward to many great performances in this house.

This is also an accomplishment for Martins. There has been, over the years, many a debate about whether or not dancers are nurtured at City Ballet. Whatever the ultimate merits, Taylor is one dancer in whom he has taken a special interest. He has choreographed on her quite extensively. She is not an "Effie type", being much more Sylph like and darker than that in her emploi (despite her fair coloring). And she is growing into an astonishingly beautiful dancer.

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I'm not sure that a painstaking attention to detail is among Taylor's greatest strengths, although she's certainly musical, and, you're right, despite her fair coloration, she has a dark exoticism which can be almost frighteningly feral. Her epaulment and carriage can indeed be breathtaking, and she's got the most awe-inspiring stag leaps I've ever seen. I do think her technique is uneven, though, although I admire the courageous way she'll refuse to bail on a step even when it's not quite working, as with that one particularly scary pirouette in her solo.

I should add that I've come to appreciate Aesha Ash's Coffee a great deal. This is not a part that should be danced by a -- forgive me -- girl, but a more-mature dancer who understands what seduction's all about. Although I'm rather fond of Dana Hanson and Faye Arthurs, I'm not sure this is a role they should be doing at all (if she's strong enough, Hanson would be a killer Marzipan).

Riggins was lovely in Marzipan. There are moments when she looks bright and charming and strong, and others where she seems to almost be phoning it in. She did finish with a beautiful slow pirouette to her knee.

Sugar Plums? I've seen Ringer twice, Whelan and Taylor once. Whelan is always a favorite, although she seemed a bit out of practice when I saw her with a rather distracted Neal. Wednesday night she'll be dancing with Hubbe, with whom she has a great rapport, and wild horses couldn't keep me away. It's hard for me to choose between Taylor and Whelan. I've seen Whelan stronger, but I also think Taylor's more of a Dewdrop than a Sugar Plum. Ringer is beautiful, a dancing Elizabeth Taylor, but, while her upper body was gorgeous, her footwork was often muddy and indifferent. I would NOT want to see her attempt Dewdrop at this point in her career (what happened to the ballerina who sparkled so in La Source just a couple of years ago?).

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I've never thought of her as a particularly detailed dancer before either, which is why I was so suprised to see the pains she was taking in the quiet shape of individual steps, such as those first slight pliees in attitude with (almost) a reverence towards the angels on each side -- Given the only slightly tamed wildness of other movements, those still moments of grace do have a slightly uncanny feeling. The particular musicality was so surprising because it is such an almost foreign musicality to me. She seemed to find musical potentials in the music which I would not have imagined in that way and which I've not seen others realize. Very strange and wonderful. Nothing there that hath not suffered a sea change in her hands.

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