Posts Tagged ‘nutcracker’

Review – The Nutcracker – Bavarian State Ballet at the Bavarian State Opera House

December 29, 2012

My very first ballet was the Bavarian State Ballet’s Nutcracker, way back in 1981, I think, or possibly in 1990. Time, it passes, things change, and I figured, while technically I was going to see this ballet again, in fact it would seem like it was new. The only think I remembered about it from before was that it did not have a Christmas theme like every other Nutcracker I’d seen. My (German dwelling) uncle said that’s just how it was; I thought perhaps they’d changed the staging because we were watching it in June.

That said, I’m convinced that this was absolutely not the Nutcracker I saw long ago, but a completely revised version. This is so far removed from every Nutcracker that I’ve ever seen that not only does it not have dancers performing in mouse heads (hurray!) or a giant Christmas tree, it has NONE of the traditional dances (well, mostly) or interpretations (i.e. “It’s about Clara becoming a woman,” “It’s about Clara discovering true love”). Instead, it has a narrative that I found utterly compelling, one that allows for excellent dancing in the utterly coherent first act (shock!) AND sets up a second act that, well, I just wanted to sit down and watch bits of it all over right away.

So what is this incredible innovation? Simple and obvious: Clara (called Marie, played by Katherina Markowskaja) is a little girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina. She starts the show playing with a Dresdener porcelain statue of dancer, then with her own paper doll ballet theater. Drosselmeier (Cyril Pierre) is a dance teacher; not some mysterious magician who conjures up dancing harlequins, but a fop and a fool. His _important_ gift to Clara is not a nutcracker, but her first pair of toe shoes.The gift to us is a first act in which there is a party of mixed young and old but no children (other than Clara), so we have adult soldiers (not children) dancing with their girlfriends during the group dance scenes. Imagine: a corps of adult men dancing the first act of the Nutcracker, very much in character as they showed off to each other and the women. What a pleasure it was to watch!

The transitional scene between the real world (where Clara desperately wants to dance with the adults) and the dream world takes place as Clara runs downstairs with her Nutcracker man … to try on her toe shoes. She does, and can’t dance in them, but falls asleep on the floor … and I waited for a tree to appear … or a cuckoo clock … but instead it was just Drosselmeier, and as he lifted away the walls of the room of Clara’s house, he revealed … a ballet studio all done in silhouette, cream and black, like the paper cut outs of Clara’s theater. MY GOD IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL and for me pure theatrical magic.

The second half was constructed as “Clara attends the ballet class and watches classical ballets performed to the Nutcracker Suite.” I was enchanted by seeing the “greatest hits” of classical ballet done as extracts to very different music: so we had “The Living Garden” (aka “Le Jardin Animé” from Le Corsaire) to Waltz of the Flowers; “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” (a man in woman in Egyptian costume dancing to the “Arabian Dance,” really gorgeous); “Esmerelda and the Fool;” “The Chinese Bird” (Mai Kono dancing with Cyril Pierre – I was thinking of her as the Nightingale from Hans Christian Anderson; “Dancing Lieutenants” instead of the Russian dance. Clara tried to get involved with many of the dances (most adorably in the Neapolitain dance) until finally Drosselmeier let her dance by herself. While I think it would have been nice if this were the highlight, instead it was the Grand Pas de Deux with Clara’s sister Louise (Lucia Lacarra) and her refigured soldier boyfriend Gunther (Maxim Chashchegorov). My god, he did an overhead lift to a drop that had me gasping as all contact seemed to be lost before she magically did not hit the floor; and Lacarra was just so jaw-droppingly beautiful in that “what little girls dream ballerinas look like” kind of way.

Oh, I’m sure there was more I could say about the dancing, but I really just went to enjoy myself and not to sit there taking notes, and I was just hoping for “good.” Instead of that weak experience, I found my heart swelled with joy; I smiled; I laughed out loud; I was emotionally satisfied in a way I never thought I could be watching The Nutcracker. Damn. Now that was a good night out!

(This review is for the evening performance that took place on December 27th, 2012. If you want to see it next year, try buying tickets in September as it does sell out very quickly – I bought mine in October and some performances were already sold out – and I believe the people outside fishing for single tickets did NOT meet with success.)

Mini-review – Nutcracker – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Hippodrome and the O2 Arena

December 26, 2011

I have three traditions every Christmas: I see a new version of a Christmas Carol, I see a panto, and I see a new version of the Nutcracker. This year, Birmingham Royal Ballet was the designated dance company, as I’d never seen the Peter Wright choreography and have really been enjoying the quality of this group’s work. They’re bringing it to the O2 arena in London as I write this, but I knew I wasn’t going to be around to see it then thanks to having Christmas plans that involved going back to the States. So on the first Saturday of December I headed out, bright and early, for my first ever trip to Birmingham – with tickets bought well in advance for a sold-out performance.

It was an easy walk to the theater, and I was pleased to see an outpost of my beloved Red Hot Szechuan restaurant practically next door – the Hippodrome is right next to Chinatown so lunch options are numerous. The theater was interesting – inside, a lovely old music hall era building, but the external audience services areas were all very modern, leading me to suspect an add-on at some point.

This review isn’t going to go into a lot of detail about the dancing as I didn’t take explicit notes, but is more a record of the differences between this Nutcracker and others. First, the role of Clara is played in both acts by an adult – in this case Carol-Anne Millar, whom I’ve taken a shine to since seeing her in “Pineapple Poll” last October. This means that the dancing in Act One is generally much better quality than any show relying on a child principal – so much better to put an adult in a girlish dress and let her dance skill show through! Interestingly, the focus of this ballet is much less on, as I call it, “Clara’s awakening to adulthood,” to the world of love instead of the love of dolls; a situation which means she does very little dancing with the prince in Act 2 and turns all of it into an extended dream sequence. I was also taken with the costuming for the party in Act 1 – the various mothers all have dresses which, despite having very modern colorings to them, are attractively cut in a Victorian way (circa 1870-1888) that I found very enjoyable for my inner geek.

Act one was actually not particularly memorable (rather a lack of some expected elements such as the clock, and little was made of Clara participating in the battle of the mice). Really, it never is, but I found the general tenor of the dance was enjoyable and the Harlequin and Columbine that Drosselmeier brought were a bit more “real people under an evil spell” than usual. Things started to crank up (as usual) when Clara is finally transported to Sugar Plum land, where instead of just having snowflakes dancing around the Snow Fairy (Yijing Zhang), we got four very yummy men getting in on the action and adding a lot of zest with powerful leaps – these being the “four winds.” Where the idea came from, I’ll never know, but in terms of taking some fairly “yeah I’ve seen this before” section of the ballet and giving it real freshness, this was a big success of Wright’s choreography. Go team BRB!

Act two was the suites and the waltz of the flowers. Each “suite” had a bit that allowed Clara to participate, whether following along, fanning herself, or wearing silly hats. Of the group, I was smitten with the Arabian dance, which had an odalisque (Celine Gittens) borne aloft by three male attendants (Brandon Lawrence, Bejamin Soerel, Tyrone Singleton) and dancing so very sensually that I was convinced the true potential of this music had finally been reached. Sadly, the effect was broken almost immediately by the Chinese dance, which was performed in yellow-face. I was mortified. Are there really so few East Asians in England that this can somehow seem acceptable? I would propose that, if BRB wants to put dancer who are clearly recognizable as being from, say, China, on stage, that perhaps they should look at using Chinese Opera makeup instead of this horrible racist slap that does no favors to the company, the dancers, or to the message it sends about racism. It’s 2011, guys, get with the program.

Clara’s non-romance means the grand pas de deux at the end of the Waltz of the Flowers lacks the kind of emotional punch it would have had if it had been Clara and her prince, but as it stands, the work as a whole is very enjoyable and I think a strong Nutcracker, less fluffy than the Royal Ballet’s although with less emotional impact than theirs. I’d consider it worth seeing again, and I hope it’s a grand success at the O2 when they make it there this week.

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 3rd, 2011. It will be performed at London’s O2 arena December 27-30, 2011.)

Great deal – Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutracker at the O2 arena – £55 tickets for £17

December 9, 2011

I travelled to Birmingham to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker (choreography by Peter Wright) and loved it. But you don’t have to because they’re bringing it to the O2 Arena in London. Per the email I got from Travelzoo, the details are:

•Save £38 on tickets to see Birmingham Royal Ballet perform this magical Christmas show
•Or, book seats worth £35 for just £12
•Perfomances take place at The O2 on 27-30 December
•The Former “X Factor” winner Joe McElderry will open the performance with Christmas songs

For full details, please go to the Travelzoo site.

Review – The (Original) Nutcracker – Butterfly Wheels at Pentameters Theatre

December 28, 2010

It’s been about two weeks since I’ve seen this show, and while I wasn’t going to review it, I realized, as time has gone on (and this has turned to the month I saw three Nutcrackers) that I really need to document what I saw, especially after reading Luke Murphy’s writeup. Just to be clear, this show was paid for: I’d received an offer for review tickets and turned it down (already booked), but when a Friday night held open for the Hackney Empire’s Jack and the Beanstalk stayed open after I decided to see it on opening night (and Peter Pan in Wimbledon got trashed, saving me an expensive ticket), I found myself going with a friend to this show, which was early enough (7 PM) to leave time for all sorts of other shenanigans.

The production was billed as 1) very little ballet 2) with projected films “that allow the story to flow from one fantasy to another” 3) that “stays true to the original novelette.” I am a fan of art that crosses disciplines and I’ve seen this story done as a ballet enough that I was quite ready to see a show that dealt with the “original” story. My friend and I thus found ourselves creeping up the stairs of the tiny Pentameters Theater at 6:50 on a Friday night, greeted (as we walked through the curtain into what looked like a sixty seat house) with a gingerbread cookie. Only about 15 people were in the room, most of us huddled against the back wall on cushioned chairs. I saw, as I ran my eyes over the rather elaborate set (certainly a budget buster for such a small space), that actors dressed as dolls were jammed into a shelf behind the bed of a girl’s room; I saw Harlequin, Columbine, Pierrot, and Punch and Judy. Ooh, what a treat, what were they going to do?

As it turns out, the dolls were, in my mind, the highlight of this production. I was put off at the beginning by Clara’s (Lauren Munisany) apparent pregnancy; a knocked-up “girl on the edge of womanhood” could certainly be an element of this story but it did just change the feel a lot. It turned out that this was just a very large bow under her night dress, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of Clara being a nymphette. The dissonance was not helped by her painful false German accent; it’s possible that better dialogue would have pulled me into the story more (the script should have been shot in the stable), but every time she opened her mouth, I just … had a bit of an out of body experience, reminding myself that the show was only going to be an hour long and there was still hope for salvaging the evening.

There were actually many things I enjoyed about this show. First, the emphasis on Drosselmeier as an inventor was great, and the clockwork castle scene was a wonderful addition to the normal execution of this story; and the strobe lit battle between the mice and the Nutcracker was an awesome bit of theater, with the glowing lights of the mice’s eyes making their heads appear to float around separated from their bodies. It was genuinely creepy and much more frightening than the usual comedy Nutcracker mice. And the telling of the story of how the Nutcracker came to be – he is a real man under an enchantment – filled a gap that I’d never pushed to hard to understand before.

However, these elements had to compete with even more things that I found unbearable. The Mouse King, who at one point appears to be doing karaoke, was unintelligible despite having rather a lot of dialogue. The promised movies utterly broke the flow of the story, were poorly done, and should have been abandoned. Clara’s tiny attempts at toe work should also have been jettisoned, and the rock music felt completely unnatural with the pseudo-classic setting. The dolls were fabulous and creepy, with sinuous movements that made me think of J.F. Sebastian’s toys in Blade Runner, but plopped in the rest of the production I wound up feeling like I’d somehow been transported to Kate Bush’s Christmas acid trip.

Sadly enough, this show seemed like it was bursting full of possibility but then took all of it and threw it out the window. It was really one of the worst things I’ve seen all year – admittedly, I didn’t walk out (I would have had to have crossed the stage to do so, and I kept reminding myself that it was only an hour long), but in its waste of the good elements it had, I think it’s going to probably count as the single most painful thing I saw in all of 2010. Thank God for the gingerbread cookies or I’d have absolutely nothing to console myself for the time I spent watching this misbegotten piece of theater.

(This review is for a show seen on Friday, December 17th, 2010. The show continues until January 9th, 2011. By the way, the doll girls are actually really hot: if this was a rave, the night would have been a raging success I babbled on about for years.)

Review – Nutcracker – Northern Ballet, Grand Theatre Leeds 2010

December 7, 2010

Every Christmas I have three theatrical traditions I celebrate: seeing “A Christmas Carol,” watching Clive Rowe in the Hackney Panto, and going to a new version of the Nutcracker. I’ve seen City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Mark Morris, and Matthew Bourne’s version, among others; I am a real Nutcracker fan. I love the music; I love the endless possibilities of the suite; I struggle gamely through Act One hoping that whatever version I see will finally manage to make some sense of the music.This year Nutcrackers are thin on the ground in London, so I was obliged to do a bit of travelling in order to see Northern Ballet’s version. Still, Leeds isn’t that far away, East Cost does nice early purchase deals, so off I went for a balletic field trip to the north … in the middle of some of the most extreme weather England has seen in early December in decades. Brrr!

The Leeds Grand was an absolutely gorgeous venue, just like being inside a jewelry box, with gilding and carved detail everywhere I looked (and a bar with stained glass windows, so pretty!). It was also more intimate that some of the ballet houses in London, more the size of Sadler’s Wells. Sadly the snow seemed to have chased a lot of people away (Black Watch had the same problem the night before), but the cast had all made it and we started pretty close to 7PM in spite of the weather.

To my great relief as the curtain opened, I saw that this production had an adult Clara (Isabella Gasparini) from the very start, so the pain of an entire act performed in great deal by child dancers was avoided. Whew! The first bit was done in front of a drop as if in the hallway of Edwards’ home outside the dining room, with Clara and her brother Frederic (Ashley Dixon, consistently good) bickering over toys while Grandpa (Tobias Batley) napped in a chair and the maids ran in and out of the back room setting up for the meal. Most of the dancing in this section was very light – it was mostly about establishing character.

At last we were allowed into the great room for a big party that featured a love interest (the previously unheared of “Clara’s sister, Louise,” played by Lori Gilchrist, and “Louise’s friend, James,” Martin Bell) and, of course, the arriver of Drosselmeyer (Michal Berkin). This was a very different Drosselmeier from what I was used to – young, tall, handsome, long blond hair, and a big purple, sparkly cape. He seemed like a cross between the Mad Hatter and Willie Wonka – both as played by Johnny Depp. He had none of the creepy evil that many Drosselmeyers have, instead seeming rather as if he was made of cotton candy and glitter.

This was, I think, true of the ballet as a whole. Clara seemed to smile too much and have no other emotions; the mouse king never seemed truly threatening; the entire element of Clara “becoming a woman” (crossing over from love of dolls to love of boys) seemed to completely vanish from the plotline. Ah well, it was hard to complain, though, with such a perfect set and costume design to highlight all of the meringue of a plot. Act one had dance variations of two sets of dolls, one the French dolls (much more attractive as harlequins, I think) and a Chinese doll (Giuiano Contandini) who disappointingly didn’t do much more than flop around on the stage. I actually enjoy the way this bit often feels like the spooky evil magician of Petrushka is actually playing with doomed spirits for the amusement of children, but these seemed not particularly tragic. Ah well.

The Christmas tree failed (for the first time ever!) to expand magically as Clara fell asleep, but when her nutcracker cast away his giant head we got Yoshihisa Arai, whose very few opportunities to dance unencumbered showed a strong sense of style which he generally quite politely contained in the bounds of his character. Eventually I caught myself just ignoring Clara and looking for him – was he going to give one of those great leaps again while I wasn’t paying attention?

The Suites were … well, choreographed … unexcitingly. The Spanish dance didn’t have any real flamenco in it but was at least not offensively off; the Arabian dance (a woman borne aloft by two bare-chested men) was mostly about stretching and balancing; the Chinese dance and the Russian dance had music blasting full of energy overwhelming the actual movement on stage. Clara kept jumping into the dances – a nice touch of personality – but what I really would have liked to see is the power of what I was hearing matched by what I was seeing. I loved the unified look of it all, with the blue and white Chinese porcelain decorating Clara and the Nutcracker Prince’s pavilion – but I think in order to be a really good Nutcracker, it’s going to need a lot more work with what’s happening on stage. In short, it was a pleasant enough evening, but not a Nutcracker I’ll be using as a reference point for future performances of this classic work. It’s very family friendly, though, so I would recommend people who have the opportunity to see it do so.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 at the Grand Theatre, Leeds. It continues there through December 12th.)

2 for 1 offer for English National Ballet’s “Nutcracker” 2010

November 25, 2010

“Days Out,” which promotes travel by train, has a two for one offer for tickets for the Nutcracker. Sadly this offer is only good December 29th and 30th but I consider it a great deal when all of the pantos will be full priced this week! You need to prebook (call the box office 0871 472 0800 and quote “2FOR1 National Rail offer”) and they say you’ll have to present your train tickets but Oyster usually works as well …

Review – The Nutcracker – Royal Ballet (2009)

December 18, 2009

When Christmas time comes around, I’ve got three things on my mind: A Christmas Carol, panto, and Nutcracker. These, to me, are the three elements that build holiday cheer and a real feeling of “It’s Christmas!” in me. And, insofar as I am able, every year I try to see a new version of each of these shows, meaning I’ve seen both a black light and a South African “Christmas Carol,” and Nutcrackers ranging from Mark Morris’s “Hard Nut” (which required a trip to San Francisco) and Matthew Bourne‘s (which has my favorite first act of all). Last year we saw Mr. B’s version at City Ballet, and I was surprised at how inflexible I was as to certain story elements. This review, then, isn’t so much about the dance, it’s about the performance elements of the ballet, and how it compares to my mental ideal of The Nutcracker, formed on a version I saw in Munich in 1981, Arizona Ballet’s version, and (to some extent) Pacific Northwest Ballet’s bizarre incarnation. (For the record, the female star should be called Clara. I realize Mr. B did not adhere to this, but you can’t just go around calling Sleeping Beauty “Heather” – it doesn’t work.)

The ballet opens in a workshop, where Drosselmeier (Gary Avis) is making two dolls. The first, an angel, he sends off with his assistant to be delivered to Clara’s parents’ house. The second is, of course, the Nutcracker, whom we see suddenly peering out at us through a scrim (that had been a picture of a soldier). This was all a very new setup for the opening scenes, and I liked it a lot – it got us through a lot of the music with the addition of some very meaningful narrative. We also were introduced to the utterly bizarre Assistant (Ludovic Ondiviela) – who probably could have been used much better than he was as he only got one little star turn in the whole night.

Then it’s time for the party. This scene was far less chaotic and dull than many versions I’ve seen, doubtlessly in part because of choreographer Peter Wright’s completely correct choice to have Clara (Iohna Loots) performed, all the way through, by an adult woman, meaning there is room for much more good dancing in this act rather than the excess of flim flam you get when you’re trying to make too much out of child dancers. We still had the doll-carrying girls versus the soldier-carrying boys; but we also had a nice dance of the adults with a little tableau of the servants at the far back of the stage in front of the Christmas tree as well as doll dances done with a Harlequin/Columbine and a Soldier and, er, uh, “Vivandiere” (seemed like “mean chick who hangs out with the soldiers and would just as likely beat you to death herself”). I thought the two pairs of dances were charming rather than particularly virtuosic, but didn’t mind. Drosselmeier himself was a real wizard type, juggling, making flowers appear out of nowhere, and leaving a trail of glitter wherever he walked. I liked this portrayal quite a bit.

As for the set, there was the seemingly requisite owl, but also a soldier bunny (who came back to haunt us); and a strange giant dollhouse that only appears after the “transformation” scene. The angel makes several appearances after being given to Clara’s family: first in a sort of hallucination, when only Clara sees her full sized in front of the tree; then leading the change into the “giant Christmas tree;” again pulling the sleigh Clara and the Nutcracker use to go to Sugarplum Land; then, at the beginning of act 2, as a group of six dancing in the smoke to greet them upon their arrival. It was a very unique take and one I enjoyed.

Unfortunately the various dances in the suite weren’t all I wanted them to be. The Russian and Chinese dances were great: in these, the trope of having Clara and her soldier dance with the character dancers was perfect, showing off Ricardo Cervera’s kicking skills and Iohna’s grace and charm. The Arabian sequence didn’t have the sensuality I wanted, though, and the Dance of the Sugar Plum fairy was just … flat, not at all the dance extravaganza I was hoping for. Ah well, the Waltz of the Flowers was good, at least, if just a wee bit on the sugary side.

Overall I thought this was a very good Nutcracker, probably the second best of all the ones I’ve seen, and well worth seeing again. Still, I’m hoping next year I can travel for a Nut, and see either Birmingham Royal Ballet or Ballet Scotland, and see something really new and different.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, November 16th, 2009. All performances are sold out but you might be able to get day seats.)

Review – The Nutcracker – New York City Ballet (Lincoln Center)

December 29, 2008

Two days before Christmas my husband and I went to Lincoln Center to see City Ballet’s Nutcracker, as choreographed by Balanchine himself. According to the program, Balanchine is the one who brought this ballet back into the modern story ballet repertoire and established it as the Christmas ballet of choice for all dance companies, and before he touched it, it has pretty much been unloved in forgotten*. What I was there to see, though, was not “The Nutcracker, as Envisioned by Mr. B. in the Great Revelation Which He Shared with America,” but rather yet another take on one of my favorite story ballets (most of the versions I see credit Petipa as being the originator of their choreography), one which has millions of different possible combinations of how to handle the music. I’ve seen Kent Stowell’s (at Pacific Northwest Ballet), Matthew Bourne’s, English Ballet’s, Arizona Ballet Theater’s, and a few others I can’t remember right now. I love the way all of these different choreographers and dance companies take something which I sort of think doesn’t have a lot of flexibility (the music stays the same and there’s always the Hoffman story behind it all) and makes completely different ballets – in my mind, at least.

City Ballet’s Nutcracker is most notable, in my mind, for the fact that rather than having Clara turn into an adult before she goes into the fantasy world (where the various Suite dances take place), a child is present throughout in the role – which limits the dancing she can do, as you’ll never get anywhere near the same quality of dancing from an 8 or 10 year old as a 24 year old! (She’s also called “Marie” instead of Clara – how did that happen? – and was performed by Maria Gorokhov.) This also limits the emotional intensity of the role – it’s not about her coming into adulthood, it’s dancing about an 8 year and her toys and fantasies. This is not intrinsically interesting and, I think, diminishes the overall potential of the ballet substantially.

That said, there are things to enjoy about the first act, primarily the costumes and the charm of the young dancers (and some fun scenery as a scrim is used to hide the living room, the first time I’ve ever seen this done – the children stand in front of a door and peer in the keyhole, and the lights go on behind the scrim so we can see what they are looking at). This half of the Nutcracker follows a more or less normal “plot,” with boys and girls (and adults) showing up for a party at Marie’s parent’s house, Marie being given a Nutcracker, and the inevitable fight between the boys with their war toys and Marie (and the girls) which results in the Nutcracker being injured, a “growing Christmas tree” and rat/mice versus Nutcracker battle.

City Ballet’s also has a dance for other toys that Drosselmeier brings with him, in this case a toy soldier (Austin Laurent) and a “Harlequin and Columbine” pair (Erica Pereira and Brittany Pollack). There is also a new character, the nephew of Drosselmeier (played by Joshua Shutkind), who is kind to and solicitous of Marie (and later becomes the spirit animating the Nutcracker when we move on to the dream sequence). Marie falls asleep on a couch and the story transitions into the dream sequence, of which the most notable thing was the multi-headed rat king. Once the Nutcracker has defeated him, his crown is given to Marie, and the set is swept away to a snowy wonderland (no idea why) where Marie and the Nutcracker appear to be royalty of some sort and hordes of ballerinas come out to dance as snowflakes while white bits fall from the ceiling. This last bit was pure theatrical magic, although I was a bit worried that the ballerinas were going to slip on the “snow.”

The second half follows the conceit that the ballet is taking place in the “Land of Sweets,” but all of the traditional names for the solos have been changed. The Arabian (or Peacock in Stowell’s version) dance is now “Coffee,” the Chinese dance is “Tea,” the Russian dance is Candy Canes – where did this come from? I was put off my the peculiar choices here. On the other hand, the freaky woman with the giant skirt I hadn’t seen since Ballet Arizona made an appearance, and I got a huge laugh watching the little kids come out from under her skirts and dance on stage. Thanks to Justin Peck for being this ballet’s panto dame (Mother Ginger, to be accurate) – I really enjoyed his clowning and hamming. We also got a nice Waltz of the Flowers, with the flowers in lovely tiered full skirts in increasing intensity of pink that poofed up gorgeously as they swirled around. Aaah!

Unfortunately, I was rather checked out for Teresa Reichlen and Charles Askegard’s performance in the final duet of “The Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier.” But I don’t think it was just me worrying about the bills piling up during this trip; it was the rather uninspired choreography in all of the show leading to its ultimate, well, canned duet. I just wonder what was going on for Balanchine – to me, it felt like he just wasn’t very excited about this show and didn’t want to make it a showcase for outstanding dancing – he just wanted to move the narrative along. I wonder if the music didn’t inspire him enough, or if he was in a hurry, or if there was something else going on – but when I think of the incredible things he was doing at this time and earlier, I feel like he forgot to care about the Nutcracker enough to make it a great dance piece. So, overall, while I found this an entertaining enough evening, I left disappointed. Balanchine was not only not able to make the first act any better than almost anyone else (only Bourne has excelled here), but he didn’t even make the second act brilliant like I think he had the ability to do. Ah, well – at least the music was great, and with luck, I’ll be able to see City Ballet more than once in ten years and get a better choice of shows the next time.

(This review is for a performance that took place at 6 PM on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008.)

*Note the Wikipedia article on the Nutcracker completely blows this assertion out of the water. What is up with this obsessive worship of Balanchine? Is City Ballet incapable of accepting the fact that things have gone on in ballet during the time he was choreographing that didn’t involve him, that other influences were moving ballet forward at the same time? No wonder I came to the UK being ignorant of Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan!

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker (at Sadler’s Wells)

December 31, 2007

Of all of the holiday shows I’ve been anticipating, the one that was an absolute Must See was Matthew Bourne’s “Nutcracker.” This is because 1) the Nutcracker is a must, at least as long as I can keep seeing new versions of it and 2) I love Matthew Bourne’s choreography. So I arranged a block of four tickets (using both of the two for one vouchers I’d got with my renewed Sadler’s Wells membership) on a date in the middle of the “festive season” when my Canadian visitor would be able to accompany us.

To my surprise (and since I like to be surprised I often don’t read about a show at all beforehand), Bourne had completely reset the first half of the ballet. Instead of a party in which a bunch of spoiled children are given gifts and some dull adults dance insipidly while we all wait for The Suite Spot, Bourne set the show in an orphanage, in which the children are abused by the headmaster and headmistress and forced to dance for potential donors (who have presents for the children). The fights over the toys were much more story-driven, and while there was no Uncle Drossmeier, I didn’t find myself missing him at all as the children got into a huge fight and took the orphanage over from their captors – er, “caretakers.” It was great! It was exciting! And the redhaired “Nutcracker” doll looked JUST like a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquists dummy and was creepy as hell, so when he came to life, it was scary. Was he going to eat Clara? Was he going to beat up the kids in the orphanage? Anything seemed possible because we had gone so very far off script. The scene ended with what I think of as the snowflake dance (I can’t remember what it’s called right now), set as ice skating on a lake, with all of the orphanage residents recast as white clad skaters – and Clara fighting to get her nutcracker man back from a seductive other girl (the Carmen of CarMan, which I saw back in August).

Act 2 was also very much re-set, although it did have the series of themed dances for the “suites” – only there were only Spaniards left, no Russians or “Persians.” Instead we had a seductive (creepy) Yoga instructor, a motorcyle gang (the Russian dance),  and a bunch of fluff headed, high-heeled chorines bouncing around and going to a party together. They all wound up in Sweetie land, which had a Busby Berkeley worth giant cake in the background, covered with all of the dancers, who proceeded to lick the cake and each other throughout the rest of the show. (This was really just too bizarre but I loved it, even though I had to keep watching the dancers hands and mouths to see what they were up to – it’s not the kind of thing I’m normally watching for during a ballet!) I was completely caught up in all of the sparkly costumes and rather hypnotic movement – yeah, Clara Nutcracker other characters, whatever, I was having a good time.

And the end, well, yes, there was an end,  and it was great fun, and really, why haven’t you gone to see it already? I can easily imagine watching this again and it really just supports my entire love for Matthew Bourne. He supports my belief – perhaps he’s even created the belief – that these works of danceable music are every bit telling stories that are just as trancendant as any Shakespearean tale, and they can easily handle being reworked and updated and shuffled around and still tell a compelling, exciting, tale. The great thing about Bourne is that he also makes them very watchable and relevant. It’s a shame, really, the Ballet Boyz (and Chris Wheeldon) have recognized that ballet is losing its audience and must be updated – but they’re not managing to do it in a way that makes it relevant to people who don’t have ballet experience. Bourne absolutely makes great dance that really connects to people, right in the gut, with emotions that people can relate to, and all while following (though not slavishly) the story of these great ballets. I do really hope that ballet can manage to not become completely culturally irrelevant over my lifetime but if it does start to grow its audience again, it will be because of Matthew Bourne and not because of people who are doing beautiful, sterile choreography to Phillip Glass.

(This post is for a performance that took place Friday, December 29th.)

Review – English National Ballet’s “Nutcracker” – London Coliseum

December 17, 2006

Alternate title: Clara’s First Acid Trip. Clara comes home from college and decides to chemically improve her holiday visit. With all of the wacky guests “dropping” in her folks’ house, there’s no doubt she’s having a great time! Her uncle Elvis Drosselmeier gives her a toy nutcracker, which she completely gets hung up on in a way sobriety will prove oh too embarassing. Too wired to sleep, she returns to the living room after everyone else has gone to bed, only to discover the Christmas tree glows and glows, then grows and grows! Later on she has fights with giant mice, sees her Nutcracker come to life, and then goes on a magical journey to Sugar Plum Land, where she watches snowflakes dancing. Eventually, she flies away on a paper crane with her Nutcracker man, and thus ends another fine holiday.

Anyway, that’s what I saw today, though I think it’s not the subtext they intended. The backdrops were SO “Oh the Places You Will Go!” and the dancing not so good. Next year: the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker.