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Dance Connecticut
'The Nutcracker'

Go West, Young Woman!

by S.E. Arnold

December 20-23, 2003 -- The Bushnell, Hartford, Connecticut

In Kirk Peterson's "The Nutcracker," the metaphor "heading west"- meaning a return to a Golden Age - figuratively comes true.

The ballet's Sierra Nevada setting, its mid-19th century Gold Rush time frame, and its cast of historical personages combine with its scenic wonders to move the traditionally urbane and confectionary "Nutcracker" into a kind of historical romance that celebrates the natural world. Nevertheless, the Golden Age discovered in Peterson's "Nutcracker" retains the domestic stability of its urbane siblings. Moreover -- and in complementary contrast to the familiar works written by one of its party scene's guests, Mark Twain, and keeping the "men are men and women are women" tenor of its historical setting in mind -- this American "Nutcracker" is written about and for young women.

In the Party Scene, the choreography radiates the warmth of Tchaikovsky's music in its picture of domestic ambience and social conviviality. The communication of character and motivation of action, such as the tit-for-tat rivalry between the male and female children, exemplified in the boy's noisy disruption of the girl's rocking their dolls as payback for the girl's disruption of the boy's martial "drill and ceremony" practice earlier in the party scene; and the social dance interaction between adults and children manifest an attention to detail that made the Party Scene vivid and believable. Moreover, as pairing or partnering or teamwork displayed in the Party and Battle Scenes, such as Lotta's distraction of the Boss Rat with a well aimed slipper, marks a building block of the domestic stability embraced in this vision of the Age of Gold, and so pairing also structures the ballet. Although spiced with solos such as those danced by Lotta Crabtree (a.k.a. Clara/Marie), the Winter Sprite, the Ladybug Doll, and the Grasshopper Soldier in Act I as well as the Sugar Plum Faerie Queen and King in Act II, all other dances beginning with the Snow pas feature pairing or partnering or teamwork.

Whether crystallized in the fast moving sculptural forms shaped by pairs of Snow Faeries or flowing vapor-like through the melting-folding-opening motion yielded by the Snow Faerie Queen on the closing chords of the Snow pas, the choreography seemed to have absorbed the music; and as if by some magical sonic variation of photosynthesis converted its spectrum of sound - its energy, shape, flow, and color- into ballet. Consequent upon this ideal exchange between sight and sound, the choreography neatly parried the contempt brought by familiarity with this holiday favorite renewing, thereby, the coloristic richness and textural variety of the scoring as a source of enjoyment. Without the excellence of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (Glen Adsit conducting) however, the effectiveness of the woodwinds, for example, to create the Wagnerian, Forest Murmurs-like mood at the beginning of Lotta's magic spell and the mystical ambience of the Native American Shaman and Golden Eagle Spirit divertissement (a.k.a. Arabian); or to define characters such as the mice, Mine Rats, Lacewings; or to sound the clarion calls of toy armies; or to sharpen the intensity of the Sugar Pas would have been diminished.

In fact, the productive link between dance and music and the ballet's structural device of pairing as well as its celebration of domestic stability reflect the cooperative effort and devotion invested in what one hopes to be annual performances of Kirk Peterson's "Nutcracker." Students from Dance Connecticut, the Hartt School of the University of Hartford, plus the dancers of the ABT's Studio Company, guests artists (ABT soloists Carlos Molina and Michele Wiles, Momix member Tim Melady, Rinus Sprong, Thom Stuart, James Garber, and Maria Youskevitch --who set the parts and rehearsed the children's cast and performed the role of Mary Crabtree Booth) combined their time and talent to fulfill the demands of the choreography and provide audiences with an abundance of cheer.

Edited by Jeff.

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