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New York City Ballet
'The Nutcracker'

The View from the Fifth Ring

by Mary Ellen Hunt

December 27, 2003 -- New York State Theatre, NY

I love watching the New York City Ballet from the fifth ring seats, where you're actually at the same level as the elaborate ball-shaped chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

“We're above the baffles,” observes my ever-trusty companion as he peers down upon the top of the proscenium from our seats.

But from this lofty vantage point, you can see everything. Who really points their feet when in those spectacular arabesques? Are those lines and patterns actually straight when seen from above? And most importantly, who acknowledges the dance aficionados in the cheap seats with even a glance up to the fifth ring?

Through the season -- through the years -- I see “Nutcrackers” by the fistful, but City Ballet's “Nut” is still home to me. And as elegant as I know the production to be, there is something strangely even more magical in spying on the company as it performs the same stage wizardry that dozens of other, more humble emulators employ.

It is in many ways inexplicable, but there is something fantastically fun about seeing Kyle Froman perform a stellar Soldier Doll in the Party Scene -- all crisp militarism and punchy accents – and then retreat into his fake “gift” box and crawl away on his hands and knees behind the skirts of the guests. It's somehow amusing to watch the party-goers sweep confidently to the big picture window upstage to gaze out at the snow, completely ignoring the gaping trapdoor hole next to the Christmas tree in the Stahlbaum's living room. And I got a chuckle out of watching the otherwise very convincing Jerimy Rivera as the Nutcracker Prince “chop off” the Mouse King's crown (he struck about two feet away from the actual head with his right hand as the Mouse King put the tiara to give to Marie into his left hand.)

Other things continue to amaze me, even after all these years. The Snow Scene, in which realistic flurries gently drift onto the stage (instead of the giant papery clumps that clobber the dancers on the head in most productions) still looks magical. And I continue to marvel at the sure-footedness of the corps de ballet who flit across the stage with speed and confidence, leaving strange little footprints behind as if they were in real snow.

Rivera and many of the young dancers from the School of American Ballet deserve special mention for their zest. The party scene kids certainly got into their roles and danced with a cheery attack that wasn't always seen in their older colleagues. And Rivera's mimed retelling of the battle scene at the beginning of Act II was ferocious enough to make Alexandra Ansanelli as the Sugarplum Fairy take a step backwards.

Ansanelli makes a gracious Sugarplum. Her variation, which Balanchine places at the beginning of the second act, leaves a definite impression of sprinkled fairy dust, or intricate lacework, as if she were marking out a delicate ground for the festivities to take place upon. She is a warm fairy, if not an altogether queenly one, and I am happy to report that her welcoming smile in the promenade around the stage encompassed the whole theater including the cheap seats.

Fairy magic, though, was not just to be found at the feet of the Sugarplum Fairy. As Dewdrop, Jennie Somogyi had not only crystalline and piquant technique but also a radiance that made the viewer sigh with satisfaction. Even from above -- possibly the most unforgiving angle a dancer could ever been seen at -- she looked perfect. And not just perfect, she looked lovely.

Also notable were the impressively resilient jumps of Daniel Ulbricht in the Tea divertissement, and the ever-courtly partnering of Damian Woetzel as Ansanelli's cavalier.

Edited by Jeff.

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