'The Yorkville Nutcracker'
by Cecly Placenti
December 10, 2004 -- The Kaye Playhouse, Hunter College, New York
It was a snowy Christmas Eve in 1895. William Strong had just been elected mayor of Olde New York. The owners of Gracie Mansion, Hamlin and Jane Babcock, had invited the Strongs to a Christmas party along with several international Consul Generals. Noah Wheaton, the father of Jane Babcock, arrived with life-sized dolls, including a replica of the explorer and Civil War hero Yellowstone Kelly and a special "teddy" bear (a reference to Theodore Roosevelt who was just appointed president of the Board of Police Commissioners.) Looking at the mansion from the outside he froze the dolls in a sitting position and magically revealed the Strong family inside dancing in front of the Christmas tree.
So commenced the party scene of Francis Patrelle's "The Yorkville Nutcracker." I was delighted by the premise of Patrelle's version--the setting and location--but the opening party scene was not particularly interesting or festive. There were glimpses of cute footwork, but the overabundance of small children's dances and uninteresting choreography made the opening act tedious and long. Mary Strong, danced by Chloe Sherman, however, was a joy to watch. She is a very elegant crisp child, graceful and fluid beyond her years--a natural dancer. Her footwork was clean, her dancing effortless, and never have I seen a child so young with such expressive hands and beautiful fingers.
Dances Patrelle was founded in 1988 to bring dramatic ballet and its societal and historical concerns to all audiences through a blending of music, drama, and history. Among its goals, Dances Patrelle aims to provide undeserved populations with a chance to see and understand dance. Also, and particularly notable to me, Dances Patrelle provides a forum by which experienced dancers can share in a mentoring relationship with young dancers to contribute to their evolution and maturing dancers can have the opportunity to expand their art through new works and roles. The use of a great many young dancers as well as the high level of talent, professionalism, and proficiency impressed me. The teen and pre-teen performers had crisp clean technique and were very enjoyable to watch.
The Snow Queen and her King, danced by Natalia Boesch and Eric Underwood, both from American Ballet Theatre, left a bit to be desired. They were each lovely dancers on their own, but together experienced some awkward partnering moments and seemed unnaturally stiff. They missed hands on a few partnered turns and didn't look quite as comfortable dancing together as they did alone although they ended well. I later realized that this may be their first time dancing these principal roles as they are both corps members at ABT. I fully respect and appreciate Dances Patrelle's mission to give dancers challenges they may not be getting in their home companies, and Boesch and Underwood were up for it.
Also notable in this production was Snowball, danced by the young and lithe Kendall Brit. What an eye catcher! He was technically dazzling with a very supple, soft, and expressive torso. His arms seemed like wings and he looked as if he was the happiest person in the world as he danced. The period costumes were richly colored with sheer overlaid fabrics. The spatial patterns and choreography between Snowball and the skaters in Central Park at the end of Act I were visually and musically satisfying.
As the curtain rose on Act II, we were taken to the Bronx Botanical Gardens. As the clouds dissipated, the Snow Queen called upon her friends to dance in preparation for the arrival of Mary and her Nutcracker hero. Each dancer reminded us of the various nations represented by the guests at Gracie Mansion. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced by New York City Ballet principals Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette rewarded their heroism in defeating the mouse king with an exquisite display of dancing from each of countries at represented the party.
The Nutcracker is pure magic and Jenifer Ringer exemplified it beautifully. As she began to dance, she showed she was a true queen. Ms. Ringer is elegant, refined, confident, and dances with maturity, dynamism, and grace. Her legs are pin-point precise, her torso fluid water.
Although the choreography was often on the boring side, Dances Patrelle's "The Yorkville Nutcracker" was a very professional and pleasing production. The children were talented and performed quite well, holding their own alongside the seasoned professionals and showing great promise. The costumes and sets were beautiful and richly detailed.
As the dance neared the end, Uncle Noah returned and recalled for the children their magical adventure, confirmed by the bouquet left for them by Dew Drop and her waltzing flowers. The night became Christmas morning as Colonel Strong and his wife entered to awaken the children, and the lifting dream promised us in the audience the magic of the holiday ahead.
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