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Live From Lincoln Center

George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker'

by Dean Speer

December 14, 2011 -- PBS broadcast

New York City Ballet’s venerable “Nutcracker” production first hit the boards in 1954, with some later revisions. While not my favorite – that would be Willam Christensen’s, his being the first full-length American production of 1944, now done by Ballet West -- this is nevertheless a glorious experience with a couple of dry patches along the way.

Robert Gottlieb’s assessment of the camera work for this production about says it for what would be my gripe -- not enough full-stage camera shots with the camera left to linger there. The lighting was also not bright enough and this made the scenic elements in Act I a bit on the dark side. Act II is naturally brighter and this made viewing easier.

Some of the glories are the charm of the Party Scene; the Snowflake Dance; Waltz of the Flowers and the Dewdrop [Ashley Bouder whose sharp attack and speed were a revelation]; and the Marzipan Shepherdesses, led by Tiler Peck. The concluding Pas de Deux is in the grand manner, elegant and refined.

The dry patches for me are, first and foremost, the twirling of the bed on stage, where to me should be the duet for the Snow King and Queen. While it does make dramatic sense that the bed moving about represents Marie’s shift to a dreamland of make-believe, it never the less wastes what could be a terrific dance passage. The other is the extended violin solo where Marie’s mother comes out to look for her, finding her asleep on the drawing room sofa. I suppose this is an attempt at dramatic layering but seems unnecessary, albeit lovely and soulful music.

I very much enjoyed the interviews conducted by Chelsea Clinton, herself a former Nutcracker veteran of the two lead children, Peter Martins himself – a coup; and Megan Fairchild, who gave a short and charming account of growing up Nutcracker – first in Salt Lake City and now in New York City Ballet.

In all, a fun and worthwhile evening at the ballet that was nearly live from Lincoln Center [our local PBS station delayed it a few days].

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