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New York City Ballet

George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker'

by Jerry Hochman

December 23, 2012 (m) -- David Koch Theater, New York, NY

In a review of Lauren Lovette’s performance as Calliope in Apollo in June, 2011, after noting that she nailed the role, I wrote that to a long established balletomaniac the anticipation of being able to witness Ms. Lovette grow as a dancer is intoxicating. Following her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy in yesterday afternoon’s performance of George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’, I probably should give up driving – I wouldn’t be able to pass a sobriety test.

The worst I can say about Ms. Lovette’s performance is that it wasn’t perfect. But it was close to it – the only minor flaws were a few timing issues coming out of turns, and perhaps a hint of caution. In every other respect, her performance – aided by very able and attentive partnering provided by Chase Finlay – was remarkable.

One would have expected some nervous energy, given that, to my understanding, this was her first performance in a major role, and it was before a sold-out house. On the contrary, if Ms. Lovette had understandable stage nerves, it didn’t show. One would have expected some indication that she was working hard to get the choreography right –some apprehension that maybe she wouldn’t be able to execute perfectly. On the contrary, Ms. Lovette was a model of poise under pressure, with no hesitancy, and no indication of the effort that was necessary. And one would have expected that at best she would just get the steps right – it’s too soon to expect her to contribute anything more. On the contrary, Ms. Lovette has already begun the process of making the role her own. And the reasonable expectation that her performance will only get better over time is dizzying.

What this viewer found most noteworthy about her performance was her stage presence. I have previously written that Ms. Lovette’s stage persona projects a combination of sensuality and innocence, as well as an ability to transmit emotion with a minimum of gesture – just by the way she moves and carries herself. None of those qualities dominated her Sugar Plum Fairy. Rather, it was the authority and regality she projected as queen of the Land of the Sweets that I found astonishing. She wasn’t ‘just’ performing steps, she was inhabiting a role – a quality one expects in dancers with greater experience, but which is unanticipated in a dancer so young (I don’t know her age, but I suspect she’s in her very early 20s).

I tend to see things in a performance, and make anticipatory leaps to something down the road, that are merely products of my imagination. In her role as Sugar Plum Fairy, Ms. Lovette showed a quality of semi-detached imperiousness that I never would have expected, and I found myself thinking [to my bewilderment, because the thought never would otherwise have occurred to me] that with a little attitude adjustment she’d be a superb Myrtha, Queen of the Willis. [Yes, I know that NYCB does not do Giselle, and I can’t imagine the company ever doing it. But Miami City Ballet (NYCB South) has done it, and one never knows.] While I still have some concerns about her ability to handle NYCB-style speed, having never seen her dance a role that would require it, I’m beginning to doubt that there is anything that this young ballerina cannot do, and do exquisitely.

Ms. Lovette’s debut was not the only debut in the role of Sugar Plum Fairy this past week. The previous afternoon, Lauren King, another of NYCB’s plethora of talented corps dancers, assayed the role. I was unable to see her performance, but I’ve been told on good authority that she did very well. I don’t doubt it; Ms. King was radiant in yesterday afternoon’s performance as one of the lead Flowers (as was Ashley Laracey, yet another talented and engaging corps ballerina, who danced the other ‘lead’ Flower role).

The previous afternoon, Mary Elizabeth Sell debuted as Dewdrop, and she reprised the role yesterday afternoon. Ms. Sell handled Balanchine’s quicksilver choreography easily (she seems born to NYCB-style speed), with no indication to this viewer that she was working too hard to get it done. When she gets more comfortable in the role, and adds moderation and nuances that will come with greater experience, she’ll make an excellent Dewdrop.

Yesterday’s performance also marked the debut of Claire Kretzchmar in ‘Coffee’, and Joseph Gordon in ‘Tea’. To this viewer, Ms. Kretzchmar executed the steps well, but will need to infuse her characterization with sensuality in the future. Mr. Gordon, accompanied by the appropriately bubbly Kristen Segin and Clair Von Enck (an apprentice), overcame what appeared to be initial nervousness and performed superbly.

This viewer found Sara Adams’s lead in ‘Marzipan’ to be beautifully executed, with appropriate effervescence. And Anthony Huxley was a superb lead Candy Cane.

I have previously written about Chase Finlay, Ms. Lovette’s Cavalier, on several occasions. He is another young star in what supposedly is a company with no stars. But in this performance, Mr. Finlay was not just a star – he was a rock-solid, superb partner. Ms. Lovette and Mr. Finlay appear to work together well and complement each other (as I observed in a review of last year’s West Side Story Suite), and in this viewer’s opinion it is a stage partnership that has a future.

Aside from Mr. Finlay and Mr. Huxley, who are soloists, and the wonderful student dancers from the School of American Ballet, each dancer in this performance was a member of the corps or an apprentice. Giving opportunities for young dancers to get their feet wet in major roles toward the end of the season has been a hallmark of NYCB’s Nutcracker casting for many years. This unstated policy keeps the performances fresh, allows young dancers to gain essential experience and audience familiarity, and encourages a balletomaniac like me to attend performances of ballets that I’ve already seen more times than I can count. One wishes more companies would do the same.

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