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 Post subject: Re: ABT - Nutcracker - California Performances - 2002
PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2002 2:17 pm 
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
'Nutcracker' passes the test
American Ballet Theatre's reshaped production evokes the simplicity of childhood.


Quote:
By LAURA BLEIBERG
The Orange County Register

"The Nutcracker" ballet works quite well as a Rorschach test.

Tell the doctor, why do you go to "The Nutcracker" year after year? For the growing Christmas tree? The romance and classical brilliance of the Sugar Plum Fairy-Cavalier pas de deux? The lovely and heartwarming music? The scary (or funny, depending on your personality) oversized mice and rats? Or because one of those adorable children onstage is your own?
MORE..

<small>[ 22 December 2002, 03:19 PM: Message edited by: 2 left feet ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: ABT - Nutcracker - California Performances - 2002
PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2002 1:18 pm 
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Location: Jamaica, Queens, New York
Arising from my sick bed this morning (*cough*cough*hack*hack*), I noticed this little article from the Orange County Register's website:

Character counts in ‘Nutcracker’ by Laura Bleiberg
Quote:
So this viewer focused Friday on American Ballet Theatre's lesser-known players in character parts. There was the bravado of Brian Reeder as the Rat King; corps de ballet dancer Carrie Peterson as the tipsy grandma; the crispness of Marian Butler, also in the corps, as the doll unicorn; and her whinnying unicorn counterpart, Jared Matthews. Local dance student Francesco Varoli again brought to life Clara's brother Fritz, with both grit and charm. Student Jesse Carlson portrayed the unsympathetic bully child, and he managed it with uncensored gusto.
She mentions Carlos Lopez, Renta Pavam, and Veronika Part who danced this past weekend.

(There is on the website also another small article about 2 local boys and Eagle Scouts who are ballet dancers.)

<small>[ 23 December 2002, 02:41 PM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: ABT - Nutcracker - California Performances - 2002
PostPosted: Wed Dec 25, 2002 11:26 am 
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Location: SF Bay Area
Thank you, Jeff, and I hope you get well soon!


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 Post subject: Re: ABT - Nutcracker - California Performances - 2002
PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2002 1:37 pm 
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Azlan, to quote from a Monty Python movie, "I'm not dead yet... I'm feeling better now..."

And, to prove it, here are some more notes from this run--a little tardy, yes, but just supplemental to Art's and Andre's:

“The Nutcracker”
American Ballet Theater
Kodak Theater (Sunday evening 12/8/02)
Orange County Performing Arts Center (Friday evening 12/20/02)

Clara— Erica Cornejo (12/8), Renata Pavam (12/20)
Nutcracker Prince— Joaquin De Luz (12/8), Carlos Lopez (12/20)
Drosselmeyer—Victor Barbee (12/8), Guillaume Graffin (12/20)
Sugar Plum Fairy—Paloma Herrera (12/8), Veronika Part (12/20)
Her Cavalier—Marcelo Gomes (12/8 and 12/20)

Conductor—Davod LaMarche (12/8), Charles Barker (12/20)

Like a playful, old dog with gnawed, drooley old bone in mouth who does not understand—despite words and hand motions to the contrary—that the game of retrieve-the-bone is long over, I continue to drag “Nutcracker” before my CD friends.

This is my second season of the McKenzie staging and I’m not sure I am prepared yet to consider this the definitive 21st century “Nutcracker.” Yet, the Unicorn’s unstable sexual symbology notwithstanding, after several viewings, one must admit that the McKenzie production captures the glossy smoothness of the holiday season particularly well.

The setting still works. Paul Kelly’s fanciful proscenium is still a wonder even though the balloon no longer rises and the peacock’s tail no longer waggles. Also, the ballerina looks like she has a band-aid on her knee which on closer inspection turns out to be duct tape (no end to the uses of that most amazing fruits of man’s ingenuity). But, the Silverhouse’s home still represents a dream of bourgeois plenitude and correctness—the guests all arrive on time, presents show up at their appointed places, and even Grandma finds enough spunk at the bottom of a wine glass to command young men to kiss her hand. Grandma was convincingly spoofed by Carrie Petersen both evenings.

In fact, as good as the principal dancers were—and they were good—the secondary roles were just as fun to watch. Both evenings, Unicorn Doll and Sugar Plum Doll were played charmingly as light somewhat odd confections by Marian Butler and Misty Copeland, respectively. Jared Matthews’ Unicorn was veritably equine. Despite the difference in cultural generations, the Prince’s Toy Soldiers showed an instinctive understanding of the Keystone Cops mannerisms in their roles.

I’m not sure that the Act II character variations fared as well this season as last. Act II lacks the spaciousness we have come to expect. First, there were no children. I was always impatient with the children in Balanchine’s Act II opening who seemed only or~~~~ntal, but those little faces must have contained some essential holiday cherubic energy: a promise that might be a warning—‘we might be little demons the rest of the year, but at Christmas we are all little angels of joy.’

The Spanish Dance was a double latte with whipped cream but the Chinese Dance was a grande chai way too sweet. Spanish was Anna Liceica, Maria Riccetto, Ethan Brown, and Carlos Molina (12/8) and Stella Abrera, Anna Liceica, and Sascha Radetsky, and Gennadi Savaliev (12/20). Chinese was Karin Ellis-Wentz, Anne Milewski, Julio Bragado-Young (12/8) and Elizabeth Gaither, Carrie Petersen, and Julio Bragado-Young (12/20).

I find that I misunderstood Arabian last year when I thought it was just a slinky dance for a girl. It’s not. It’s a slinky dance for a boy-toy then a slinky one for his mistress. Meow. Sascha Radetsky (12/8) and Isaac Stappas (12/20) proved brawnily exotic in an appropriately seasonal way without any holiday skankiness (so to speak). Stella Abrera (12/8) and Sandra Brown (12/20) were their dominatrixes with Abrera the most smooth of Arabian Coffees. Russian Dance seemed oddly underpowered. They were Herman Cornejo (12/8), David Hallberg (12/20), Eric Otto, John Michael Schert (12/8), Craig Salstein (12/20), and an uncredited youth.

Yet for all the fun of Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, and Russian, perhaps I’m still old fashioned enough to believe that a little travesti is good in a ballet—the omission of Mother Ginger and Her Bon Bons seemed somehow more noticeable this year. It just seems like a safer world when a man in drag can appear onstage at this most family of entertainments without drawing protests from the PTA. In fact, I wonder if censoring out the potentially impolitic isn’t symptomatic of the somewhat pasteurized quality of this production. Christmas is after all an inherently messy business—parking hassles, bickering family, credit card limits, etc. Clean Christmas up too much, you risk taking some of its unmistakable glow. Hmmm… a thought I might develop in a follow up posting…

I liked the Waltz of the Snowflakes better this season. The traditional choreography’s pinwheel designs aims to reproduce the mathematical precision of individual snowflakes. This show’s choreography shows us snow drifts, eddies, and gusts. Rather than the usual magnifying glass, think of a snowglobe—shaken not stirred. In fact, throughout, I thought the corps excellent in their ensemble numbers, the Waltz of the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers. The Waltz of the Flowers indeed reminded me not a little of Ben Stevenson’s “Cinderella.” I think it’s the corps men in their coat ‘n tails of grasshopper green.

Both evenings, the Sugar Plum pas de deuxs were delightful and at times exciting. Once again, Marcelo Gomes, who partnered both Paloma Herrera and ABT newcomer, Veronika Part, is the most subtle of partners. Sometimes I wonder if Herrera with her steely glamour shouldn’t at least occasionally guest with New York City Ballet. There is a picture of Herrera as the Siren in the current issue of Pointe Magazine… I’d like to see that sometime. Part retained some of her own choreography including those leaps up onto the Cavalier’s shoulder like Darci Kistler does in the very excellent NYCB DVD. With Gomes, both Herrera and Part had a confidence that we would do well to take with us beyond the holiday season.

Kelley’s design, Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes (w/ Barbara Matera), and Tom Skelton’s and Rui Rita’s lighting were all of a kind—a sort of big city, headliner slickness that dovetailed well with the commercially and ideologically smoothness of the modern holiday spirit. Fulfilling expectations from previous viewings, the corps were excellent and the dancers in the principal roles were strong and vital. Moreover, repeated viewing draws attention to some strongly cast secondary roles. Overall, the McKenzie “Nutcracker” made for several well spent evenings.

LaMarche and Barker conducted the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

<small>[ 28 December 2002, 02:57 PM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: ABT - Nutcracker - California Performances - 2002
PostPosted: Sun Dec 29, 2002 10:11 pm 
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A few more after-holiday thoughts about this run…

“Nutcracker”
American Ballet Theater
Orange County Performing Arts Center

Why should I—who only recently complained about having my brain hammered to jelly by one old Russian ballet classic after another—not only dutifully but almost gleefully embrace jellification yet another December? The impressively slick McKenzie “Nutcracker” offers two reasons: first, really great dancing. Artistic Director, Kevin McKenzie, can be proud of the level of dance presented. Over recent years, I feel that Orange County audiences have come to think of ABT dancing as a “sure thing.”

The second reason is an opportunity to consider aspects of this ballet that might not occur with fewer viewings. In last year’s holiday Forum I tried to make the case for enduring this holiday battlehorse for the nth time because it captured some essential message about the balletic medium that seems important for the holidays—a dream of social harmony and stability. Indeed, Christmas’ celebration of family and social amity occasions both the ballet’s story and the audience’s presence in the theater. Moreover, the libretto is choreographically preoccupied with resolving moments of disorder—drum and trumpet wielding boys are followed by the stately mannered waltz of the adults; the war between the toy soldiers and the mice is followed by the grand symmetries of the Snowflakes; the ethnicity of the Act II character dances is effaced by the pure classicism of the Sugar Plum Pas de Deux.

However, after several viewings of the McKenzie choreography, I feel that some more powerful activity is at work. If in its most corporate sense, “Nutcracker” serves primarily to reliably pull in revenue, then its draw must be so magnetic as to draw audiences into the theaters year after year (a success given to no other dance).

I would like to suggest that “Nutcracker” in addition to its reassuring overlay of social harmony projects the more important image of bourgeois plenitude and ideological solidity. In other words, “Nutcracker” shows the world not as it is but as we desire it to be—familiar, safe, controlled. There is of course nothing wrong with a bit of light fantasy (what else was Hollywood’s Golden Age about?), but making this into a successful ballet is more difficult. Too sanitized equals boredom. Too realistic risks alienation.

“Nutcracker”’s ambition, however, is nothing less than to project a world where bourgeois anxieties are invoked only to be mastered. The world of “Nutcracker” contains unsavory elements but only enough to provoke a degree of anxiety that can be triumphantly mastered. Anxiety and mastery—these are what, I think, psychologists would tell us underlie repetition-compulsion urges. In this sense, “Nutcracker” realizes in balletic terms what New Historicist theorist Stephen Greenblatt would call “the representational technology” of the Elizabethan theater, which was also vitally concerned with the maintenance of theatrical power as a cultural practice.

[Of course I don’t suggest that Ivanov and Tschaikovsky read their Shakespeare imaginatively and then sat down to create a ballet, but it occurs to me that more than a few parallels might be drawn between Shakespeare and the Imperial Court choreographers and their imperial masters.]

I think that for all the “whipped cream and polished silver” of the Stahlbaums, bourgeois cultural anxieties do in fact exist in the imaginative world of the “Nutcracker.” To rigorously ignore or exclude society’s ills is no less to be preoccupied with them. Sometimes such moments of tension are small. For example, after a short prologue introducing Drosselmeyer as a sort of a Freemason Geppeto (very curious with his peculiar carryings on with the Nutcracker Doll), the first act begins with Clara and Fritz’s struggle over the shadow puppet theater. The way that the rising of the scrim and the beginning of the Party Scene follows the war between the shadow puppets suggests metaphorically hidden tensions.

One can’t help but note a particular savagery about the children as if the animus of “Lord of the Flies” relocated to petit-bourgeois Germany. You see it when the mischievous boys, drums and trumpets in arm, rush the girls—the Chubby Boy chews on the Girl in the Pink Dress’s arm until he is pulled away by the adults (twice). This bit (bite?) of proto-cannibalism is barely noticed, swept aside by the scene’s glossy holiday spirit.

Some anxieties are of a palpably larger scale. Perhaps “Nutcracker” acknowledges the horrors of battle but transform them into an affair of infant-mice and toy soldier girls. Military atrocities and the suffering of war are only vestigial in the image of the death’s skull grimace of the Nutcracker Prince toy. For the Russian Dance, the only Cossaks in the Land of the Sweets are the fun kind—pogrom minded Cossaks need not apply.

Issues about mastery reach a crisis with Mother Ginger and Her Bon Bons (normally in the traditional staging but conspicuously missing from the McKenzie production). Her numerous Bon Bons would have been linked to images of a teeming proletariat threatening to overwhelm civilization in a Lamarckian deluge; and, her outrageous makeup would have suggested harlot’s paint to hide syphilitic pockmarks. For “Nutcracker”’s original, aristocratic audience, could anything be a more monstrous signifier of lower class promiscuity, pollution, and disease? These tensions manifest themselves not only in loathsome characters but also in the choreography’s occasional eruptions of coarse, low class movement—such as the mice-children’s butt waggling and brought to its logical conclusion with the shaking cleavage of Mother Ginger’s aging drag queen equipagegah

Yet, despite all this, the ballet shows us not the perils of class contamination and pestilence but an amusing spoof with charming tots. Such moments of danger however are subordinated to the work’s overall message endorsing harmony, stability, and safety; but, in a curious sense, McKenzie’s ballet reminds us that mastery is predicated upon its subject. Mastery, in other words, requires a medium—without a dominated there can be no domination… which is my round about way of explaining the blandness of McKenzie’s Act II. Simply put, Act II is too clean, too sanitized, yes, and too safe.

Of course, I’ve gone on far too long, but I’d like to affirm that I do like “Nutcracker” both the McKenzie and the regular kind (either that or I just gave people who don’t like the ballet more not to like). I’m not suggesting that generations of holiday ballet goers have joined (to use Terry Eagleton’s phrase) “a world of doped telly viewers who have long since been cowed into apathetic conformity.” I am suggesting that whether we realize it or not, the “Nutcracker” takes us beyond mere ritual holiday obedience and beyond entertainment to the kind of complicity worthy indeed of the holiday season.

<small>[ 30 December 2002, 03:55 PM: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>


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