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 Post subject: Southern California Nutcrackers
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2001 8:03 am 
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Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 457
Location: Jamaica, Queens, New York
Having made the case on the thread, “Nutcracker Reflections” see this perennial offering for the nth time, the time has come to stand up and be counted. Folks in Southern California don’t have big, full time company like San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Houston Ballet, etc—something that big touring companies notice every year (hence, the presence of American Ballet Theater at the Kodak and Moscow Classical Ballet at Pasadena Civic Auditorium this weekend).<P>This weekend a little but important piece of San Francisco Ballet was made available to Orange County.<P>“The Nutcracker” by Orange County Regional Ballet at Fullerton College<BR>12/22/01 matinee performance<BR>Choreography: Mary-Beth Cabana, Chicko Imada, Karen Toney, Kristen Olsen Potts; Staged by Kristen Olsen Potts, Helen Clarke, Jenny Backhaus<P>Clara—Kara Carter; Drosselmeyer—Dale Rahn; Snow Queen—Catherine Baker; Snow King—John Winfield; Sugar Plum Fairy—Julie Diana; Her Cavalier—Zachary Hench.<P>I have to admit that I probably would not have seen this particular production (there are so many to choose from) except that it has one of my favorite ballerinas, Julie Diana, as the Sugar Plum Fairy. I’ve been a big fan ever since I started watching dance seriously a few years ago. Since I don’t have the luxury of getting up to the city by the bay to see SFB’s “Nutcracker,” finding about this guest appearance was an unexpected treat.<P>Overall, Orange County Regional Ballet’s production was quite enjoyable. The choreography took a pretty standard approach to the “Nutcracker.” Clara was danced by a child, Kara Carter, who made a likeable gamin. This production was one of the ones where Drosselmeyer has a nephew, in this case a child smaller than Clara. This was confusing because the Nutcracker Prince was larger than Clara until the transformation when he became the nephew and therefore smaller again. There were some other oddities as well. Drosselmeyer’s silver hair and pony tail along with his graven countenance made him look more like a biker than a toy maker/magician. The Stahlbaum butlers were girls dressed “en travesti,” rather Chaplinesque in coat, tails, and little square mustaches. But, these are small matters.<P>Catherine Baker and John Winfield, I’m afraid, got gypped. Catherine Baker’s Snow Queen and John Winfield’s Snow King had one medium length variation and one lift walked across the stage, but that was all. The Land of the Snow, like all true ballet blanc, is the corps’ realm. It is the surface of sheer beauty of form that is important. Their waltz should emphasize the comprehension of total form. OCRB’s corps did a creditable job and was enjoyable to look at. Catherine looked regal and earnest, but it didn’t look like OCRB needed a soloist from San Francisco Ballet for that. I hope she’s cast to do Queen of the Snow back at the Opera House.<P>The Kingdom of the Sweets was also enjoyable. It began with the entire company sprawled about the stage asleep. As Drosselmeyer arrives with Clara and the pint sized Prince, Sugar Plum and Her Friend awaken the court—it could have been a moment from Act II of “Sleeping Beauty.” Arabian Coffee danced by Andrea Thompson shows us that Arabian is just a slinky dance after all. Everybody loves the Lambs, little tots in sheep’s clothing, pursued by the Marzipan Shepherdesses (Lillyan Foley, Shayna Slater, Karina White, Colleen O’Brien, or Danica Peck). Why is Mother Ginger usually a “travesti” role for a man in overdone makeup? I’ll offer a possible explanation in a later post, but when choreographers dispense with Mother Ginger it’s noticeable.<P>In terms of stage time, OCRB seems to have gotten their money’s worth from Julie Diana and Zachary Hench. Sugar Plum, Friend, Clara, and Prince sit through the entire 2nd act at the back of the stage to enjoy the revue. Julie and Zachary seem to have mastered the regal art of the Attentive Throne—big smiles, an occasional wave, discreet comments to whispered behind equally discreet hands. No clock watchers in the Candy Kingdom. No doubt for San Francisco Ballet company dancers, the Attentive Dancer look is a skill mastered from many gala receptions and fund raisers.<P>When it came to the Sugar Plum pas de deux, the goods were delivered in full. A preliminary list of adjectives has the champagne ring—sparkling, clear, evanescent, bright, festive. The tempi on the tape was faster than average if done with live orchestra and some of the sequences seemed abbreviated, but there was no sense of strain on either Sugar Plum or Friend. Julie’s pointework and epaulment were particularly in good form. Even in the most difficult sequences she looks like what I imagine dancers look like in their favorite part of class. Seeing her dance reminded me that I don’t get to see her as much after her promotion to principal. Zachary Hench made a good combination.<P>The show ended with a raffle for the Sugar Plum Fairy’s tiara and was awarded onstage by the Sugar Plum herself. The little girl who won the tiara, however, seemed rather intimidated by the entire affair. I wonder whether guest dancers bring their own choreography for standard guesting roles and whether they bring their own costumes.<P>Finally, these are only my thoughts on this production. If anybody else has some observations on local productions, I encourage them to post them up.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Southern California Nutcrackers
PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2001 8:25 am 
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Joined: Mon Oct 02, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 13071
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Thanks once again, Jeff, thank you for a most entertaining and informative review.<P>I love that new character role you have incorporated into the lexicon of ballet "Attentive Dancer", with variations thereof - "Attentive Throne." Some are surely better at this than others, it's obviously a very particularly acquired feat/feet.<P>As for the questions about star/guest dancers bringing their own costumes and choreography - I can give you my experience of observing this. <P>Yes - for the most part, from what I have seen they do bring their own costumes for roles in ballet like Nutcracker, Swan Lake, etc. Roles that are rather ubiquitous.<P>This is also true to some extent with the choreography - again in set roles for set ballets. <P>I had the pleasure of being in class with and then watching Valery and Galina Panov rehease and perform several Nutcrackers with San Diego Ballet in the late 1970's. Galina even had a special coda that she did (it consisted of innumerable fouetté turns changing directions every third turn, among other eye-poppers). <P>Rehearsals did take place with the company but then the Panovs 'did their own thing' for the pas de deux. <P>There was another time - and I am laboring here to remember the dancer (a big star) and the ballet - but am drawing a blank....in which the star arrived literally minutes before the performance with no time to rehearse with the company. Hard to believe but all went well, nevertheless. <BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Southern California Nutcrackers
PostPosted: Mon Dec 24, 2001 10:45 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 457
Location: Jamaica, Queens, New York
“Nutcracker" staged by Festival Ballet Theater at the Robert Moore Theater at Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, CA.(12/8m, 12/9m)<P>Choreography by Salwa Rizkalla; Clara—Jade Payette (12/8m), April VanAken (12/9m); Nutcracker Prince—Scott Weber, Trevor Brackney; Snow Queen Elizabeth Chasteler (12/8m,9m); Sugar Plum Fairy—Kirby Killam (12/8m,9m); Cavalier—Ilya Kuznetsov (12/8m,9m)<P>As I suggested in an earlier post, there I enjoy seeing any one of several “Nutcracker” productions by smaller dance organizations. In this case, Festival Ballet Theater out of Southland Ballet Academy in Fountain Valley. The program says that they were formed in 1988 and their school offers training in Vaganova as well as jazz and tap. As far as I know, they stage 2 productions a year—a full length in the spring and “Nutcracker” in December. ABTs Julie Kent seems to have some sort of guesting relationship with them as I saw her dance Aurora in their “Sleeping Beauty” a two years ago and she is supposed to dance in their “Swan Lake” next April.<P>Though the use of taped music has been commented in other threads as being a reality for most small companies, FBTs “Nutcracker” has actually been performed the last few years to live orchestra, the Cal State Long Beach Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Richard Rintoul. Though CSULBSO isn’t about to put the Pacific Symphony Orchestra (the closest thing Southern California has to a ballet orchestra, I suppose) out of business, at least we’re talking music in the full, timbre laden surround sound sense of the word.<P>Though FBT’s production isn’t the most professional of the southern California productions, in many ways it is the most satisfying. Rizkalla has unusual insight into the tension between the demands of visually interesting choreography and—shall we call it—the material at hand. Everywhere there is evidence that everybody has a clear understanding of their role. Little girls burst out in tears only to stop when other girls holding hands bring the tear striken into their daisy chain. Little boys grab at their toy horns and swords, almost caressing them with glee in anticipation of the ruckus to come. The adults look on bemusedly with the foreknowledge that somebody else has to take the bratty ones home.<P>In the Act I Stahlbaum party scene Rizkalla is particularly good at sustaining interest in what in other productions can seem tired or trite. When the corps children’s music begins, Rizkalla alternates the corps children between center exercises and epaulment and some simple allegro. Small groups do their “exercises au milieu” upfront. Others form groups for petite allegro in diagonal lines across the stage. (OK, I’ll now stop trying to use ballet terms I know next to nothing about). These simple steps repeated successively by small groups of children in diagonal lines across the stage reminds me of what Arlene Croce wrote of Laura Dean’s work: “Dean’s concerts of dancing are always interesting—not because they show any great development, but for their unity: their variation on fundamental and unchanging textures and patterns. If they could be hung side by side, like paintings in a gallery, we would see that they are all basically the same monochromatic dance, made out of the same irreducible materials” (1977). Because there is nowhere in these little children to hide, these little bodies moving, jumping, and spinning across the stage lay bare the “irreducible materials” of choreography.<P>The little mice look like beach ball size fluffs or marshmallows. They advance from the wings looking anxiously at each other and to somebody offstage for corrections. A few bars later, the spacing corrects itself. It reminds me of the time I heard Mark Morris yelling through a megaphone at San Francisco Ballet dancers in rehearsal, “Exchange information among yourselves!”<P>Rizkalla’s Snowflakes are of the “Giselle” variety—girls in a pale bluish light and fantasies of tulle. Chinese Tea still makes me nervous, but as danced by April VanAken & Trevor Brackney and Terra Sanders & Scott Weber at least some of the more blatant overmannerisms are checked. In this production, Arabian is slinky dance—no surprise—but for a Lolita in veils and harem trousers. However, there is (oddly enough) an allusion to Balanchine. It is when Arabian is developing poses on pointe supported by a girl on each side holding hands held high and another girl on each side—think of the sequence in “Theme & Variations” with the principal flanked by 2 girls on each side all holding hands help up high. There is something self-consciously exhibitionistic at work here, and I think of this Arabian as a Scheherezade in training. Arabian is Terra Sanders or Mary Braun.<P>The Merlitons (Marzipans) are Elizabeth Chasteler, Claudia Rea, and April VanAken or Meghan VanWinkle. Light pointework with their non-supporting feet lightly pawing the ground reminds me of the coltish quality in some interpretations of the Rubies’ soloists variations. The Marzipans are dressed in bright yellow tutus (the kind with the pancake type tutu skirt), 60’s style stewardess caps, and big cheerleader smiles. This variation is for Tall Girls only. When the lead Marzipan advances towards the audience flanked by her lieutenant Marzipans, I think, is this what Myrtha, Moyna, and Zulma might have looked like if they had been happy? This is probably my favorite section of the ballet.<P>The Waltz of the Flowers is one of the only really fully realized WotF of my holiday season. The “Nutcracker” pdd for Kirby Killam and Ilya Kuznetsov is well done. According to the bio, Kuznetsov is a professional guest artist though Kirby is FBT’s own. Those high Russian lifts! Though without Technicolor balletic pyrotechnics, the grand finish satisfies my need for a big finish in an entirely satisfying evening of ballet.<P>Next year, I’m definitely penciling in Festival Ballet Theater’s “Nutcracker.” I’d be particularly interested whether Kirby Killam and the Marzipans are returning and if so what their dancing will reveal.<P>Basheva, thanks for sharing about guest artists. I recall seeing an evening of solos and pdds by "Stars of the Kirov" and "Ruzimatov and Friends" and in retrospect, this must have been all set piece pdds from their accumulated guesting experiences.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Southern California Nutcrackers
PostPosted: Tue Dec 25, 2001 6:04 am 
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Joined: Mon Oct 02, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 13071
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Once again, thank you, Jeff.<P>I think sometimes these smaller companies set out to satisfy, rather than impress and therefore can be quite successful. As we scale back our expectantcies, they rise to that bar(re) - pun intended.<P>The only time I was sorry to have attended such a performance was when this type of company hyped itself beyond any possible accomplishment of its inflated advertising. That's a cheat. There is one such company here who did that many years ago and I have never returned - along with quite of few others that I know.<P>But to honestly state who one is, is to extend a hand - which is then honestly taken up.


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