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Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Sep 29, 2004 3:43 am ]
Post subject:  Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

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TICKETS: 020 7863 8000

With go-go boots, bouffant hairdos and dancing Barbies, this Nutcracker seesaws between hilarious satire and loving homage.

Transposed to a kitsch 1970’s home, where the Christmas tree is plastic, a yule log burns on TV, the maid has attitude and the party guests do the bump, this is a pop culture fantasy come to life. Episodes of Noël nuttiness share the spotlight with the tender unfurling of childhood fantasies and first love.

Returning to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original story, and impeccably faithful to the complete Tchaikovsky score, The Hard Nut is at once a send up of the conventional ballet and also a tribute.

Featuring 33 dancers, the 45-piece Royal Ballet Symphonia, a choir and full staging, this is a rare opportunity to see The Hard Nut, a Mark Morris signature piece. Due to its large scale, the show rarely tours and has previously been seen in only four cities worldwide.

<small>[ 29 September 2004, 07:44 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  kurinuku [ Sun Nov 07, 2004 1:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

Moving spirit

the Guardian

"Rather than tearing my hair out for months waiting for a step to occur to me while everybody stands around, I'll say I have no idea at all but do this and then let's change it. And then I can refine it or throw it out. I'd rather see something happen than wait for inspiration."

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Nov 07, 2004 2:36 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

There’s only one Mark Morris
As a choreographer, he’s unique — and his mischievous take on the Nutcracker shows the maturing bad boy at his best. By Clifford Bishop for The Sunday Times.

The unmistakable presence of Mark Morris is hard to disguise, even beneath aviator shades and enough veils to giftwrap a harem. He knows this; he’s tried. Morris created his own version of the perennial Christmas ballet The Nutcracker back in 1991. He called it The Hard Nut, and decided, against all canons of taste or decency, to perform the slinky Arabian dance from the second act himself, as a big-hipped houri swathed in robes “she” clearly imagines to be diaphanous, while the audience offers silent thanks that they are not, and nervous prayers that they all stay in place.

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Author:  kurinuku [ Fri Nov 12, 2004 1:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

One tough nut to crack

the Independent

Then it's back to The Nutcracker's problems. "Most first acts are very boring. The music here is full of wonderful things, things that prefigure Act II, and it's so often ignored or danced over. It's fabulous music, so pay attention to it." Morris's response to music is at the heart of his choreography.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sat Nov 13, 2004 1:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

Post-performance comments – Friday, 12th November, 2004, Sadler’s Wells

Annie: I absolutely love it for its irreverence and the visual fireworks. I came because my daughter wanted to come, but I’m very pleased that I did. It’s much more than just a Christmas show – unbelievable.

Vivianne: I really liked it – the snowflakes scene was my favourite.

Fredrik: I really enjoyed it. The character playing is so strong and I loved the period detail from late 60s/70s. It kept my interest throughout.

Catherine Ehrke and Marie-Helene Ehrke: We're very enthusiastic about it – interesting, lively and original. The snowflakes scene was brilliant.

Emma: I loved it, but then I always enjoy Mark Morris’s choreography. “The Hard Nut” is irreverent, lots of fun and also has integrity. It’s the first narrative piece I’ve seen by him and that also made it interesting. I saw it from the First Circle and I’d strongly recommend to see it from there or the Second Circle so that you can see the patterns.

<small>[ 13 November 2004, 03:26 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  AnaM [ Mon Nov 15, 2004 3:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

Mark Morris Dance Group presented The Hard Nut (1991) for the first time in London last Friday 12th of November. Though the piece was familiar to all Morris fans through the existing video recording, it was nevertheless an exciting occasion, for nothing can make up for the live experience of a dance work, especially if the choreographer is still in full charge of the piece.

The idea of taking a familiar classical work and give it a different look is not new, even in the ballet world. Roland Petit changed many of the classical ballets in form and content –perhaps his best example is his famous reworking of Coppélia- and so did
Rudolf Nureyev and of course Maurice Béjart and John Neumeier. In fact, The Nutcracker is a case in point when it comes to reworkings. Few classical ballets have had such a myriad of readings, maybe due to the fact that, though it being a “classic” firmly anchored in the standard repertoire of companies throughout the world, it has no original surviving choreography, unlike Swan Lake, Raymonda, The Sleeping Beauty, and the rest of ballets that conform the usual “classical” repertoire. Thus, the reworking by Mark Morris should not be considered a novelty per se. However, the way in which he articulated Tchaykowsky’s music might be considered so.

Morris provided the dance world with a work so full of original twists that his reading of the music was to influence other reworkings of familiar ballets in a similar vein, most notably Mathew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Unlike Bourne’s work, though, Morris’s focuses on comedy and a contagious joie de vivre and rids itself of the darker aspects of the tale, or rather turns them into a mad parody of our expectations.

The ballet opens with the three children sitting down on the stage while the curtain is down and the orchestra plays the Overture. Once the curtain goes up we see that they are watching television. The television will become a central motif of the whole ballet, playing with fiction and reality as in fact, television so often does. The ballet is set in the seventies or late sixties and the sets and costumes wonderfully evoke cartoons from that time.

The party scene is a hilarious parade of party stereotypes that, though dressed in the fashion of the day, easily find their parallels in any party taking place nowadays. It would take several viewings to actually take in all that goes on during the different numbers and this is the most successful part of Morris work. The first act from beginning to end is just a joy to watch. Whereas in most classical productions the first act usually remains an uninspiring affair, in Morris’s it is well crafted and inventive. All the guests are perfectly characterised and the choreography, after all these years, remains inventive, surprising and full of hilarious moments. If there is one thing Morris has always relied on is his musicality and this does never fail throughout the scene. Even if this musicality could be accused of being –in Paul Taylor’s words- Micky Mousing, the way in which he manages to Micky Mouse the different numbers is always surprising and daring at times.

To list all the wonderful performances by the members of his company would be a tiring task. Suffice to say that, to their credit, they all managed to make their characters, however mad or stereotyped, totally believable in their madness. Of course, Morris as the drunk guest should get special mention, as all the main characters that make up the Stahlbaum household.

The dream sequence is beautifully crafted. Again, this is one of the most difficult moments in most classical productions, as Tchaykowsky’s music reaches a climatic perfection that is usually hard to emulate on stage. The transformation of the Christmas Tree is one of the most sublime moments in ballet music, little wonder that it made Balanchine proclaim that “The Nutcracker IS the tree”. Morris leaves the stage dark with little Marie sitting tragically alone with her torch. This moment is tender and touching and allows for the music to flow endlessly.

The battle reminded us of Disney’s Toy Story when the soldiers enter the stage in full Rambo style.

However, the glory, choreographically and theatrically speaking is the Snowflakes Waltz. Of course, one of Morris’s most distinctive features throughout the piece is his flair for exchanging gender identities in his characters. There are several occasions when one is not very sure of whether the character dancing is either a man or a woman. This blurring of gender comes on its own in the Waltz. The whole company dresses identically and performs the same steps. Perhaps, this signature feature has become one of Morris’s most influential aspects in his work and perhaps it would not be too bad to remind ourselves that it was in fact Twyla Tharp who first started consciously blurring genders in her dances.

However, it should be said to Morris’s credit that the wonderful moments he creates through this waltz puts his choreography beyond our gender expectations and just concentrates on creating one of the most magical moments in the whole ballet. It is exhilarating to see and it makes you agree with the choreographer when he said in an interview that he believed in choreography that made you feel good, and that “that is fine”. Morris provides the audience with entertainment of the highest quality.

However mortifying and “eighties” some members of the audience seemed to find the scene, I found it magnificent and daring in its form. True, it will be difficult to maintain once Morris is not there to supervise it, but given Morris’s views on the preservation of his works, this does not seem to be one of his great concerns. The scene is so over the top it is a miracle it does not get drowned in its own kitsch. It does not. When Morris provides the music with snow fireworks magically timed, he seems to remind us all of the fascination such displays had in our childhood. Morris’s triumph is in taking us back to our childhood and this is what The Nutcracker is all about. Childhood and its loss, the fragility that separates a child from adulthood and vice versa.

For the second act, Morris decided to take on the Nutcracker story as told by Hoffmann. Though it is a brave attempt, I do not think it works particularly well, especially after the memory of the end of the previous act. The original story is extremely complicated and surreal, especially for children. On stage it relies on too much mime and though it is theatrically effective, the telling becomes a little too difficult to follow. Morris recommends his audience to read the synopsis before the ballet starts, but this does not seem to be a very good idea overall. The national dances become thus a journey throughout the world in which Drosselmeyer tries to find the nut that will end the spell cast on Princess Pirlipat. It makes sense, but dramatically, he has taken us too far away from Marie’s world and for a while it seems that we are watching a different ballet altogether. Ballet is not cinema where stories can be as layered as a talented director can manage. Even in traditional ballet there are moments when producers have opted for taking established choreographic numbers out because they seemed to delay the dramatic action for too long. Nureyev always hated the Peasants pas de deux in Giselle as he used to complain that by the end of it nobody in the theatre could remember who Albrecht and Giselle were.

The national dances are as stereotyped as they can be. Some succeed choreographically better than others. The Russian dance does succeed, but others seem to sink in as soon as the characters have shocked us with their first appearance on the stage.

The problem with Morris’s Hard Nut is that though competition for the First Act is weak, competition for the Second one is much tougher. There are many more strong second acts with beautiful choreography to contend against.
Still, his taking on the stereotypes is daring to a degree, especially in the world we live in at the moment where it seems one always has to be apologetic about talking about a country in what is now referred to as inaccurate generalisations. It is refreshing to see somebody presenting these cliché views in such an unashamed form. I wondered, though, if the way the Arabian Dance presented its characters had something to do with its omission from the recording of the ballet.

The Waltz of the Flowers was another example of Morris at his most inventive. Following the same idea he worked on for his Snow Waltz, the company is dressed with the same costume and dances the same steps regardless of their gender. Not as strikingly beautiful as the former, the waltz is a daring reading of Tchaykowsky’s music.

Then, on to the pas de deux, and what for me is the weakest moment in all the ballet. Maybe it is difficult to see this scene without holding wonderful memories of what this music is about and how it has been choreographed previously. For me the music demands grandeur, and that is something Morris does not provide. His choreography is musical, as usual, but it does not convey Marie’s passing into maturity in the grand manner that the music describes. There is something about the gravity, almost sadness, the music conveys that speaks of an elegance and greatness that the whole of Morris’s company entering the stage at different musical cues cannot match.

Overall, Morris’s The Hard Nut is a most enjoyable ballet. It has weaknesses, the pas de deux would be its greatest to me, but it is a ballet that should be seen. Morris provides us with inventiveness, something the choreographic world badly needs, he provides us with an almost Ashtonian sense of the theatre and comedy –small wonder that Morris cites Symphonic Variations and A Wedding Bouquet as two of his favourite ballets-, and he gives us an unashamedly totally Morris sense of joy and kitsch and its never ending scenic possibilities. True, some people will find some of his ideas unacceptable, but on the other hand, and as Richard Buckle once said: “In ballet, like in all the arts, there are no rules, only risks”. Morris has taken them all.

After seeing his piece one leaves the theatre with a smile, with a feeling of childhood joy recovered. Morris once stated that “there is enough theatre work that just rubs your nose in your misery and I’m not interested in that”. Morris’s The Hard Nut may not be his greatest masterpiece, but there are several moments in it when it gets very close to achieving just that. And, after all, how many entirely satisfactory Nutcrackers can one count among the dozens of productions around the world?

<small>[ 16 November 2004, 03:09 AM: Message edited by: Ana Abad-Carles ]</small>

Author:  kurinuku [ Mon Nov 15, 2004 11:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

The Hard Nut

the Guardian

Certainly the superb, hard-working cast fill the stage with terrific panache - though it is Morris as the party drunk sporting egregious sideburns and swaying after the drinks trolley, who steals the show.

Author:  kurinuku [ Tue Nov 16, 2004 8:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

Morris cracks it

the Daily Telegraph

But when the story homes in on the relationship of little Marie and her Nutcracker Doll is when most Nutcracker productions get into trouble. Morris is highly original here. First he sneaks in a shocking way of asking whether we really care about child Marie anyway.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Tue Nov 16, 2004 12:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

The Hard Nut
By Debra Craine for The Times

THIS burlesque extravaganza reveals a side to the American choreographer Mark Morris that likes to poke fun — and he does it so well. The Hard Nut, his 1991 staging of The Nutcracker, brims with jokes and delicious characterisations which propel audiences into laugh-out-loud enjoyment. With its colourful humour, buoyant choreography and knockout costumes, it’s a happy way to bring this year’s Dance Umbrella festival to a close.

The “production concept” is based on the work of the cartoonist Charles Burns, whose milieu is horror comics, and there is a kind of grotesque glee to the satire. The setting is a brash amalgam of 1960s and 1970s styles: bellbottoms, bouffant hairdos, go-go boots and mini-skirts.

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Author:  Lyndsey Winship [ Wed Nov 17, 2004 8:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

Mark Morris Dance Group
The Hard Nut
Sadler’s Wells

Every ballet has its boring bits. Usually it’s the opening, the scene-setting – at a party or in the market place perhaps – the corps mingling and pretending to chatter, not really up to much. This is when ballet can feel frustratingly mute and you’re thinking, ‘Come on, get on with it’, until the hero or heroine arrives with some proper steps and a plot.

It’s a shame that Mark Morris’s Hard Nut has a boring bit that lasts for most of the first act.

Morris has taken E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original Nutcracker story and relocated it to late 60s America, complete with fantastic comic book-style sets by Adrianne Lobel. Unfortunately, like the comic strips it apes, the action is purely two-dimensional.

It’s Christmas Eve and Dr Stahlbaum and his wife are having their annual party, the guests arrive, each bringing with them a stereotype of party-going behaviour – drunkenness, lechery, awkwardness etc. There’s definitely something amusing about doing the hand jive to Tchaikovsky’s score but otherwise the laughs are pretty thin.

Luckily, it gets better. One of the party guests, Drosselmeier brings a nutcracker for the Stahlbaum children, and later when young Marie can’t sleep she creeps downstairs to look at it. In this dark-edged night-time world, everything grows to giant size. Huge remote-control rats with glowing eyes scoot across the stage and life-sized GI Joes burst into action. Morris is nothing if not inventive.

Best of all is the blizzard scene where the cast become snowflakes, men and woman all identically dressed in tiny tutus and silver head-dresses. They leap across the stage flinging handfuls of snow, perfectly synchronised with the thrusting accents of the music. It’s like a yuletide fireworks show and perfectly nails the balance between kitsch comedy and clever dancing.

In the second act things get a bit confusing, thanks to a complex and ridiculous plot from Hoffmann and much blurring of fantasy and reality. All you need to know is to read the synopsis before you see the show.

The Hard Nut is good, brightly-coloured fun. The cast are slick, the orchestra adroit and it all ends happily ever after. Thirteen years on from its creation it stands up pretty well on its first visit to London. And the Brits were bound to enjoy this, with its cross-dressing, crass stereotypes, grotesque characters and always-arched eyebrows – after all, we get pantomime every year.

Author:  kurinuku [ Thu Nov 18, 2004 5:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

A kitsch Christmas cracker

the Independent

There's too much coarsened phrasing in the national dances. The ballet stays on course, but loses some of its bubbling invention.

No such complaints about the leads. David Leventhal is an ardent Nutcracker, and Lauren Grant a buoyant, touching Marie. John Heginbotham's stylish Mrs Stahlbaum slides between real feeling and delicate exaggeration.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Fri Nov 19, 2004 10:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

The Hard Nut
By John Percival for The Stage

Mark Morris’s reinterpretation of The Nutcracker has the funniest, most individual party scene of all. Place: a trendy New York home. Time: the seventies. Atmosphere: competitive, assertive, bibulous and sexy. No wonder the two daughters are so obsessed by the older men.

The ballet’s first half largely follows the usual plot only updated. Act 2, however, is given a closer link by introducing Hoffmann’s story about Princess Pirlipat...

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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sat Nov 20, 2004 9:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

Saw "the Hard Nut" for the second time today and having seen it both from the stalls and the first circle, I strongly reccommend the latter. With Morris's emphasis on ensemble composition, perhaps that's no surprise.

How successful is it? I went in in a foul mood and came out transported by its fun and elegance.

Author:  Azlan [ Sat Nov 20, 2004 2:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

I can add that "The Hard Nut" is a good antidote, er I mean dessert, to the traditional "Nutcracker." Well, let's put it this way, you will get a bigger kick out of it if you know what about the traditional "Nutcracker" that Morris if spoofing.

Author:  kurinuku [ Sun Nov 21, 2004 11:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mark Morris Dance Group - 12 - 27 November

It'll be all white on the night

the Observer

The transformation scenes are done manually, as if in a cardboard cut-out theatre. No magic here, until a snowstorm invades the stage.

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