CriticalDance Forum

New York City Ballet - Nutcracker
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Nov 29, 2010 3:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Leigh Witchel reviews the Friday, November 26, 2010 performance in the New York Post.

NY Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Dec 29, 2010 2:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Tobi Tobias discusses Sara Mearns' performances as Sugar Plum Fairy and Dewdrop in Arts Journal.

Arts Journal

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Nov 29, 2011 12:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Brian Seibert reviews the Friday, November 25, 2011 performance of "The Nutcracker" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Leigh Witchel reviews the same performance for the New York Post.

NY Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Nov 29, 2011 12:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Apollinaire Scherr reviews the Saturday, November 26, 2011 performance of "The Nutcracker" for the Financial Times.

Financial Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Dec 12, 2011 1:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

In the Grand Rapids Press, Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk interviews new NYCB corps member Lars Nelson, from Rockford, Michigan, about appearing in "The Nutcracker" in 500 movie theatres on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 and on "Live from Lincoln Center" on PBS, Wednesday, December 14, 2011.

GR Press

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Dec 14, 2011 1:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Chris Mautner interviews Harrisburg native and NYCB soloist Adam Hendrickson about the "Nutcracker" performances that will be shown in theatres and on television, December 13-14, 2011, for the Patriot-News.


Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Dec 15, 2011 1:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Alastair Macaulay reviews the December 13, 2011 HD broadcast to movie theatres for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Dec 15, 2011 2:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

In the Salt Lake Tribune, Kathy Adams interviews Utah native Megan Fairchild, who performs on the HD broadcast of "The Nutcracker."

SL Tribune

Author:  balletomaniac [ Thu Dec 15, 2011 11:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York
December 6, 14 (‘Live from Lincoln Center’), 2011

“George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’”

As I watched “George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’” for the umpteenth times – in the audience at the David H. Koch Theater at last Tuesday evening’s performance, and again last night from within two feet of my freshly-cleaned TV screen as New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker became the latest of PBS’s ‘Live From Lincoln Center’ productions – I was reminded, for the umpteenth time, of how important a live audience is in performing arts. No matter how worthwhile it is (and ‘Live from Lincoln Center’ may be more important than any single live performance if for no other reason than because of the huge audience it reaches), the feeling of a performance is different when the audience and the artists are breathing the same air. It’s the synergy.

What brought this to mind was the recognition that the live house was as much a star of the Tuesday evening performance as the dancers themselves. Well, not quite. But Tuesday’s house was alive and responsive and captivated – and not just because a significant percentage was pre-teen: it was also a very knowledgeable New York City ballet audience. Through the TV screen, and depending on the camera angle (which unfortunately was not always in the right place at the right time last night), one can see the choreographic brilliance, the magical staging, the children’s faces (particularly in Act I), and the superb dancing. But without the mutual exchange of energy created as the dancers and the audience respond to each other, and without feeling the electricity that this interaction generates, something is missing. And unless you’re a very unusual viewer, you don’t have the opportunity to join in that rarest of all NYCB experiences, a standing ovation, in front of your TV screen.

But whether live in its house, or live in yours, seeing this NYCB Nutcracker production is a highly anticipated annual ritual, an iconic tradition that entertains, and in the process enlightens, children of all ages. More than just being a cash cow, since its creation in 1954 this production has become a growth medium for breeding and nurturing enthusiasm for the performing arts in general and for ballet in particular, as well as a cultural reference point. It is plum pudding for the soul.

“George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’” keeps it simple: it’s a version that children can understand and easily follow and that is visually enchanting; but it’s less intellectually stimulating, and therefore less interesting (at least to this viewer), than was Mikhail Baryshnikov’s version for American Ballet Theatre (which is still available on DVD), or Alexei Ratmansky’s current production for ABT (which is now on view at the Brooklyn Academy of Music). There’s little of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s dark original story, of a coming-of-age awakening, or of a young girl’s dream of what her future may be.

But its simplicity is deceptive. In the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve party, for example, every inch of the stage overflows with frenetic albeit orchestrated action. The children who populate the piece by the dozens act like children (except they’re extraordinarily talented young ballet dancers from the School of American Ballet), and they move naturally, without any indication of forced choreographic conformity. And the transition to, and exposition of, Marie’s dream is, still, a miraculous example of stagecraft (including, of course, the legendary Christmas tree on steroids).

But as wonderfully creative as the staging is, even more important is that the dancers, the adult dancers (and many of the young dancers as well), add nuances that keep the performances exciting and fresh for themselves as well as for adults who have seen The Nutcracker umpteen times. Adam Hendrickson’s Drosselmeier at both performances was distinctively charming and sufficiently mysterious, Craig Hall and Daniel Ulbricht’s Candy Cane (on Tuesday and last night, respectively) were athletically exuberant, and Rebecca Krohn’s Coffee, at Tuesday’s performance, was appropriately seductive [as I’ve noted previously, Ms. Krohn has the ability to dance sensuously without trying, and to light fires without seeming to know she’s doing it.] Teresa Reichlen, who performed the role last night, danced the same steps and looked breathtaking doing so, as she always does, but seemed more detached and unable to connect – but this may have been the result of TV distance. Claire Abraham was a delightfully sparkling and spunky Marie at Tuesday’s performance, and Fiona Brennan’s Marie last night added a quality of precocious sophistication to the role. Both Jeremy Wong and Colby Clark showed youthful danseur elegance in their roles as Drosselmeier’s nephew/the Nutcracker/the Little Prince at Tuesday’s and last night’s performances, respectively.

But aside from the Christmas tree, the candyland-like Land of the Sweets, and Balanchine’s wonderfully complex and visually stunning choreography for the ‘Snowflakes’, which are understandable focal points for both children and wide-eyed adults, this version of The Nutcracker is anchored by the Sugarplum Fairy and Dewdrop, and I doubt that I’ve seenbetter performances of either role than were delivered, respectively, by Jennie Somogyi and Ashley Bouder.

I haven’t had many opportunities to see Ms. Somogyi dance of late. That’s my loss. Her Sugarplum Fairy at Tuesday evening’s performance was a model of clarity and control, of nuance and timing, which added immeasurably to the impact of the choreography that Balanchine created, converting steps into clearly conveyed characterization. This is as it should be – but one rarely sees it done so well. Although he has less to do, Jared Angle was a superb partner, adding conviction and strength to what could be a cardboard role. [At last night’s TV performance in the same roles, Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz seemed more distant, but, again, this may have been a result of the changed medium and perspective.]

And then there’s Ms. Bouder. At both of the performances I saw she was a dancing dynamo, cutting through Ballanchine’s non-stop choreography like a diamond through glass. She moved so quickly and crisply, and with such boundless energy (pausing every once in a while to add punctuation to the choreographed phrasing and variety to her presentation – and perhaps to tease the audience into thinking that she needed to catch her breath), that I grew tired just watching her.

Ms. Somogyi and Ms. Bouder are perfect examples of what I meant by the dancers keeping their performances fresh and exciting for themselves as well as for the audience. Both have been members of the company, and principals, for many years. Yet they danced as if their reputations depended on it, with personal nuances that made the characters and the steps their own, demonstrating in the process that dance as a performing art involves more than executing steps perfectly: it also requires the ability to create and convey a moving image and a stage personality sufficient to energize an audience, and to be energized in return.

During intermission at last night’s performance, the TV audience was treated to interviews with some of the dancers, one of whom was little Ms. Brennan. When asked what she did differently this year than she did last year, when she first danced the role of Marie, ten year old Ms. Brennan said that this year she wouldn’t just try to do the steps perfectly – she’d try to make the role her own. Exactly! Whether instinctive or the product of training, it is this quality – the desire, and the ability, to make every performance unique – that sparks the energy, that creates the electricity, that leads to that rare standing ovation, and that makes every performance of The Nutcracker special – even when danced, or seen, for the umpteenth time.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Dec 22, 2011 12:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Robert Greskovic reviews the HD version of "The Nutcracker" for the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Dec 22, 2011 12:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Apollinaire Scherr reviews the HD performance of "The Nutcracker" for the Financial Times.

Financial Times

Author:  Dean Speer [ Tue Dec 27, 2011 11:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Nearly Live From Lincoln Center
New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”
PBS Broadcast, 20 December 2011

by Dean Speer

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].

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Dec 28, 2011 2:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Alastair Macaulay compares casts of principals in viewings of "The Nutcracker" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Sun Nov 25, 2012 12:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

[Note - This is a duplicate of a review I posted earlier in the NYCB forum. I forgot that it should probably be posted here.]

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

November 23, 2012
George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’

-- by Jerry Hochman

Every once in awhile I’m reminded why George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’ is the classic it is.

I have to admit that I prefer versions of The Nutcracker that are more true to the somewhat darker story created by E.T.A. Hoffmann, which includes character development and a ‘coming of age’ underlying theme: the no-longer-performed-live-but-available-on-DVD version created by Mikhail Baryshnikov for American Ballet Theatre, for example, or ABT’s current production created by Alexei Ratmansky. But that may be because I’m an adult – or at least I’m supposed to be, and I’d rather get involved in the story than simply watch a spectacle. Be that as it may, and whether it was because it was opening night of the 2012 season, or because the audience was as alive and responsive as the dancers on stage, or perhaps because I was more in touch with my inner child than I’ve been in recent memory – New York City Ballet’s performance was two hours of soup-to-nuts magnificence.

Amidst the production-wide stellar performances (on and off stage) by both company members and apprentices, as well as the young dancers from the School of American Ballet, there were two that were truly memorable – Tiler Peck’s star turn as ‘Dewdrop’; and the thrilling orchestral leadership provided by NYCB’s outstanding conductor, Clotilde Otranto. I’ll address the performances later in this review.

Hoffmann’s original 1816 story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, was adapted by Alexandre Dumas pere in 1844, and it was this version that formed the libretto for the ballet created by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to a commissioned score by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky. The ballet, which premiered at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Peterburg in December, 1892, was not an immediate success (although Tchaikovsky’s music was). Although there were subsequent productions in Europe and the United States (one by the San Francisco Ballet premiered in 1944), it was George Balanchine’s version, which debuted in 1954, that rescued the ballet from relative obscurity and turned it into a money machine. Reportedly, Balanchine selected The Nutcracker to be the first full length NYCB production, at least in part, because by populating the cast with children played by real children rather than adults in the children’s roles, ticket sales to family and friends were guaranteed. He was right, of course -- the ballet has been a money-maker ever since [By my unofficial count, the current production includes 64 young dancers, give or take (some dance two roles). Do the math.]

But George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’ is more than just Black Friday for ballet companies. While the choreography (particularly in Act I) is relatively non-existent, and some of the Act II choreography is pedestrian (e.g., ‘Hot Chocolate’ -- the Spanish dance), a lot of it is wonderful (Marzipan; Dew Drop; Candy Cane; Chinese (Tea)), and the choreography for the Sugarplum Fairy’s pas de deux is wickedly difficult. And the staging (particularly in the often overlooked detail in Act I) is incomparable.

As good as Balanchine’s choreography is, however, it is matched by Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s brillianatly magical sets, the costumes by Karinska, and the original lighting by Ronald Bates (updated and executed by Mark Stanley). And of course there’s the Tchaikovsky score. It’s nice when everything comes together. It’s also invaluable that this NYCB production reflects that rarest of qualities – sufficient rehearsal time. Every step, every gesture, seems to have been hard-wired from infancy – or at least since the dancers took their first steps at SAB. [This season, the production segues seamlessly into NYCB’s winter 2013 season’s Tchaikovsky Celebration.]

The story is no doubt familiar to everyone. Marie (Balanchine restored the name of the child in the Hoffmann original – it had been changed to Clara in the Petipa/Ivanov version and it is that name that has been used most subsequent ballets) and her brother Fritz await the arrival of friends and relatives to the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve open house. Marie’s darkly eccentric godfather, Herr Drosselmeier, entertains the children with magical tricks, and, accompanied by his Nephew, presents Marie with a toy Nutcracker, which her brother subsequently breaks. [Boys will be boys and girls will be ballerinas.] Drosselmeier tends to the Nutcracker’s wounds, returns the toy to Marie, and then he and the guests leave the Stahlbaum home. Instead of going to bed, however, Marie slips away to return to her wounded Nutcracker. She falls asleep holding him, and then begins to dream.

The rest – the growing Christmas Tree, the Mice and Mouse King, the Nutcracker morphing into the life-size Nutcracker, the battle, the shoe and the sword and the severed crown, the Nutcracker’s transformation into Drosselmeier’s nephew after being freed from the curse that had imprisoned him in wood, and the fantasyland visit to the Land of the Sweets – needs no elaboration. And the structure of the ballet is broadly similar to other Petipa/Ivanov ballets of the period. In Act I, the ‘reality’ exposition, instead of a birthday celebration, we have a Christmas Eve celebration, and instead of peasants and nobles dancing, we have children and adults. Act I segues to a ‘dream’ scene, but instead of Solor’s hallucinogenic-induced reverie or Don Quixote’s post-traumatic vision, we have the Marie/Clara dream/nightmare. And in Act II, instead of a fairy tale palace celebration/wedding filled with various divertissement, we have the Land of the Sweets filled with various divertissement. And in the end, instead of the apotheosis of Odette and Siegfried or Nikia and Solor, we have Marie and the Nutcracker/Nephew/nascent boyfriend transported out of fantasyland to wherever Marie’s dream will next take them – or to when she awakes, whichever comes first.

This production is usually what I would consider an entertaining spectacle. Glorious to watch, but not much more than that for anyone over the age of 14 or not related to a dancer on stage. Friday's opening night performance was a dream/reality check.

I have written previously that Tiler Peck is at the top of her game. But that phrase doesn’t say enough: at Friday’s performance, Ms. Peck turned Dewdrop into a work of performance art. Whether you get to see her dance on the small screen (on TV last week – on Dancing With the Stars) (an aside – go Melissa!) or in a theater, she dances with a combination of warmth and vibrancy that makes you not just appreciate, but smile (and want to see her performance again and again).

But every dancer at this opening night was ‘on’: as I’ve previously written, Rebecca Krohn has the ability to transmit extraordinary sensuality, but also the stage persona that makes it seem that she has no idea she knows she’s doing it. Coffee requires understated but obvious sensuality, but is easy to dance ‘over the top.’ I’ve seen Ms. Krohn’s Coffee previously and thought she was perfect. Last night she was, somehow, better than perfect. Erica Pereira was delightfully engaging, as she always is, in the Marzipan divertissement, as was Daniel Ulbricht as the lead Candy Cane. The effort needed to execute Balanchine’s choreography for the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier showed in the performances of Maria Kowroski and Jonathan Stafford, but they succeeded splendidly. The apparent effort will diminish as the season progresses. And it was good to welcome back Robert LaFosse and his accomplished Drosselmeier.

Other cast members all rose to the occasion: they include Devin Alberta’s Soldier and Antonio Carmena’s Tea, which were executed superbly, as were Lauren Lovette’s Columbine (echoes of Coppelia), and Sara Adams’s Harlequin (both of whom also ‘led’ the Snowflakes), and Lauren King and Ashley Laracey gathered the Flowers with verve. Georgina Pazcoguin and Chase Finley were the vibrant leads in Hot Chocolate, and Andrew Scordato provided an entertaining Mother Ginger. The usually overlooked roles of Dr. Stahlbaum and his wife were performed with panache, enthusiasm and sensitivity by Ask la Cour and Gwyneth Muller.

All the children in various roles (Angels, Flowers, Candy Canes, Polichinelles, Soldiers, Mice, Children at the Stahlbaum’s) were delightfully competent. It is not possible to identify them all without using more space than is available on the internet, or to identify all those I particularly noticed, but, after Act I, it was a kick and a half to see several of these talented young dancers (friends of Marie) joining their parents in the audience and acting like your ordinary extraordinary kid next door. As the Nephew/Nutcracker Prince, Lleyton Ho gave an accomplished performance. But Claire Abraham's Marie was more than accomplished. It seems that every girl that NYCB casts as Marie is an extrarodinarily talented young performer. But Ms. Abraham provided one of the finest Marie’s I can recall.

One final observation. I have, at times, commented on the conducting at certain ballet performances. More often than not, as with ABT, to complain about it. But I’ve recognized previously that Clotilde Otranto is a superb conductor. Superb is an understatement. At ballet performances, the conductor is the almost unrecognized director of the performance, who can alter the pace and sharpness of a production as much as anyone on stage. Time after time, Ms. Otranto makes the NYCB orchestra more than the extraordinary collection of musicians it already is. She has a dancer’s sensitivity – essential for any ballet conductor. Whenever she conducts she makes the orchestra come alive, and her contribution to a performance is as an equal partner with the choreographer and the dancers. At this performance, as wonderful as the dancers and sets and staging and the Tchaikovsky music already is, Ms. Otranto’s conducting made the entire production sound, and look, even better.

This viewer has seen George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’ more times than I can recall. But I’ve never liked it or enjoyed it more than after Friday’s performance. For this balletomaniac, as well as the sold out multi-generational audience, it is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: New York City Ballet - Nutcracker

Alastair Macaulay reviews the Thanksgiving weekend opening of "Nutcracker" on November 23-24, 2012 for the New York Times.

NY Times

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