CriticalDance Forum

American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Mar 07, 2011 6:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Laura Jacobs reviews the Ratmansky "Nutcracker" for The New Criterion.

The New Criterion

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Dec 12, 2011 1:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Sarah Kaufman reviews the Thursday, December 8, 2011 performance of Alexei Ratmansky's "The Nutcracker" at the Kennedy Center for the Washington Post.

Washington Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Dec 14, 2011 1:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Julie Bloom interviews Justin Souriau-Levine, who plays the Little Mouse in Alexei Ratmansky's "The Nutcracker," for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Dec 17, 2011 12:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Alastair Macaulay reviews the December 14, 2011 performance of Alexei Ratmansky's "The Nutcracker" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Dec 17, 2011 1:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Leigh Witchel reviews "The Nutcracker" for the New York Post.

NY Post

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Dec 22, 2011 1:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Carrie Stern reviews "The Nutcracker" for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Dec 30, 2011 1:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Jocelyn Noveck reviews the December 2011 performance of "The Nutcracker" with David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy in the lead roles for the Associated Press.

Associated Press

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Jan 01, 2012 8:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Alastair Macaulay reviews multiple casts of "The Nutcracker" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Dec 09, 2012 3:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

In the New York Times, Julie Bloom writes a feature on mothers and daughters who both danced in American Ballet Theatre's "The Nutcracker."

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

American Ballet Theatre
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, New York

December 7, 2012
The Nutcracker

-- by Jerry Hochman

Compared to George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, which is continuing its New York City Ballet run until the end of the year, Alexei Ratmansky’s version for American Ballet Theatre, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music until December 16, looks like a poor cousin. But looks are deceiving. The NYCB production, honed to blockbuster perfection since its first performance in 1954, is impeccably staged and choreographed, with not a visual image or choreographic step out of place. But except for balletomaniacs who go to refresh their memories after several years, or to bring children, or to see individual dancers’ performances as I do, it is the spectacular production that provides the indelible memories. For all its faults, and to this viewer there are many, the indelible memories that Mr. Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker provides are derived more subtly – from its sense of humanity, and from the warmth of its heart.

And the heart within ABT’s production comes through even when the lead performances are somewhat disappointing, as they were at Friday’s opening night performance. I’ll address the performances later. First, I’ll discuss Mr. Ratmansky’s luminous production.

What makes Mr. Ratmansky’s vision different from others (and admittedly I cannot claim to have seen every Nutcracker production in the New York metropolitan area, much less around the country) is that it is presented through young Clara’s eyes. And rather than inviting his audience to participate and feel involved (which must happen for any theatrical production to be successful) by just watching and viscerally responding to what the performers do on stage, Mr. Ratmansky invites his Nutcracker audience to look into young Clara’s heart, and to experience her dream themselves.

Understanding this is critical to understanding not just the obvious fact that there are two sets of Claras and two Nutcracker princes, but to understanding Mr. Ratmansky’s choreographic choices – choices that I at first found confusing and disappointing, but which now, frankly, I love. Like so many other Ratmansky pieces, it takes a little effort to deduce his thematic (and at times choreographic) intent, but when you ignore preconceptions of what The Nutcracker should be, and let Mr. Ratmansky’s vision speak for itself on its terms, his concept hits like a lightning bolt. On repeated viewings, I’ve come to find Mr. Ratmansky’s Nutcracker to be enthralling and both intellectually and emotionally compelling.

As is apparent from the opening scene, Mr. Ratmasky’s production also wears not only its heart, but its intelligence, on its sleeve. The scene takes place in the ******* of the Stahlbaums’ home, as the Cook and his assistants (the Maids) prepare the food for the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve celebration. The scene serves several significant conceptual purposes. First, the characters in the scene are doing something, rather than just being excited that the celebration will shortly begin. Second, it is comedy – almost slapstick – on a high level. Third, it introduces the primary characters, each of whom make their way into the ******* – including Clara and Drosselmeyer. And fourth, it introduces the mice. This early introduction of the mice works on several levels. These are ‘reality’ mice – mice that one would expect to inhabit the nooks and crannies of a *******, and which provide the grist for comic scares. The scene also introduces the character of the ‘Little Mouse,’ who is a continuing hilarious presence throughout the piece. But most important, it provides a reason for the mice being part of Clara’s dream: Clara wanders into the *******, sees the mice, and is scared of them. This little vignette, which unfolds in seconds, is a critical focal point of the scene and a predicate to Clara’s dream/nightmare to come: why else would Clara have dreamed of those nasty mice, if she hadn’t seen them and been scared by them before?

But like the rest of the scene, and much of the balance of Act I, parts of it are muddy, and the choreography/staging is often disappointing.

For example, Drosselmeyer enters the ******* looking mysterious and somewhat malevolent, bringing with him a life-size Nutcracker ‘doll.’ But in the process of leaving the ******* and the stage, the life-size Nutcracker disappears into the wings, and, concurrently, Drosselmeyer whips out a doll-size Nutcracker from under his cape and displays it to the audience. Thereafter, the life-size Nutcracker doll and the doll-size Nutcracker are used somewhat interchangeably during much of the rest of Act I, leaving the audience to wonder why the life-size Nutcracker doll is there one minute and gone the next, replaced by the doll-size Nutcracker. Perhaps this can be explained as the product of Clara’s imagination (to Clara, the doll-sized Nutcracker looks like a ‘real’ life-size Nutcracker, but when adults appear and intrude on her imagination, the Nutcracker returns to its real size). But whether this is the meaning behind the two different sized toy Nutcrackers, and, if so, whether Drosselmeyer has anything to do with ‘imposing’ this alternative reality on Clara, is not clearly indicated. In any event, to this viewer, Drosselmeyer’s initial appearance in, and exit from, the ******* makes no coherent sense. I would think that this could be more clearly staged..

Also, the choreography for the scene, and for much of Act I, has the performers dancing in unison. The Maids dance the same steps at essentially the same time. It looks silly – which may have been Mr. Ratmansky’s intent – but it also looks strange. Worse, after the opening ******* scene yields to the Stahlbaum’s celebration, the children, for the most part, stamp their feet in unison to display impatience or to throw a collective mini-tantrum. But a group of young children never act in unison – one child usually follows another’s lead. As staged, it looks artificial.

Further, as Clara’s dream/nightmare begins, everything in the room grows in her imagination: the walls, the chair, the tree. But while the two-dimensionality of the supersized room and its contents are understandable (this is Clara’s dream, not some opulent representation of Clara’s dream), the metamorphosis of the Christmas tree seems to this viewer to have been poorly handled. All that remains of the tree, after it grows, is a corner of it sticking out from the stage wing. It looks like something a three-year old might have imagined, not Clara.

All this sounds like nit-picking, and it is. But the viewer/critic in me wants all of this production to be as good as the rest of it: most everything else is wonderful, and filled with the sense of ‘humanity’ that I have observed and noted previously permeates Mr. Ratmansky’s work. The Act I Christmas Eve gathering is populated by real people – not would-be aristocrats. The ‘Little Mouse’ is an inspired and endearingly funny creation. The dance of the “Snowflakes,” which I intensely disliked on first viewing because I thought it needlessly scary, I now consider a work of art that makes a snowfall and blizzard look the way they might look in Clara’s dream. Even more, the Snowflakes seem to move like snowflakes move – gently when the air is calm; chaotically when the wind blows. And I consider the visualization of the Snowflakes collapsing to the ground, at the conclusion of the scene to be sheer genius. [The dancer-snowflakes ‘hit’ the ground, rise up a bit from the center of their bodies before collapsing to the ground the way real snowflakes ‘rise’ a bit when they reach the ground.].

Act II continues this extraordinary level of craftsmanship. The scene opens in the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy (the Sugar Plum Fairy is a non-dancing role in this production). Clara’s fantasy land isn’t just ‘there’, and doesn’t reflect a child’s preoccupation with sweets; in Mr. Ratmansky’s vision it is a ‘real’ fantasy land populated by ‘real’ fantasy people who have some depth of character, the way Clara might have dreamed it. The anticipation by the inhabitants of this ‘real’ fantasy land of the arrival of Clara and the ‘living’ Nutcracker Prince, who had been transformed to ‘real’ life by killing the Mouse King after Clara distracted the Mouse King by throwing one of her shoes at him (though there is no mention of a ‘curse’ that had imprisoned the boy in wood), is palpable and ‘real.’ [Both of these incarnations, the doll-sized Nutcracker toy and the young Nutcracker Prince are unfortunately denominated as the ‘The Nutcracker Boy.’] And the image of the inhabitants of this fantasy land looking through the metal-like fencing that separates the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the ‘real’ world to see whether the visitors had arrived yet, with their faces softly illuminated, is another masterful stroke of genius (lighting by the redoubtable Jennifer Tipton).

The dances that form the choreographic skeleton of the piece are all, with some exception, very well done. In particular, the dance for the Harlequin and Columbine in Act I is complex and interesting, and the comic dance for the Grandmother and Grandfather that Mr. Ratmansky concocted is a nice humorous touch (as I mentioned in a review two years ago, someone should recruit Betty White to play the Grandmother). While the Spanish Dance in Act II and the dance for the ‘Nutcracker Sisters’ (respectively, ‘Hot Chocolate’ and ‘Marzipan’ in the NYCB production) are not exceptional, the ‘Arabian’ Dance (‘Coffee’ in the NYCB production), which initially was a brutal disappointment to me, I now find to be an hilariously inventive way to turn the sensuality in the Balanchine version on its head. [Instead of one very sensuous dancer performing…sensuously, and in the process appearing to seduce the audience (or at least the males in it), in this version the male lead (who I previously described as looking like Mr. Clean), is hassled by a group of ‘harem’ girls dancing sensuously with the intent of seducing him, and he’s portrayed as ‘enough already’ uninterested – until the harem girls pretend to play hard-to-get. It’s very clever and very funny, and as I mentioned in my prior review two years ago, having four harem dancers dancing sensuously rather than one isn’t such a bad thing.]

The highlight of the Act II divertissements, and to this viewer the choreographic gem of the piece, is the dance for the Flowers and the Bees (‘Dewdrop’/‘Waltz of the Flowers’ in the Balanchine version). It is a spectacular bit of choreographic stagecraft for both the Bees and the Flowers, and the culmination, with the flowers sequentially tossed from one Bee to another, is the bee’s knees, and deservedly draws enthusiastic applause every time.

[Again, however, there is room for nit-picking. In Clara’s dream, it appears that the Nutcracker Boy came from the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. He is recognized there – and he has sisters who dance one of the Act II divertissements. But the connection is not clearly made. And at the conclusion of each of the divertissements, in this viewer’s opinion the dancers should bow first to Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, in whose honor this celebration has taken place, not to the audience.]

But all this, as good as it is, is gloss – essential to the production as it may be. To this viewer the most significant reflection of Mr. Ratmansky’s concept is seen in the interaction between Clara and her Nutcracker Boy, and the conceptions of them (identified as ‘Clara, the Princess’ and ‘Nutcracker, the Prince’) that Clara conjures in her dream.

‘Clara, the Princess’ and ‘Nutcracker, the Prince’ are not ‘adult’ versions of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, but imaginations in Clara's dream of what she and her young nutcracker prince friend would be like when they grew up; their mature selves seen through the prism of a young girl. So, naturally, some of what happens looks a little childish – for example, ‘Princess’ Clara peeking sheepishly from behind a curtain in between dances, and looking like she’s just been given the greatest of presents when Clara’s dream Prince asks her to marry him at the conclusion of their divertissement (with everyone living happily ever after). Both actions looked silly to me on first viewing, but with the realization that these characters are little Clara’s dream of them, that’s exactly why they’re there: they’re gently juvenile and perfectly appropriate.

The display of the relationship between Clara and the Nutcracker Boy, and Clara’s dream vision of Princess Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, is seamless, and stunning in its simplicity. After some child-like horseplay between little Clara and the Nutcracker Prince in mid-snowfall in Act I, Clara begins to see more in the Nutcracker Boy than a playmate. Then the action stops. And while it’s stopped, as if in freeze-frame, little Clara dreams (a dream within a dream) of dancing with her Prince. The vision of little Clara quietly looking at her little Prince, while dreaming of the two of them as adults, and the imagined adult versions of them materializing on stage as she dreams, is magical, breathtaking, and heartwarming. If you’re sitting in the audience and don’t choke up at this visualization of what it was once like to be a child and to dream, you have no heart.

It is customary to note the young performers (all, in this case, students at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School) summarily, and with little elaboration, at the end of a Nutcracker review. That would be inappropriate here. Young Clara and the Nutcracker Boy are almost constantly on stage, and they have significantly more acting and movement responsibility than in many other Nutcracker productions. And the Little Mouse is the comic soul of the piece. All the young dancers performed well, but in this version the lead children, Clara and the Nutcracker Boy, as well as the Little Mouse, are critically important characters and should be considered front and center.

Clara was portrayed by young Adelaide Clauss, and I found her portrayal to be extraordinary. More than just knowing what she was supposed to do, she performed with animated radiance and sensitivity. I’ve seen Philip Perez dance the Nutcracker Boy previously, and he’s grown in the role. He did an excellent job as well. And Justin Souriau-Levine, who I also have previously seen dance the Little Mouse, is a fantastic little comic spark plug.

The performances by the lead ‘adult’ incarnations of Clara’s dream are less praiseworthy. Although part of the problem may have been the unfortunate result of a cast change [Eric Tamm (‘Nutcracker, the Prince’) replaced the injured Herman Cornejo)], the fact that Xiomara Reyes (‘Clara, the Princess’) and Mr. Tamm didn’t ‘mesh’ was unfortunate.

Mr. Tamm, still a member of the corps, is a tall, impressive-looking dancer, who fits the role of the Prince (essentially, more Prince Charming than a Nutcracker Prince) well. When he danced on his own, his performance was admirable and promising, and his partnering was attentive. But Ms. Reyes seemed off and uncomfortable in her role, as if she had flown in the night before. As a result, she looked to this viewer as if she was pushing too hard, trying more to be the ballerina than a character in Clara’s dream. More importantly, there were partnering and timing glitches (lifts that weren’t clean; turns where she was ahead of the music and ahead of his partnering) that made their performances appear rough and inadequately rehearsed. [I have not seen all the dancers who are cast as Clara this season. But of those I’ve seen, I recommend performances by Veronika Part, who transmits Mr. Ratmansky’s vision (in anything) more completely and more accurately than anyone else, and Sarah Lane, who visually fits the role of Clara’s dream of herself as a Princess perfectly.]

Other roles were performed with greater success. Ms. Lane and Daniil Simkin were superb in the Chinese divertissement, as were Gemma Bond and Craig Salstein as the Columbine and Harlequin in Act I. Mr. Salstein, together with Mikhail Ilyin and Aaron Scott, were the lively Russians, and Patrick Ogle and his harem girls (Nicola Curry, Isadora Loyola, Kelley Potter, and Devon Teuscher) were the hen-pecked Arabian and the harem hens that hilariously harass him. Nicole Graniero and Luis Ribagorda did a fine job as the Canteen Keeper and Recruit in Act I. Zhong-Jing Fang was a formidable Sugar Plum Fairy, Kevin Easter (accompanied by lively little Polchinlles and the peripatetic Little Mouse), was an entertaining Mother Ginger, and Katherine Williams was a stand-out as one of the Parents in Act I. Victor Barbee did his usual fine job as Drosselmeyer.

In my review of several performances of Mr. Ratmansky’s version during its initial season two years ago, I described it as a Nutcracker to cherish. It still is. It is a creation that both children and adults can feel in their hearts, and New York audiences are richer for the opportunity to see it.

[edits have been to correct spelling errors and to conform to BDM submission]

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Gia Kourlas reviews the Friday, December 7, 2012 performance of Alexei Ratmansky's "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 [ Mon Dec 17, 2012 10:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Julie Steinberg interviews ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie about Alexei Ratmansky's "Nutcracker" for the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews a December 2013 performance of Alexei Ratmansky's "Nutcracker" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Dec 17, 2013 1:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

In the Huffington Post, Meghan Feeks reviews the Friday, December 13, 2013 performance of Alexei Ratmansky's "The Nutcracker" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Huffington Post

Author:  balletomaniac [ Tue Dec 17, 2013 4:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker

Since there is no 'generalized' Nutcracker topic, a copy of this review is being posted in the New York City Ballet topic section.

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York
December 10, 2013

American Ballet Theatre
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, New York
December 13, 2013

"The Nutcracker"

-- by Jerry Hochman

In New York City and for its two major ballet companies, New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, “The Nutcracker” is a tale of two ballets. Both versions are derived from the Alexandre Dumas, pere sanitized adaptation of ETA Hoffmann’s darkly brooding 1819 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” but each takes a considerably different approach.

“George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker,” the version presented by NYCB, is the iconic production. Created in 1954, “The Nutcracker” was not the first American incarnation of the ballet, but it is the indisputable king of Nutcracker ballets, the glorious production that made “The Nutcracker” into a must-see holiday Event presented by ballet companies of all shapes and sizes, and one that provides these companies with an annual dose of financial adrenaline. ABT’s “Nutcracker,” created by its Artist-in-Residence Alexei Ratmansky in 2009, is less familiar to ballet audiences, and has annoying flaws. But this Nutcracker wears its heart on its sleeve, and what it lacks in spectacle, it makes up for in warmth.

The essential story is common to all ‘standard’ Nutcracker ballets: there’s the Stahlbaum family’s Christmas Eve party, which relates the events leading up to the Stahlbaum’s daughter’s dream. Then there is the unfolding of the dream itself (the second half of the first Act), followed by a dream/celebration in a fantasy setting.

The Balanchine version is both refined and sugary. The patrician Stahlbaum family hosts a Christmas Eve gathering for their equally well-bred friends and their children. Herr Drosselmeyer, the beloved but eccentric godfather of the Stahlbaum’s children, arrives soon after, with his nephew in tow. Drosselmeyer brings with him entertainment in the form of oversized mechanical dolls (stolen, perhaps, from Hoffmann’s “Coppelia”), an air of good-hearted mystery, and, most importantly, gifts for the children. He presents little Marie, the Stahlbaum’s young daughter, with a nutcracker, which Marie’s younger brother Fritz promptly breaks. [Marie is the daughter’s name in the original story; Clara, the name more commonly used, is the name of the Stahlbaum daughter in the subsequent adaptation.]

When the party ends and the guests depart, Marie escapes from her bedroom to the ‘great room’ in the Stahlbaum’s manse, falls asleep holding the nutcracker that Drosselmeyer repaired, and dreams of being rescued from marauding mice by her nutcracker and his brigade of boy soldiers. After the child-sized nutcracker, with Marie’s help, vanquishes the mouse king, he morphs into a Little Prince, who happens to look exactly like Drosselmeyer’s nephew. Marie’s dream then takes them to a snowflake fairyland, from which they eventually are transported to the Land of the Sweets, where they’re greeted by the Sugarplum Fairy and entertained by visiting dancers. When the entertainment ends, Marie and her Little Prince sail away in a reindeer sleigh.

But in this version, the story is not nearly as important as the production. Over the years “George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’” has been honed to perfection: not a step is out of place or production value unexploited. It’s a visual feast. The Christmas Eve party scene in Act I is particularly realistic and nuanced. All the actions ring true, from the arrival of the friends and children, to the interaction between each cast member – including the brief and underplayed, but critical, visualization of Marie’s instant crush on Drosselmeyer’s nephew.

The transition from this reality to Marie’s fantasy is seamless – and beautiful. There’s the justly famous magical growing Christmas Tree, and the justly celebrated and equally magical Snowflake dance. Befitting its roots in the original1892 Petipa/Ivanov production, Act II is essentially a celebration in a fantasy setting, but instead of a prince’s palace, here there’s the Land of the Sweets – the ballets Fantasyland. The visiting dignitaries (Marie and the Little Prince) are treated to a series of divertissements, and then are sent on their way. In the process, Balanchine creates highly entertaining and complex dances, and more memorable images – like the Sugarplum Fairy balancing en pointe in arabesque and being moved as if by invisible force across the back of the stage. It is a breathtaking production that looks both spectacular and intimate at the same time, like a sequence of snow globes come to life. Everything works.

If there’s a flaw to this production, it is its lack of resolution. The dream doesn’t end, it just signals a change of venue to points unknown, if and when the sleigh carrying Marie and the Little Prince eventually lands. It resembles an apotheosis. This probably makes no difference to much of the audience, but to me it’s the only false note in the production. At some point, the dream must end, and reality, however it is portrayed, must return.

The Ratmansky version is in line with those productions that that are circular rather than linear – eventually, the story returns to its ‘real’ setting, with the Stahlbaum’s daughter in some way changed by the dream. In these versions, the Stahlbaum daughter is usually older than the little girl in the Balanchine version (she’s often played by a young-looking ballerina – as in a prior ABT production created by Mikhail Baryshnikov, which is still available on DVD), and the dream is no longer a journey that replicates a child’s candyland fantasy; the dream is a peek at imminent maturity.

Mr. Ratmansky takes this aproach one step further. Although the dream is always Clara’s dream, here the audience sees the dream through Clara’s young eyes. The princess that she sees in her dream, and that the audience sees, is not her dream of some imaginary princess or regal fairy, it’s her imaginary dream of herself as the princess. Consequently, Princess Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, as little Clara dreams them, are like grown up fantasy children. They’re childlike in certain ways – because Clara hasn’t yet experienced being an adult – but not childish. And when the Princess and Prince in her dream magically join Clara and her Nutcracker Boy as characters on stage, and the two couples briefly dance in tandem to deeply romantic portions of the Tchaikovsky score that seem to have been composed for this purpose, the ballet steals your heart.

From the beginning, Mr. Ratmansky ratchets the ballet as spectacle down a notch. The appearance of the mice in the initial ‘*******’ scene is almost slapstick – but it also provides a significant connection to the images of mice in Clara’s dream. And the Stahlbaum family is not nearly as genteel as in the Balanchine production – they’re Dickensonian middle class neighbors down the street: Mr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum rather than Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum in the Balanchine version. They’re the good-hearted Cratchit family after Ebenezer loosened the purse strings; the family that inherited the business after Scrooge ultimately joined Marley.

But much of the first act is, in parts, awkward or worse, and it is troubling that, apparently, no modifications have been made since the ballet’s opening performances. Among other poor choices, having the gathered children in the Stahlbaum home throw temper tantrums in unison is wrong – unless they’re supposed to act as a group, like when they’re dancing, children act on their own or follow another child’s lead. Here the action looks forced and artificial. The transition from reality to dream is visually awkward: the tree massively grows, but the audience sees only the edges of the tree, and others, sticking out from the wings. It looks cheap. The Dance of the Snowflakes is needlessly scary (although as I’ve observed previously, the last image of the snowflakes collapsing to the ground is brilliant). Drosselmeyer is confusing and creepy, and the nutcracker’s unexplained transition from toy-sized to boy-sized and back begs clarification.

Choreographically, the Ratmansky Nutcracker is not without flaws either, and it doesn’t dazzle the way Balanchine’s does. But Ratmansky’s dances are little stories, with dancers who are characters rather than moving images, and they’re never boring. Indeed, except for his invention of the ‘Nutcracker Sisters’ (which creates a story-line that isn’t there and is, at best, uninterestingly choreographed), the choreography is as much, if not more, fun to watch than Balanchine’s. Mr. Ratmansky’s choreography for Harlequin and Columbine in Act I, his Arabian Dance (once adjusting to the absence of Balanchine’s seductive ‘Coffee’), and particularly his dance for the Flowers and Bees (to music for ‘Dewdrop’ in the NYCB version), are superb. And the climactic pas de deux for the adult Princess Clara and her Prince (to the music created for the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier pas de deux) is a perfect combination of bravura dancing and dancing in character.

In the NYCB performance I saw on Tuesday, Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar led the cast as the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. Ms. Krohn appeared somewhat understated in her initial appearance in Act II, but danced splendidly in the pas de deux, with Mr. Ramasar’s able partnering. Tiler Peck was magnificent as Dewdrop, and Lauren Lovette provided a wonderfully phrased and nuanced lead Marzipan Shepherdess. Although Savannah Lowery was more efficient and mechanical than seductive in ‘Coffee’, she executed the choreography admirably. Robert La Fosse made a welcome annual return as Drosselmeyer, and Zachary Catazaro and Marika Anderson did fine work as Dr. Stahlbaum and his wife. And the children from the School of American Ballet – led by a spirited Rommie Tomasini as Marie and an accomplished Maximilian Brooking Landegger as Drosselmeyer’s nephew/The Nutcracker – were as well-drilled and flawless as usual. [Young Mr. Landegger has appeared in company performances so frequently that by now he should be dubbed an honorary apprentice.]

Friday’s ABT performance was its opening night this season, and most of the dancers were production veterans. Veronika Part, Princess Clara in young Clara’s dream, and Marcelo Gomes as her Nutcracker Prince, were each flat out fabulous both in their flawless execution and in bubbly, childlike character as young Clara’s fantasy of her and her Nutcracker Boy as grown-ups. Other highlights were Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein as Columbine and Harlequin, Zhong-Jing Fang’s finely-tuned Sugar Plum Fairy (a non-dancing role in this production), Victor Barbee’s injection of bonhomie into Drosselmeyer, Blaine Hoven, Arron Scott, and Mr Salstein’s Russians, and all the participating students from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School – including Duncan McIlwaine as the Nutcracker Boy, and particularly Justin Souriau-Levine, who once again reprised his role as the Little Mouse and once again received a well-deserved ovation from the audience. But the role of Young Clara is the glue that holds this production together, and JKO student Adelaide Clauss was stellar. I commented favorably on her performance last year – and this year young Ms. Clauss was better still.

For New York’s major ballet companies, these respective Nutcracker productions represent something of a role reversal. Based on online indications of ticket availability, ABT, which projects itself as world class and its principal dancers as ballet royalty, is struggling to find audiences to fill even the reduced number of Nutcracker performances it is giving this year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. NYCB, which projects itself as New York’s ‘family’ company and its dancers as remarkably talented dancers next door, can’t seem to provide enough Nutcracker performances to fill the demand. Whether this is because the trek to Brooklyn is too arduous, or balletgoers who can only afford to attend one performance naturally gravitate toward the more celebrated and familiar production, or that the Ratmansky version is not quite spectacular enough, is not knowable.

But dissimilar as they are, each is an enchanting production that must be seen and savored, and each is populated by dancers of the highest quality. The Balanchine version, which I’ve previously described as plum pudding for the soul, is both charming and awe-inspiring. It’s a Nutcracker for children of all ages to admire and remember with a smile. The Ratmansky Nutcracker is one for adults and children to take to their hearts and cherish, and, for some, perhaps to remember or experience vicariously what it was like to be a child with a dream. For New Yorkers and visitors able to attend both Nutcracker performances, it is the best of times. And it is the best of times.

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