Nutcracker - pure joy and happiness


Every year I go see the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker and it's like falling in love again. I can't believe that I've now seen this production maybe 10, 15 times (I've long lost count) and every time I still find a new moment of total enchantment and beauty. This time, it was me noticing that before Marie and the Prince depart the Land of the Sweets, the Prince kisses the Sugar Plum Fairy's hand. Such a little gentleman, and so representative of Balanchine's famously polite, gentle nature. It is true that Balanchine's classic is so enchanting that it's impossible to have a bad performance of it, in the sense that even a hum-drum performance will charm and delight the audiences. But when the stars are all aligned and it's not just a Nutcracker, but a great ballet performance period, the balletomane in me feels the warm fuzzies (so needed on this cold, dreary, rainy NYC night). Tonight, every child was adorable, every mouse was hilariously goofy, every snowflake was a whirlwind of speed, every flower bloomed, and all was beautiful in the Kingdom of Sweets. What more could one ask for?

The performance tonight had some great dancing by the leads. Tiler Peck was the Sugar Plum Fairy, and she's the NYCB's new "anything you can do I can do better" ballerina. Dazzling smile, scarily accurate allegro technique, great balances, beautifully austere classical line. She and her Cavalier Andrew Veyette executed the jump-to-shoulder lifts and promenade balances with absolute security and confidence. Peck positioned herself far away from Veyette before she made the huge jump to his shoulder, and the perfect landing generated screams from the dozens of little girls sitting in the audience. I love that, when performers give more than they have to -- it's in the middle of the Nutcracker marathon but both Peck and Veyette danced as if this was their only performance (it's not, of course).

I had originally bought the ticket to see Sara Mearns's Dewdrop, but she canceled and Megan Fairchild danced in her place. Fairchild isn't one of my favorite NYCB dancers -- she has great technique and sails through all the Dewdrop's tricky jumps and pirouettes without problems, but she doesn't project. She seems like an eternal child, pixie and cute, but immature as a performer. At times I stopped watching her and was watching the Flower corps de ballet, who were so in synch tonight. I couldn't help but think of Mearns when I saw Fairchild. Mearns is wild and unpredictable, her body often lunging forward and reaching backwards in a motion that resembles a huge ocean current. Fairchild on the other hand is like a wind-up doll, always correct and cute but never more. The other variations were mixed. Savannah Lowery doesn't really have the sinewy body line and hyper-flexibility to make the most out of the Coffee variation. Robert Fairchild started off very strong in the Candy Cane variation but tripped over his hoop towards the end. Brittany Pollack was absolutely enchanting as the Marzipan shepherdess.

The children were, as always, the stars of the show (along with the corps de ballet in the Dance of the Snowflakes and Waltz of the Flowers). Fiona Brennan was an adorable Marie, Colby Clark the Prince. It's always beautiful to see the children of the ballet dance their hearts out. When the Prince re-enacts the mime for the Kingdom of the Sweets, one has to think of Balanchine himself as a student, re-enacting the mime at the Imperial Ballet School. How touching that he re-created it for his own version.

Then again, so much of Balanchine's Nutcracker is really a tribute to the original, 1892 ballet choreographed by Lev Ivanov. Now that we have the Sergeyev notations, we know just how much Balanchine left intact. The King Mouse in the original production really also had 8 heads. The Prince's mime, the Candy Cane and Mother Ginger variation, the snowflakes with their snowflake wands, even the Grand Pas de Deux borrowed heavily from Ivanov. The shoulder jump lifts, and that moment when the Sugar Plum Fairy is pulled across the stage in arabesque by the Cavalier? All in the original notations. What, then, makes Balanchine's Nutcracker still, in my opinion, the greatest of them all? Well for me it's the small moments. The love and care he had for the ballet, for Tchaikovsky's music, practically radiates almost 60 years after its creation. One moment: when the Nutcracker Prince woke up a sleeping Marie and held her hand as they walked offstage, I dare even the most hardened cynic not to be touched by that simple gesture.

But don't just read my description of the Nutcracker. Next Tuesday at 6 PM, the Nutcracker will be playing live in HD in movie theaters across the country, and another performance will be filmed for PBS the following night. So set your DVR's and prepare to be enchanted!


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