|Hyltin and Veyette, photo @Andrea Mohin|
December 5, 2015 - NYCB Nutcracker - I'm at the alpha and omega of Nutcrackers (and let's face it, NYC Christmas-themed shows), Mr. Balanchine's ageless take on Tchaikovsky's ballet. The theater was packed with a good mix of hardcore balletomanes and families. The performance demonstrates NYCB's current strength as a company -- it's the middle of the chaotic Nut season, and they can put together such a strong cast from the principal roles to the soloist variations to the corps de ballet to the SAB children.
Let's get the bad out of the way first: I think NYCB might need some re-coaching about Coffee. Often this dance becomes a tallish corps de ballet member joylessly contorting herself into the requisite positions all the while missing the aroma and sensuality of the dance. Last night's Meagan Mann was no different. Another joyless contortion act. Alan Peiffer was a bit blank as Drosselmeyer.
Now onto the good (and there was so much good). Sterling Hyltin was the Sugarplum Fairy, and the role highlights all her strengths -- her warmth and charm, her lovely fluttery arms, her buoyant jump. Hyltin doesn't have the laser-precision attack for some of Balanchine's black and white leotard ballets. Her limbs can't slice through the air like a knife. But there's a softness and sweetness to her that is enchanting. In the celesta variation she practically twinkled, and it wasn't just her wand. It was the lightness and, well, fairy-like aura that matched Tchaikovsky's delicate music. She is not a SuperJumper in the Natalia Osipova sense at all but she knows how to make each jump look so light and effortless, to give the impression of flying. In the grand pas de deux she put on a master class of how to show off one's strengths. The pliant back bends, wafting arms and effortless extensions created an aura of romance and magic. Her ménage of pique turns wasn't fast, but she did accelerate them to give the illusion of speed. Andrew Veyette was her steadfast partner and he expertly coordinated the big moments in the pdd: the shoulder jumps, pulling the SPF in that sliding arabesque, and the tricky hand positions in the final promenade before he let her go for one long, sustained balance. Audience limp from happiness. Veyette isn't the most dynamic dancer, but what a beautiful partner he is and he is always musical and elegant.
|Tiler Peck as the Dewdrop, photo by Paul Kolnik|
The richness of Balanchine's choreography is what keeps me going back to this ballet over and over again. The snowflake scene is unparalleled -- no other Nutcracker comes close to evoking both the beauty and ferocity of a blizzard -- when the snowflakes make that whirling blizzard pattern on the floor I always feel both thrilled and awed. Every time I see Balanchine's Nut I also focus on something new besides revisiting the familiar wonders-- last night it was the mice. Balanchine's mice are the most endearing, funny, and, well, human mice of any Nutcracker. Alexei Ratmansky's mice are mischievous but Balanchine's mice are all individualized -- some are skittish and scratch themselves in that nervous tick any animal owner will recognize, others are brave and go right into battle, others just stare on the sidelines and act like cheerleaders. Compared to the children's army Balanchine's mice are the more rootable bunch. When the mouse king dies and his mice subjects sob as they drag him offstage, it's actually sad. And that's what's great about Mr. B's Nutcracker -- its humanity, warmth, and beauty.
December 6, 2015 - The Buttcracker - No comment. Two and a half hours of my life I'll never get back. A mishmash of "dance," "comedy," and "musical" (I use quotation marks because I can't really say that anything they did was actually dance, comedy, or singing) that managed to be none of those things. The actors kept forgetting their "jokes" and would often start over again, which just ruined an already unfunny punch line. The jokes were not only unfunny, they were strangely offensive -- writer and director Elise Maurine Milner seemed to think repeating the same gay/anorexic/Jewish jokes 20 times over would equal entertainment. About 30 minutes of low-rent stand-up comedy/variety act wrapped in an ENDLESS two and a half hour mess. Moving on.
|Marie Claire and the snowflakes in Nutcracker Rouge|
December 10, 2015 - Nutcracker Rouge - now THIS is how to put on a Nutcracker-inspired show! Company XIV's Nutcracker Rouge combines Cirque-du-Soleil acrobatics with drag queen dancing/comedy/singing with S&M style striptease. Think it sounds very Vegas? Well you'd be wrong. First of all, director and choreographer Austin McCormack has assembled a cast of well-trained dancers, singers and performers and the show never for a moment looks anything but professional. Second of all, the affection and even reverence for Tchaikovsky's ballet is evident in the presentation -- it's not a parody so much as a homage. The score of the Nutcracker is ingeniously woven in with Lady Gaga, Sia, Lana del Rey, and even baroque opera. The show is bawdy, funny, naughty, campy, but it's never trashy.
|GKB Nutcracker. Sabina Alvarez and Anderson Souza were Marie and Prince|
|Katia Raj and Gustavo Ramirez as the Arabian soloists|
|The opening party scene of The Hard Nut, photo by Susan Millman|
|Snowflakes, photo by Stephanie Berger|