Warhorse Diaries, part 2: More Nutcrackers!!!

Abi Stafford in Yorkville Nutcracker

My tour of December warhorses has predictably resulted in more Nutcracker-ing. I did another round at NYCB with a different cast, and then headed over to the Yorkville Nutcracker.

Yorkville Nutcracker first: Francis Petrelle's Nutcracker is one of those "locally-based" versions. In this case, it's set in 1895 in Gracie Mansion and all the characters are historical people. The heroine is "Mary Strong," daughter of NYC mayor William L. Strong. The dancers are culled from a variety of sources but the kids are mainly of Ballet Academy East. If you're expecting a super-professional high-calibre Nutcracker you're likely to walk away from Yorkville Nutcracker disappointed -- the students and professional dancers are at varying degrees of ability, the production values consist of three different painted backdrops, and the music is recorded.

But this version has its charm. It's a real family affair -- the students are culled from various ballet academies around the city and if they're not quite as disciplined as the SAB students their diversity is endearing. The local color is also cute -- Teddy Roosevelt shows up in the first act first as a teddy bear and then as "Teddy Roosevelt." Perhaps the highlight of the performance is the first act snow scene. It's set in a pond in Central Park and the corps simulate 1895-style ice skating as snow gently falls. Lovely. The performance was anchored by the wonderfully expressive Mary of Hara Schwarz and Michael Aromando as her brother Putnam (who in this version doubles as the Prince).

The second act divertissements (set at the New York Botanical Garden) are more traditional -- yes there's Mother Ginger, there's a slinky duet between two scantily clad dancers in the Arabian variation, and the Sugarplum Fairy is very, very pink. I loved the simple but effective choreography for the Waltz of the Flowers -- the flowers make various circular patterns and use their arms as petals.

Therese Wender and Maximillien Baud made strong impressions as the Snow Queen and King, and Tallison Costo (Snow Prince) stole the show with his crowd-pleasing series of jumps. Megan Dickinson was also a graceful Dewdrop. The Dewdrop in this version is not the jumping powerhouse of the Balanchine version, but rather a fairy-like figure who flits in and out of the circling flowers. NYCB vets Abi Stafford and Craig Hall as the SPF and Cavalier were by comparison disappointing -- Stafford wooden and charmless, Hall (who retired last May) struggling with the partnering. Hall is of course a classy and expressive dancer -- would love to see him dance Drosselmeyer (Noah Wheaton in this version).

But this is a fun charming Nutcracker. And the Kaye Playhouse is intimate and inviting.

I'm a Snowflake!

The December 9 performance of Nutcracker at NYCB was just excellence as usual. Tiler Peck as the Sugarplum Fairy was as commanding as you'd expect -- rock solid balances, squeaky clean double pirouettes, such a strong core that she can practically partner herself. The only thing she's missing is that last ingredient of gentleness and charm -- there's a seriousness about her Sugarplum Fairy that causes one to admire rather than love the portrayal. Her husband Robert Fairchild continued his struggle with the classical repertoire post-An American in Paris. He's no longer out of shape, but the strength and spark are not there anymore and at this point I'm afraid they won't ever return. He said on twitter that he hasn't danced the Cavalier since 2013 and the inexperience showed -- he missed the small timing tricks that can create such magic in the grand pas de deux. For instance, in those long diagonals that culminate in the shoulder jump lift he was unable to create the illusion of running towards the SPF and simply catching her on his shoulder. He stopped dead center stage and Tiler hopped on his shoulder. He also struggled with the final fish dive pose and Tiler could not hold that fish dive as long as she usually does.

Tess Reichlen as Dewdrop, photo @ Andrea Mohin
This was my first time ever (!!!) seeing Tess Reichlen's Dewdrop and although her extreme height and legginess make it harder for her to complete all that tricky allegro footwork her airy jump, gracious demeanor and the amplitude of her movements created a beautiful (if very different) effect from the smaller whizbangs like Ashley Bouder or Tiler Peck. Tess is not a fast turner but in the coda she completed a series of slow, controlled Italian fouettes. Harrison Coll made a very strong impression as Candy Cane -- all 12 jumps went off without a hitch, double jump at the finale caused a huge roar, and he got more roars for more double jumps in the coda. Olivia MacKinnon completed the Marzipan solo with impressive hops/pirouettes on pointe, pique turns, gargouillades, but try to have fun while you're doing it! Her face exuded fierce concentration rather than fresh charm.

It's so interesting how Balanchine's Nut is so predictable yet so different in each performance. The applause machines never fail -- the growing tree, the snowflakes, the Prince's mime, the candy cane variation, the SPF being pulled on the magic slide. But finding the right balance of graciousness, charm, and technical security is a secret not many Sugarplum Fairies can unlock. I have been very lucky this season to see two such amazing Sugarplums -- Sterling Hyltin and Tiler Peck are as different as chalk and cheese, but both inspire wonder and awe. AND both have inspired me to buy a ticket to see yet another Sugarplum tackle the role -- Ashley Laracey on December 23. Stay tuned.

In other news, I thought the NBC live Hairspray was by far their most enjoyable live musical presentation yet. Seems like NBC has finally figured out that it's better to hire people who can really sing rather than to go for stunt casting. I hope NBC keeps up this trend of enjoyable family musicals around the holidays. They're getting better and better at this.


  1. Ivy,

    I am looking forward to your review of L'Amour de Loin.

    1. Oh dear. That's been a tragedy. I had tickets last Tuesday. I was in front of the Met and a nasty stomach bug that I thought I could control all of a sudden ... I couldn't control. Decided not to make the Met my sick pail, so L'Amoir de Loin will have to be rescheduled. Dont know when.


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