Some unqualified reviewing by someone who refuses to read program notes and only goes to Lincoln Center when Mom visits.
NUTCRACKER: NYCBallet, Dec 23, 2016
Lincoln Center, 2 PM Matinee
We sat down in what resembled a supervised kindergarten on Princess Day but I am delighted to report that little folks are just as taken by this music as they ever were.
I thought the little heroine’s name was Clara but now it’s Marie? (overheard from a bevy of little girls). OK whatevs.
Folks have a super Christmassy party, child dancers are awesome, costumes gorgeous, everyone is cheery. Night falls and Clara/Marie falls asleep with a nutcracking doll a pirate gave her. There are violin solos which are somewhat tough – perhaps P.I. meant to convey a nightmare?
Everything gets way big. The audience loves the Christmas tree!
Rats turn up – they are chubby and cute. They aren’t doing anyone any harm but some small soldiers come and fight them – the doll is now also a soldier because he got big too. He kills the king rat. The other rats are terribly sad and are crying. They carry off their king. I am sadder for them than in operas when people die. I nearly cry. For the grieving rats.
Doll becomes a little boy and carries Clara/Marie off to a snowy place, where some ladies dance prettily with cotton balls attached to brass knuckles.
Setting is now fruit and candy-land with a pear on the altar (everyone knows pears are gross and mealy – why? why a pear?) and Sugarplum Fairy introduces all of her ethnic candy servants after managing to keep a straight face during some odd Marcel Marceau action from the wee prince.
First, we have some Spanish type folks in brown dress – I think everyone is supposed to be a candy here so I guess they are chocolate. Lovely idea of a Jota dance by Tchaiky.
Next comes the famous Chinese-folks-in-a-box bit. Frankly, if old Piotr wanted to be super authentic here, he should have lost a couple of tones from his scale and all of his modulations– but the dancers are great and everyone claps. No clue what they are representing. Maybe mandarin oranges? It doesn’t matter.
Then out comes a super sexy girl in Arabian clothes dancing to what sounds like a Dvorak appropriation of a Native American tune due to P.I.’s steadfast refusal to write an augmented second anywhere. She has ankle bells and is all lithe and incredibly flexible. Everyone oohs.
(I can’t help but think… this is the Balanchine version from the 50s and evidently loyal to the era in which it was composed, but do modern dress versions have this dancer in a burqa? That’s got to be choreographically somewhat challenging.)
Well, on we go to some Harlequin types with hula hoops. Then some dancers dressed, oddly, like cigarette girls from the 20s – many pointy toes and lovely flutey bits from Tchaikovsky here.
Back to Baroque style next with: The Old Transvestite Who Lived in a Shoe and Found Out What To Do So Made a Dress out of Drapes and Stuck Some Kids Under it. That really should rhyme, but doesn’t.
Next comes the famous waltz – of Flowers! And many lovely dancers in pretty pink tulle come out. There seems to be a Chief Flower who does lots of pirouettes. To continue with my poor knowledge of ballet terms, there is a move that dancers do a lot which I call a twiddle. They kind of flap one foot around while jumping – it’s probably called like a cabriolet or something equally better sounding. Nevertheless, I have a bone to pick with old Balanchine here.
In – I guess you could call it the ‘chorus bit’ – (everyone knows it! “Doooo da doooo da doooo da, doodely doop doop”), the ‘doodely doop doop’ could really use a twiddle! I mean, it’s kind of disappointing that nothing at all happens visually for the doodely doop considering Tchaikovsky almost certainly had twiddles in mind.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine all these Flowers getting along – seems like the Chief Flower does half the work and gets all the credit. She keeps running offstage while the others dance throughout.
Finally, Sugarplum comes back – she’s found a dude! And she gets one of Piotr’s most beautiful bits to dance to – go Tchaiky! Her beau seems not to be a fellow fairo (?) or anything, but she dances heaps and there are huge lifts when the music soars. Everyone cheers!
I just had to ponder – well, this here PlumChica has the body weight of room temperature. Anyone could probably pick her up with one arm, if not a pinky. But really, it’s the music that makes everyone cheer, like at that awesome moment in Act 1 when the tree hits its full height – visually cool, sure, but it’s 99% Tchaikovsky! Which, of course, has made this arguably the most popular ballet of all time. You don’t find orchestras playing La Bayadère or Giselle suites – but for the great ballets we don’t even need the visual.
It’s still fascinating to see the art for which it was written. The dancers of the New York City Ballet are a wonder in their grace and discipline and I am glad I saw this even if I was a bit confused.
Some final thoughts…..
- Is it easier for ballerinas to just wear pointe shoes in formal gatherings? Maybe more comfy than high heels for them. And if they meet shorter folks and want to talk to them face to face they could put heel to floor!
- Would it be more effective to have giant cockroaches running around in Act One? I feel that for a New York audience they would have more gravitas. It’s also much harder to portray an invertebrate as cute, chubby, and worthy of sympathy.