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New York City Ballet - Balanchine's Nutcracker


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I was lucky to see 2 performances of Balanchine's Nutcracker in New York a couple of weeks ago. Balanchine's Nutcracker is celebrating it's 60th anniversary in 2014.  My memory has faded somewhat now so I can't recall fine detail and I am not very familiar with The Nutcracker as having seen RB's version a few years ago it put me off as there was not enough actual ballet in Act 1 for me. Then Bart's version at Staatsballett Berlin became my preferred version with its dark undertones. Last year Berlin changed  to another version which I missed due to a flight delay so I have yet to see that one but I did see ENB's delightful Eagling version at Liverpool last year.  Anyway what I am trying to say is that Balanchine's version is SO very different that I can't really tell you what all the different pieces relate to in the "normal" Nutcracker so here goes.... 

Friday's performance was scheduled to be Ashley Bouder as SPF with Joaquin de Luz as her Cavalier but in the event Bouder was replaced by the beautiful Tiler Peck.  Saturday's performance was again Tiler Peck as SPF but with Gonzalo Garcia as her Cavalier.  There is a character called Dewdrop who dances with the flowers and Friday we saw the wonderful Teresa Reichlen whom I really like - she is tall and leggy (and is great as Tall Girl in Rubies) and Saturday we had Megan Le Crone.  Candy Cane was danced on Friday by Daniel Ulbricht and Saturday Sean Souzzi.

Now the Balanchine version features children from the ballet school heavily in Act 1 and a sterling job they did too - the young Marie and her brother Fritz open the scene which is very cleverly done - a gauze screen is painted with a door and the children "peep" through the keyhole to see their parents behind decorating the tree.  The children then get to enter the room and and are joined by their friends and other family members.  The usual joviality ensues, with Fritz causing mischief, until Herr Drosselmeier arrives with his enigmatic nephew (the Nutcracker) played Friday by Henry Berlin and Saturday by Philip Duclos.  I was very impressed by Henry Berlin he had such a charm about him and I think we might just see him in a few years time.  After the presents are given and festivities subside, Marie falls asleep with her now broken Nutcracker - Drosselmeier enters and repairs the Nutcracker replacing him safely under Marie's arm as she sleeps.  The growing tree scene which follows was breathtaking with the huge tree growing out of the floor - this tree was massive and I have not seen one anywhere else quite as big - I know Balanchine wanted a big tree - he certainly go it!  Truly fabulous. It is then that the Nutcracker comes to life in Marie's dream. The battle scene between mice and soliders is hilarious with the soldiers firing wedges of cheese at the mice from their canon.  The Nutcracker overcomes the Mouse King with the aid of Marie throwing her slipper to distract the Mouse King.  Once the King is slayed the Nutcracker cleverly transforms on stage to become the Prince (who Marie recognises as Drosselmeier's nephew) and he presents Marie with the Mouse King's crown making her his Princess.  The 2 walk off into a snowy forest at which point the dance of the snowflakes begins and the snowflakes guide the Prince and Princess toward the Christmas Star.  Ballerinas in icy blue dresses criss cross the stage and all the while snow is blowing from the wings - I feared they may slip but they did not (phew!) - it was the most dreamy scene to see and a beautiful end to Act 1.

Act 2 begins in the Land of Sweets and Marie (now Princess) and her Prince (Nutcracker) are greeted by Tiler Peck as SPF and the inhabitants of her realm.  The young prince tells SPF how he defeated the Mouse King and then SPF leads the Prince and Princess to the back of the stage and take a seat on a glittering throne where they can enjoy cakes and candies (and watch the ballet). SPF then dances with the Angels in the opening scene - again the children from the ballet school dance the angels - they move in such a way they look like they are on roller skates!  After this we get Hot Chocolate (Spanish Dance) danced by 10 dancers dressed in wonderful dark chocolate costumes adorned with colourful "sweets".  The Arabian Dance becomes "Coffee" in this version and was danced by Megan LeCrone/Ashley Laracey (Fri/Sat) - I preferred Ashley Laracey's performance.  The costume for Coffee includes ankle bells and finger symbols which I found rather detracted from the music and rather superfluous - needless to say it was a very sinuey dance.  I did, however, like Laracey's end to the piece when she nonchalantly pings the finger symbols to finish the piece it was very well done by her.  Then the Chinese Dance is replaced by "Tea" here, danced by Ralph Ippolito/Troy Schumacher and 2 ballerinas dressed in typical Chinese dress which was very good - some good moves in this piece for the male role.  Following this comes Candy Cane - Daniel Ulbricht/Sean Souzzi - a superb male solo backed by corps dancers as candy canes.  All the dancers held candy striped hoola hoops.  However the star of this piece was Ulbricht with his lightning fast moves through the hoola hoop I don't know how he does it but it was sight to behold doing super fast jumps with the hoop going round it was so fast you could hardly take in the moves!  Bravo.

The 5 Marzipan Shepherdesses then come in - with amazing tutus made like fabulous ornate gateaux with marzipan fruits on!  Karinska certainly excelled herself with these costumes!  Next up is Mother Gingerbread (who?!) a huge dress appears from the wings with a male dressed (almost like a drag queen!) as Mother Gingerbread - it is a most awkward dress but soon all is revealed when Mother Gingerbread pulls up her skirt front to reveal the Polichinelles all 8 of whom come out from under the dress - no wonder it was such a job getting on the stage!  The children then danced before returning under MG's skirts again it was fabulous!

Then Dewdrop appears with the flowers for The Waltz of the Flowers - which was beautifully danced - I particularly liked Teresa Reichlen on Friday, but Megan Le Crone was good too on Saturday.  Finally SPF appears with her Cavalier and they dance the wonderful PDD.  It was fabulous.  De Luz was the better Cavalier as her performed some extra jumps in his circle of grand jetes which put the icing on the cake along with Peck's lovely fouettes.

The grand finale sees all the dancers back on stage to bid farewell to the Prince and Princess who depart on the most beautiful sleigh pulled by reindeer gliding off into the sky - very clever scenery indeed!

I thoroughly enjoyed both performances but Friday's was definitely the better show due to the stellar performances of Ulbricht and De Luz.  Tiler Peck was a wonderful SPF and very assured in her balances so I was not disappointed to see her again on Saturday.  

I am sorry my "review" is really a list of names and pieces as I can't remember the fine details but hopefully it gives you an idea of what there is to see.  I am so glad I finally got to see Balanchine's Nutcracker I have often been in New York at the end of November but not to coincide with NYCB's performances.  Now if I go again I will make sure I do coincide - I also went to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes and can highly recommend that show as a true spectacle as well!

I must give special mention to NYCB Orchestra they really were SUPERB the music was just beautiful and the violin soloist Kurt Nikkanen was wonderful in his solo too.  The music alone was worth going for - wonderful playing and wonderful sound in the Koch Theatre.  As seems the norm NYCB had a display of costumes from the current staging on show in the foyer of the theatre so it was lovely to see up close the costumes for the pdd for SPF and her Cavalier, Dewdrop and Hot Chocolate (male) and mice heads.  The bead work on Dewdrop's dress and SPF's tutu were lovely to see and I have some lovely photos of both costumes and dancers but sadly I can't post them here.   

 

You can read a good article about Balanchine's Nutcracker courtesy of Vanity Fair here :- 

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/01/the-nutcracker-george-balanchine

 

The current US Vanity Fair magazine for Jan 2015 has a huge feature and lots of photos of NYCB Nutcracker in it as well.  I bought that rather than the programme as it was about $4.99 compared to $20 for the programme with pretty much similar photos in.

Edited by Don Q Fan
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A very good review Don Q Fan.....would certainly like to see this Nutcracker!! Was there a pas de deux just before "Snowflakes" for Clara and Drosselmeyers nephew? Otherwise how was that music used can you remember?

 

Glad you enjoyed ENB's I just found all the mask on and off thing a bit irritatating and although the hot air balloon is fun to a degree I just didn't feel transported to a magical place......and they still hadn't killed off the King Rat/Mouse character!!

 

This Ballanchine one does sound a bit more romantic and lovely to look at ......perhaps the Company can come over to UK next Christmas with theirs and ENB can go to New York with their version..... Sounds like a good exchange to me!!!

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Bless you, DQF, for this TRULY exquisite review.  It brought back SO many memories for me - THANK YOU SO MUCH - and I do so envy you the opportunity of seeing Tiler Peck dance the SPF TWICE!!!  (By the bye, Susan Stroman said in an NYT interview re her upcoming production of THE MERRY WIDOW for the Metropolitan Opera that the next step in the development of LITTLE DANCER starring the stunning Ms. Peck would be in Los Angeles in the summer of 2015 - which is good as she will be off season - i.e., after Saratoga - from NYCB and needn't miss out.)   As I said earlier, Balanchine's is my personal all-time favourite NUTCRACKER overall.  I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it.  (Again thank you for taking to pen this inspired report of those two performances.)  

 

In answer to the question above, Balanchine uses the established Nutcracker score - with the only addition being in the first act where the music used by Ashton for Aurora's Awakening pas de deux (as it is in Sir Peter Wright's glorious production for BRB - my current favourite of all SB productions in this country) is employed as an interlude.  You can, of course, see this Nutcracker on film in that presentation that was commercially released some years ago with Darci Kistler and the truly stunning Damian Woetzel as the SPF and her Cavalier and the breathtaking Kyra Nichols (who Clement Crisp claimed to be one of the world's great dancers) as the Dewdrop.  You can purchase this 1993 DVD (Region 1 ONLY it seems - but many machines can play that now) for less than £4 (i.e., less than an ROH amphi standing ticket for even a RB mixed bill.)  Well worth the investment methinks.  You can see a segment of the main PDD with Kistler and Woetzel hereHere too is the SPF variation which in the Balanchine comes near the top of Act II.  (Off topic for a second:  It is such a shame that Damian Woetzel danced in London only once over his LONG career - [he first became a principal dancer when he was 16] - and then only one movement in one ballet just before his retirement.  In my book he was up there with Baryishnikov.  Indeed, I once overheard Baryishnikov say: 'You out-Baryishnikoved ME!' to him.  Certainly he was the best Candy Cane I ever saw ... and how he managed to pull that triple hoop through a third sequence and still keep within the music is a mystery which will probably NEVER be answered.  The audience would simply go wild - something akin to those London Osiliev DQ's in terms of volume.  I won't be surprised to see Woetzel inherit the reigns at NYCB.  Not only would he be able to fully maintain the Balanchine/Robbins Rep [even now he coaches it with his wife, NYCB veteran Heather Watts] but he also has a seat on the Congressional Committee for the Arts and additionally sits on the National Endowment's Board.  Woetzel holds a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government which he got while he was still dancing with NYCB in that VERY long career and he has additionally lectured at Harvard Law School in the realm of Performance Law itself.)

 

Thank you, THANK YOU, DQF.  Your review is more than merely illustrious, it provides a wonderful public service.

 

I think it would be grand if ENB were to adopt the BALANCHINE NUTCRACKER as Aileen and LinMM suggest and thereby be the first ones to be able to present it in this country.  I can think of no other company here better equipped to do so outside of course of NYCB.  It would be another feather in Rojo's already dazzling cap - and I know Gavin Sutherland would more than honour the score as ever with the ENB Philharmonic; the best ballet ensemble in this country for my money.  Furthermore I think it would provide wonderful opportunities for the children from the ENBS as well as, perhaps, other training ensembles (outside of the RBS of course).  I think too it would be wonderful - especially given Nureyev's close association with LFB/ENB - if Rojo might consider exchanging ENB's LE CORSAIRE production for a season for La Scala's DON CHISCIOTTE by Nureyev (such as Rojo herself danced earlier this year) and show London a more vibrant forward thrust on the home front in that work than the rather muted affair that I accept many think more appropriate for the current - and much admired - RB throng.  One thing ENB's LE CORSAIRE film via digitaltheatre.com continues to prove is that TODAY'S ENB is especially rich in deploying expansive character through balletic dance itself. 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Here you can see a behind the scenes tour of Balachines's NUTCRACKER from five years ago.  Lovely to see former NYCB principal - the wonderful Philip Neal teaching the young children. 

 

Here is the NYCB promo for the 60th Anniversary BALANCHINE NUTCRACKER.  You can briefly see Tiler Peck (referred to above) appear. 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Wow - thank you all for the comments - Bruce I am so pleased you enjoyed my ramblings and thank YOU for answering the queries as you are better able to do so than me!  I shall look at all the links shortly!  I am going to order the DVD for sure as my player copes with Region 1 ok.  I am already dreaming of another NY Christmas trip....I agree with the musings about ENB they have so much potential under Rojo's leadership.

 

LinMM - I do not think there was a pdd before the snowflakes as the Nutcracker transforms into the human form young prince (Henry Berlin) and he and Marie walk off into the forest which is beginning to form on the stage.  

 

Aileen - Coffee is the Arabian Dance - a very exotic female solo  to the same music and Tea likewise 2 female and 1 male lead dance to the usual Chinese dance music.  Mother Gingerbread I am not sure, as I say I am not familiar enough with the normal Nutcrackers to know the exact piece of music and equivalent dance, sorry.  

Edited by Don Q Fan
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I forgot to mention that as well as ballet there is a wonderful exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York called Dance and Fashion.  This ends on 3 January but is worth a visit if you are in NY.  There are a lot of beautiful costumes lent by NYCB on display and a book of the same name accompanies the exhibition.  Outside the exhibition room you can watch countless videos about the costumes and interviews with NYCB's costume manager Marc Happel.  The one with Valentino is very interesting and another with a Dutch designer of an amazing black plastic tutu which is on show.  On display were pointe shoes worn by Anna Pavlova and Margot Fonteyn.  All good stuff! 

http://fitnyc.edu/22418.asp

Edited by Don Q Fan
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In your very first clip Bruce Wall towards the end of the pas de deux the ballerina is sort of gently pulled along on pointe across the stage. Have never seen this before.... and I couldn't see any floor trickery going on .......amazing!

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Well having searched high and low on YouTube for someone doing a version of Nutcracker with the "fishdives" have discovered got my ballets muddled up!! These are at the end of the Act three Sleeping beauty pas de deux ....not from Nutcracker at all!!

 

I think the ballerinas jump onto partners shoulder landing perfectly poised only to then immediately have her nose lowered to within an inch of the floor .....as above......is pretty flipping good as well!!

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Well having searched high and low on YouTube for someone doing a version of Nutcracker with the "fishdives" have discovered got my ballets muddled up!! These are at the end of the Act three Sleeping beauty pas de deux ....not from Nutcracker at all!!

 

I think the ballerinas jump onto partners shoulder landing perfectly poised only to then immediately have her nose lowered to within an inch of the floor .....as above......is pretty flipping good as well!!

 

Oh, and, of course, LinMM, the BALANCHINE NUTCRACKER SPF/Cavalier adagio DOES end with a pretty spectacular 'fish dive' .... (obviously Balanchine agreed with you!) .... so it may well be an ever more perfect world .... perhaps :)

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Oh yes I forgot that amazing en pointe arabesque slide! It looked great but I could see what looked like a piece of lino or something which SPF must stand on to be pulled along very clever and hardly noticeable unless you had opera glasses like me;-)

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A great review, DQF. What kind of dancing is done in Tea, Coffee etc? Is the same music used? And what music is used for Mother Gingerbread? Perhaps ENB could acquire the Balanchine Nutcracker.

 

Since ENB doesn't have a junior division of the school and this version of the ballet seems to rely pretty heavily on young kids, it might not be ideal for them. They don't have an associate programme for younger children, do they?

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Since ENB doesn't have a junior division of the school and this version of the ballet seems to rely pretty heavily on young kids, it might not be ideal for them. They don't have an associate programme for younger children, do they?

 

Might it not provide an incentive for ENB to start a junior/(associate?) programme; educationally partnering perhaps with one of these new-dangled 'free schools' so that their students got a fully rounded/mulit-lingual regime?  I believe such programmes can be profitable ... plus there has been that report (I remember seeing it in the Evening Standard) that ENB are currently searching for an expanded physical base.  This too might help ENB to further fulfill a 'national' remit - be it either British or - should it remain current in the future - European.  That said, I am, of course, uncertain in such matters.   Perhaps there would no longer be the necessary demand for such given all the different and very fine outlets currently extant in greater London and outside UK/European locales .

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Might it not provide an incentive for ENB to start a junior/(associate?) programme; educationally partnering perhaps with one of these new-dangled 'free schools' so that their students get a fully rounded/mulit-lingual regime?  I believe such programmes can be profitable ... plus there has been that report (I remember seeing it in the Evening Standard) that ENB are currently searching for an expanded physical base.  This too might help ENB to further fulfill a 'national' remit - be it either British or - should it remain current in the future - European.  That said, I am, of course, uncertain in such matters.   Perhaps there would no longer be the necessary demand for such given all the different and very fine outlets currently extant in greater London and outside UK/European locales .

 ENB School used to have an associate programme, entry by audtion only, in the same manner as the RBS associates.

It was in operation about six years ago, but it only lasted for a couple of years before it was closed down, which left students scrabbling around trying to find places on the other associate programmes at other schools. I assume it wasn't financially viable to continue, but I've got no inside information on it!

ENB seem to have a long-standing relationship with Tring Park School, from which it obtains young dancers for its Nutcracker performances.

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 ENB School used to have an associate programme, entry by audtion only, in the same manner as the RBS associates.

It was in operation about six years ago, but it only lasted for a couple of years before it was closed down, which left students scrabbling around trying to find places on the other associate programmes at other schools. I assume it wasn't financially viable to continue, but I've got no inside information on it!

ENB seem to have a long-standing relationship with Tring Park School, from which it obtains young dancers for its Nutcracker performances.

 

Then it might well be very beneficial for the Tring Park School.  They would have the benefit of training by members of the Balanchine Trust were that to be the case. 

 

Thank you for this much valued information.  So very kind, Rowan.  Bless you and Happy New Year.

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Yes the Tring Park School transport van was parked near the Coliseum when I did that workshop and then on to see the ballet just before Christmas.

 

In the clip Janet have I gone mad or was that Macauley Culkin(Home Alone boy) sitting watching the Gingerbread scene on stage?

 

I recognise the music ......Festival Ballet as were then known have definitely used this in one of their productions in the past.

Not sure if it was for this Gingerbread character but I assume so because children came out from her skirt like in the clip.

Whether she was Mother Hubbard or Mother Gingerbread am not sure!!

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In the clip Janet have I gone mad or was that Macauley Culkin(Home Alone boy) sitting watching the Gingerbread scene on stage?

 

 

 

Yes.  He had been an SAB student ... and at the time offered the film company certain commercial attributes towards the distribution of the film ... as did Kevin Kline who did the narration.

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You are most welcome, LinMM. 

 

Here is a link with a clip at the bottom of it which might contribute a couple of reasons as to why Balanchine was driven to be (i) so imaginative and (ii) so, so very musical; indeed driven by it.  (I STILL remember those magical rehearsals I was so privileged to attend and the great master and his metronome.) 

 

http://blog.oup.com/2013/07/george-balanchine-youth-russia-finland

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Wanted to share this YouTube link from one of the wonderful recent insight programmes at City Center (where so many of Balanchine's key works were built).  This one focuses on (i) input from Violette Verdy [a past LFB - now ENB - veteran]; (ii) features T. Peck and J. De Luz as noted above and (iii) is introduced by (as referenced earlier/featured in the NYCB Nutcracker film) Damien Woetzel.  Enjoy. 

 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Thanks Melody, I'd completely erased that piece of music from my memory!

 

So had I - until somebody reminded me of it.  Grrrrr :(

 

I always thought that most of the British choreographers left it out because it's so uninspiring.  Certainly I've never seen anyone do anything I'd regard as "inspired" to it.

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Well when I hear that piece of music I feel it has a lot of humour in it .....not a serious piece at all. It's got a sort of "bumbling" sound in it.

 

 

It's just whether you find the character and dance piece humorous as well! I don't mind it for a bit of fun and nice for the kids dancing it I suppose......as it is a sort of Christmas Ballet!

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So had I - until somebody reminded me of it.  Grrrrr :(

 

I always thought that most of the British choreographers left it out because it's so uninspiring.  Certainly I've never seen anyone do anything I'd regard as "inspired" to it.

 The National Ballet of Canada (Kudelka) Nutcracker has some cossack waiters to this music (ie waiting on a table where a feast appears magically for the two kids) and it's quite entertaining.

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