BWW Reviews: George Balanchine's THE NUTCRACKER - Thoughts on a Holiday Classic
I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to see the first Nutcracker performance of the season. Traditionally, all the trees and lights start going up the day after Thanksgiving. It's pretty much the official/unofficial start of the holidays. What better way to get into the Christmas spirit than with the quintessential Christmas ballet? The theatre was packed and everyone seemed in high spirits; the crowd was a bit more affable and relaxed than usual (a welcome change). One of the great things about this ballet is its universal appeal. It's a light hearted classic that anyone can enjoy and appreciate.
The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets performed today and holds a special place in the classical canon. For many, this ballet heralds in the advent of the holiday season; it's a charming piece with a simple plot and an agreeable score. Though a contemporary favorite and the last ballet born of the historic Tchaikovsky/Petipa collaboration, The Nutcracker was not originally well received. Its numerous restagings in the US during the 1940's and 50's are responsible for its enormous success today. Foremost amongst these new Nutcrackers is George Balanchine's production.
Balanchine's Nutcracker is an irrefutable gem. His version was initially met with skepticism and confusion prior to its 1954 debut. Why would the father of American, abstract, neoclassical ballet decide to unearth a Russian time capsule like The Nutcracker? The answer: Balanchine always held a soft spot for the classics. It seems he could never quite shake his early training at the Maryinsky and would continue to refer to, and recreate, traditional Russian story ballets throughout his career; the Nutcracker being the most successful. His version relies heavily upon children, and (like most of his works) focuses primarily on the ballerina. He ingeniously splices and supplements the score and presents a simple ballet which is accessible to any age, yet still retains the hallmarks of the great tradition of Russian classical ballet.
All things considered, City Ballet's presentation of The Nutcracker was a delight. The younger performers from the School of American Ballet all danced beautifully, led by Marie and her Nutcracker Prince. They demonstrated a clear understanding of theatricality alongside nice and pure classical technique; after all there is a reason why SAB is one of the nation's top ballet schools. The orchestra, led by Daniel Capps, sounded particularly nice last Friday. The corps danced well enough, almost perfectly in unison. A few dancers stood out amongst the rest, but this performance wasn't exactly spectacular. It was very good but, with a few exceptions, lacked that certain "wow" factor.
The first act of the ballet is traditionally pretty pedestrian, lots of pantomime and folk dancing. Balanchine's party scene is less tedious than most, even with its distinct lack of pointe shoes. It goes by fairly quickly. The transition into the dream world where the battle scene takes place was spectacular. Balanchine artfully allows for a gradual change of scene, beginning with a few mice and culminating in the jaw dropping enhancement of the Christmas tree to gigantic proportions during the battle scene. The battle scene itself seemed a bit slow and awkward, but I wasn't too bothered by it. The Snow scene was very well done. Arguably some of the best music in the ballet, and typically a crowd favorite, Balanchine's Snow is full of popping jumps and quick turns perfectly emulating a twirling blizzard. The dancers executed the moderately challenging chorography with a cool finesse.
More On: George Balanchine, Joaquin De Luz.