BWW Reviews: MR. B'S THE NUTCRACKER Shows Its Age at 60
After the 1954 New York City Ballet premiere of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, the production reigned supreme as the gold standard for the holiday classic even though William Christensen's excellent 1944 version was the first one ever staged in this country. By now, however, countless superb iterations of the ballet have spawned from coast to coast as well as in Alaska and Hawaii. Many of them, in my opinion, are better than Mr. B's. That may be why the matinée I saw on December 27th 2014 at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center seemed like an obligatory musty relic that had been dragged out of the attic for yet another season.
Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that this performance featured soloists, corps de ballet members, and even apprentices in principal and solo roles. How wonderful to see the up-and-coming crop of City Ballet dancers taking the stage in their first steps toward possible future promotions! I was especially enthralled by Mary Elizabeth Sell as a sparkling Dewdrop with gorgeous long legs, enviable technique, and obvious joy as she danced. This dancer is definitely one to watch.
Another of my favorites was David Prottas as the Lead Candy Cane, jumping through his hoop with aplomb and delight.
Applause also for Philip Henry Duclos as the young Prince. He delivered a compelling rendition of the mime that tells the story of his Christmas Eve adventures with the charming Avery Lin as Marie. He also maintained an overall gracious demeanor that portends what will surely be a career as a grown-up ballet prince.
Speaking of the lead children, Sawyer Reo as Fritz was a suitably mischievous little brother who had a wonderful time teasing his sister in spite of being scolded by the adults.
As for the other boys on stage in the Party Scene, they were terrific. Clearly, the School of American Ballet's boys' program is doing a fine job of training the next generation of male dancers.
The Angels were also excellent, gliding along by using tiny shuffling steps under their long skirts. That's not easy to do but these children managed it perfectly. Congratulations to Children's Ballet Mistress Dena Abergel!
A note to the Candy Cane who fell as she rounded a corner but got right back up and kept on dancing without missing a beat: Good for you! I hope you're not bemoaning this little mishap. You proved yourself to be trouper even at such a tender age.
On the other hand, a slap on the wrist to the corps girl in Waltz of the Flowers who raised her arms to fifth en haut a second after the final tableau was established when the music ended. The moment reminded of the corps de ballet spoof in Jerome Robbins' "The Concert", but Waltz of the Flowers is not meant to be funny.
Another nit-picky criticism: While Mother Ginger sidled onstage, her huge skirt was tipped slightly so that the audience could see the Polichinelles' feet underneath. That spoiled the surprise when the youngsters popped out one by one. They danced beautifully, though, in particular when they did the challenging sequence with a series of passés in unison.
Do I recommend seeing George Balanchine's The Nutcracker before the end of the current run on January 3rd 2015? Of course I do. Just don't expect it to be vastly superior to productions you may have seen in other cities. But that's splendid news, really. Ballet in America is no longer confined to a few elite troupes. The classical form of the liveliest art has finally made its way into hearts, minds, and theaters all over the country. The United States got a very late start, given that we didn't even have a ballet company until the Christensen brothers founded the San Francisco Ballet in 1933. Here's to the continued proliferation of first-rate companies as today's top dancers retire from the stage and move on to positions as artistic directors. That's a heartening prospect indeed!
Photo by Paul Kolnik