Broadwayworld Dance Review: George Balanchine's THE NUTCRACKER, December 4, 2018, Koch Theater.
When the curtain rises on George Balanchine's THE NUTCRACKER, I have always noticed the cat in the window, stage right. That cat has been there a long time, perhaps from 1954. Or did Balanchine have it painted for the new Lincoln Center production in 1965?
Why am I mentioning the cat, rather than the dancers as I begin this review? Simple--at least to me. The cat knows, has seen dancers come and go, remembers orchestral burps, problems, issues, concerns. Yet the cat never seems to grow old--it just remains motionless in the window. But its memory! I wish it could relay stories.
That's how I feel, but luckily I can talk and write. I've been watching THE NUTCRACKER for almost 50 years. I've seen so many people dance it, some phoning in their performances, missed cues, some dazzling nights. But it always remains enchanting. Is it that once youth implodes into middle age we recognize ourselves on stage in different guises, since with repeated viewing a ballet becomes like a wonderful friend we have not seen in many years?
Balanchine's THE NUTCRACKER premiered in February of 1954. Why February? I don't know, and went on to be a Christmas ballet staple the world over. Every company seems to have a production, if not Balanchine's, then someone else's. I've seen psychological nutcrackers, murderous nutcrackers, hip hop nutcrackers. Has there been a Venus based nutcracker?
One of the funny things about Nutcracker is its split dynamic. Act One centers on Christmas Eve and the machinations of a magician, Herr Drosselmeier, who wreaks havoc on the mind of a young girl, Clara, who takes a fancy to his nephew, who later turns into the nutcracker, and then into the prince. Not to mention the growing Christmas tree and the mice that suddenly appear in Clara's dream-or is it? Or who really cares? Since this is Balanchine, we don't spend too much time in the psychologist's chair. We just have fun, and leave all those mind games to other choreographers. Act Two doesn't even tell of Christmas. Here we are in the land of the sweets, introduced to a variety of characters, Tea, Coffee, Mother Ginger, the Dewdrop and the flowers. And the Sugar Plum Fairy presides over everything with humanity, regality and benevolence. Should she should be the next artistic director of the New York City Ballet?
I know many choreographers look for psychological depth in these characters. Clara becomes a grown up in the second act, her Nutcracker transforms into a handsome swain that befriends and assists her in this journey to adulthood, and then she's returned to childhood, and by the end of the ballet people are wondering what really happened.
Balanchine doesn't even try to go there, and why should he? For starters, there isn't enough music in the entire ballet to support this narrative. So it's very simple and follows the music to a conclusion that also makes no sense, but it's a fairy tale for children-- and audiences love it, myself included.
It was a pleasure to see Adam Hendrickson back on stage as Drosselmeyer-he has been missed. Adam Sporek as the Nutcracker and Fiona Daly as Clara performed well--Have you ever seen a bad performance by children in these roles? Alydia Wellington and Silas Farley as Hot Chocolate; Ashley Laracey as Coffee, Ralph Ippolito as Tea, Daniel Ulbricht as Candy Cane and Indiana Woodward as the Marzipan Shepherdess gave fully of themselves. For all who are interested, there was no more finger pointing in the Tea variation, although I'm not sure that many ever thought that it was a total put down of the Asian race. Or anyone for that matter.
Megan LeCrone was an unusual Dewdrop. Here is a dancer I admire, yet one who would not fit the profile of a usual dewdrop: she's too commanding, imposing, her natural environment is in the leotard ballet. Yet, and a very big yet, she becomes the part through will and what I would think of as a mindset all her own. It's not Megan LeCrone as the Dewdrop-it's the Dewdrop as Megan LeCrone. This thought has usually been used to describe actors in unusual parts, and I gladly use it now for Ms. LeCrone.
The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier were danced by Tiler Peck, who received a round of applause on her appearance (strange for New York City Ballet), and newly appointed principal dancer, Joseph Gordon. Peck is as assured and technically proficient as any ballerina in the world, yet Gordon seems to have problems. He currently seems out of sorts when dancing with such an accomplished dancer as Peck-at times he seemed almost frightened to touch her. Maybe it was me. Gordon is a very proficient dancer, but he still has a way to go as an accomplished one. Only time will tell.
More nutcrackers, hopefully more years to come.