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BWW Reviews: CONNetic Dance's NUTCRACKER SUITE & SPICY More Mild Than Wild

Nutcracker Suite & Spicy
Directed & Choreographed by Carolyn Paine
Performed by CONNetic Dance at the Aetna Theater at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art through Sunday, December 16

My day job, I work in marketing.  My night job, I review plays (and occasionally write them).  Sometimes my day job leaches into my night job and I get to thinking about how I would market a show differently (or I think about how I would write the show differently).   I don't normally review dance productions and am certainly not inviting the task upon myself, as much as I like dance.  

I received an invitation to review CONNetic Dance's remount of their Nutcracker Suite & Spicy with the promise that it is "lIke Ballet gone Broadway."  Now, the clever inviter smartly included the word "like."  The not-so-clever invitee just saw the term "Broadway," and said, "I'm free.  The ticket's free.  It sounds Broadway-y."  See?  Smart marketing!  But, silly critic, Trix are for kids.  That "like" changes everything.  "Like" can be used to modify things into highly subjective places.  Example:  "like Jonestown, but with better beverages!"  Or, "like salmonella, but less tummy-upsetting."  See?  Smart marketing!  Now I almost want salmonella.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm NOT comparing CONNetic Dance's Nutcracker Suite & Spicy to Jonestown or salmonella.  If I was, I would say something like, "like Jonestown or salmonella, but with more ginger snap!"  I wouldn't do that because I also believe in something called "truth in advertising." 

And this brings us to my central issue with Nutcracker Suite & Spicy.  It's just not spicy.  See the power of one simple word?  It turned a perfectly nice critic into a somewhat crabby critic.  Aside from the fact that it was not really Broadway, it also wasn't spicy.  It's like Chinese food menus nowadays.  They have that little chili pepper symbol next to spicy items, but they more often than not fail to bring the heat.

With approximately 50 billion dance companies putting on Tchaikovsky's chestnut to annually fill their coffers, a company has to do something to stand out.  And, like A Christmas Carol, there are "alternative" productions that pop up, probably the most famous being Mark Morris' The Hard Nut.  If CONNetic Dance called their production Nutcracker Suite & Somewhat Nutty or Nutcracker Suite & Wacky, I would give them a free pass.  But it's that damn Spicy in their title.  I can't get past it -- especially because I thought this Nutcracker would be the one that parents wouldn't  want to dress their little girls up like little meringue puffs and trot to the theatre.  Yes, it's true:  sadly, this production is family-friendly.  Girls, bust out the crinolines; you're going to the ballet.

I'm definitely not saying Nutcracker Suite & Spicy is bad.  It's not.  Parts of it are really good.  And other parts are less good, but not bad.  Ethan Boisvert's backdrop is bad.  Sorry, I had to go there.  It's not bad as a painting; in fact, it is quite interesting.  But as a set it is really distracting, and that's bad, especially when a dozen really bad Christmas sweaters are standing next to it and your eyes want to explode from not knowing where to look.

In the spirit of Christmas charity, I'm going to focus on the good stuff.  I'm just that type of critic.  The high point of the show is undeniably the Waltz of the Snowflakes.  Always magical in a traditional Nutcracker, CONNetic adds giant pearlescent yoga balls to the scene and it becomes transcendent, whimsical fun (FREE MARKETING TIP, CONNetic folks!  There is your "pull quote."  Drop everything else in this review and just tell everyone I said the show is "transcendent, whimsical fun!"  And be sure to add that exclamation point – another free marketing tip.  Audiences love exclamation points like I love things that are actually spicy).

Alex "Bam Bunny" Zarlengo makes a fine Nutcracker Prince and his pas de deux with Kayleigh Crocetto as Clarice is pretty much the traditional one you would see in most productionsThe Arabian Dance is also fairly traditional, but still manages to be the spiciest part of any Nutcracker.    Robin Joyce's wonderful lighting manages to make the backdrop muted in this instance and one can focus on the lovely dance seduction occurring between Amy Merli and Norman Campbell.

There are many different musical styles employed from Duke Ellington to hip-hop (to the always-wretched Trans Siberian Orchestra) and as such the dance ranges from ballet to, well, hip-hop.  The dance of Drosselmeyer's automatons (Amy Merli and Gyasi Govan) and the Sugar Rum Fairy (Jolet Creary) add some fun pop-and-lock elements, but could be expanded and become even more fun.

Two big critical shout-outs to the not-credited, somewhat reluctant poodle and to Ben Stone Zelman as "Junior" (instead of Fritz).  Not only did they do a wonderful job, they amply proved the maxim that if you want to win an audience over, put an animal or a really cute kid onstage.   

So, at the end of the review, is Nutcracker Suite & Spicy worth your holiday time?  Yes, if you have managed expectations.  No, if you think "spicy" means a Nutcracker burlesque with spinning pasties instead of dancing pastries.

Photo by Bill Morgan.

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From This Author Jacques Lamarre

Jacques Lamarre has worked in theatre for over 20 years. As a Public Relations/Marketing professional, he held positions at Hartford Stage, TheaterWorks Hartford and Yale (read more...)