Two Beloved NYC Nutcrackers: Old and New

posted by Wendy Perron on Monday, Dec 17, 2012
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The New York City Ballet party scene in Balanchine's Nutcracker. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

It’s the season of Nutcracker, and I know a lot of dancers get sick of doing it. But I never tire of seeing it or hearing the music. Like many of you, I grew up doing Nutcracker every year, and I adore the Tchaikovsky score from the first note to the last.

We New Yorkers have an embarrassment of riches, with two big and stellar Nutcrackers to choose from, and an assortment of smaller ones around the city. The New York City Ballet production is an old family tradition, whereas American Ballet Theatre’s version (which had its last performance yesterday) is only in its third year. They are both excellent. If someone wanted to call them dueling Nutcrackers, I would say it’s a tie. Here’s a quick breakdown of my own highs and lows.

The Balanchine Nutcracker at the David H. Koch Theater

What I love
• The party scene. I can see it over and over and still discover more in it. This time I noticed how none of the girls want to dance with bratty Fritz, so his mother does.
• The moving bed. It magically travels through the snow scene as though traveling through Marie’s dream.
• The Tchaikovsky music. It sounds terrific in the Koch Theater.

What I don’t love
• The Sugar Plum does her variation out of sequence, before her pas de deux, and her Cavalier’s variation is cut out.
• Occasionally you see a child just go thru the motions and not feel the part.
• The set design for the second act—all pink and lacy sugar-coated candy— almost gives me a stomach ache just to see it.

 

Justin Souriau-Levine as Little Mouse in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.

 

The ABT Nutcracker, choreographed by Ratmansky at Brooklyn Academy of Music
 
What I love
• The humor. The tiniest mouse turns up everywhere, and his brazen way of scampering is irresistible. Another point of humor is when the two maids who are the last to leave the party scene mimic the grandma dancing.
• The narrative thread. You can follow the story of Clara and the Nutcracker’s relationship all the way through, and you care about them as children and as adults.
• The choreography is just stellar, particularly for the Harlequin Dolls and in the Snow Scene.

What I don’t love
• The four women in Arabian keep mauling one muscular, strutting, shirtless man.
• The character who is called the Sugar Plum has an obscure role and a terribly frou frou outfit. I guess she hosts the children’s entry into the land of the sweets, but she seems extraneous to me.
• The music gets trapped in the deep orchestra pit at BAM and sounds thin.