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American Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker

Of all the traditions of the Christmas season, The Nutcracker endures as the one cultural event that stands the test of time and brings audiences to the ballet yearly. American Ballet Theatre‘s The Nutcracker took a new spin on the story while keeping the beauty and magic in the ballet form.

I decided to see American Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker for a number of reasons. For one, I had never seen ABT present The Nutcracker. That would’ve been reason enough for me to go, but the new choreography by Alexei Ratmansky and new sets and costumes by Richard Hudson piqued my interest as well. It’s not everyday that a prestigious ballet company commissions a new Nutcracker. Also, ABT usually performs in uptown venues, but they were presenting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) – a venue that presents more avant-garde work and does not traditionally present ballet.

The ballet opened in a nontraditional way – instead of seeing Drosselmeyer (Victor Barbee) in his lab working on his dolls, we see the kitchen buzzing with the servants and a little [hilarious] mouse. This was a strange way to set up the ballet – no major players, no dancing, and no space as the counters were cumbersome on the half stage.

When the kitchen opened up to the party scene, there was a lot of energy and some slapstick from an “old” couple. Again, Drosselmeyer was not a major character in this scene (the butler (Alexei Agoudine) seemed to have more clout than Drosselmeyer himself). He did not enter in his majestic and mysterious way, his dolls did not have cranks on their backs, and Drosselmeyer did not make the tree grow before everyone. Drosselmeyer did, however, present the Nutcracker (Tyler Maloney) to Clara (Catherine Hurling) as a lifesize teenager and it wasn’t until the boys started fighting over it that it turned to doll size. Later, during the fight between the rats (who were adult size) and the Nutcracker and his soldiers, Clara was watching from a giant chair above, and ultimately ended the fight by throwing her shoe at the Mouse King (Thomas Forster). It’s important to note the dynamic between Clara and the Nutcracker was of young love.

The journey to the forest was truly magical. Paloma Herrera was stunning as the Princess invoking a calmness and majesty. For me, the snowflakes brought the production back to a normal place with a reliance on choreography – not the personalities that had been at the forefront of the piece from the beginning. With blue-gray romantic tutus, the snowflakes really looked like a blizzard of falling snow in a forest (except for the bizarre floorwork).

The second act was full of pink. The little fairies, the pink flowers, the Nutcracker’s sisters, and the Arabian harem all wore pink. With all that pink though, there was inconsistency within the second act. The Arabian, Russian, and Bees had huge personalities and were almost kitsch whereas the Spanish, the Chinese, and the Nutcracker’s sisters danced seriously. It was a bit disconcerting to watch the Arabian man (Sascha Radetsky) in trouble with his harem of women, as if that were something to laugh at. Also, it was absurd to see the Prince (Cory Stearns) propose to the Princess with a ring! This modern gesture did not fit at all. That said, the somberness returned to the piece with the mirroring between Clara and the Nutcracker and the Princess and Prince.

And I can’t forget to mention the little mouse! He was played wonderfully by Justin Souriau-Levine.

All in all, it was a beautifully danced, visually entertaining and joyful work.

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