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Flash Review 2, 11-27: Bring on the Nut!
City Ballet's "Nutcracker" Sets a Brisk Pace

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Hot on the runners of Santa's Thanksgiving Day Parade sleigh appearance comes the annual New York City Ballet run of Balanchine's "The Nutcracker," to Tchaikovsky's score, with its season-opening performance on Nov. 23. Sure, it's easy to resist this 1954 confection in part because of its commercial tinge, and as a symbol of the seasonal employment warhorse that dancers love to hate (productions in addition to City Ballet's). But at the end of the day, it's a charming tale with a traditionally-told first act and a psychedelic second act well danced by Mr. B's torch-bearers.

A good deal of Act I involves a Christmas gathering, played in a realistic style involving frollicking children (featuring, Friday, the adorable Ojela Burkhard as Marie) in elaborate Sunday-best frocks and trousers, with numerous gift exchanges and dozens of coat-doffings. A good deal is also presided over by Herr Drosselmeyer, played Friday by Robert La Fosse. All this set up the audience to watch with by-then complacent eyes the simple magic of the set (by Rouben Ter-Arutunian) changing scale in plain view -- the tree, windows, and bed grow huge. After a tepid battle with the Mouse King and his well-fed mouse-cadets, the victorious Nutcracker and his fellow toys (with a crackling brief solo by soldier Adam Hendrickson) left the stage to the snowflakes, who finally danced up a snowstorm for the first time. As snow fell increasingly harder, the sixteen snowflakes crossed the stage diagonally in fours, shifting directions rapidly, doing quick chaines on demi-pointe, and courageously facing down petit allegro and some pared-down grand allegro with panache on what must have been a snow-slicked stage.

Act II took place in The Land of Sweets, a lacy, caffienated, sugary ghetto populated mostly by vices/treats (coffee, tea, marzipan, candycanes, etc.), plus some flowers, the Sugarplum Fairy, and Her Cavalier. A flock of precious little cone-shaped angels holding miniature trees glided across the stage several times, followed by the Little Princess (Burkhard) and Little Prince (the noble Ryan Cardea, also in the roles of Drosselmeier's Nephew/The Nutcracker) who sat at a gazebo-ed tea table to hold court.

Yvonne Borree danced the role of the Sugarplum Fairy. There is a placid classicism to Borree which, while not eliciting passionate raves, is still vaguely reassuring. She showed musical flair in a series of sissonnes arabesques, a controlled lightness in a chain of inside piques coupes, and yet seemed tenuous in simple outside pirouettes. I am not sure if the almost fragile impression she leaves is a statement on the current tendency to laud the gymnastic over the romantic ideal of the ballerina, or if she is stoically competent and does not reveal the effort that must obviously accompany executing Balanchine's technique at this level. She was better off when paired with Damian Woetzel in the later pas de deux. His presence seemed to allow Borree to relax against him as a backdrop. They performed well a weird sequence: she stood on pointe in a classical arabesque as he dragged her several feet, rigid on pointe. Woetzel was allowed a brief time to shine with soft landings from big jetes, as well as at the end of turns in second punctuated by a multiple outside turn.

Jennie Somogyi, as Dewdrop, lit up the stage by tossing back her head, seeking out audience members in the upper reaches. Somogyi muscular, defined legs sparked what might have been standard pas de chats and passes. She confidently performed a series of fouettes leading into back attitude pirouettes. Abi Stafford and Janie Taylor were radiant as demi-soloist Flowers who shared a bright, clean musicality.

Benjamin Millepied burst off the stage as Tea, with big repeated split jumps and lightning quick phrases. Kathleen Tracey was smoothly leonine as Coffee, and Tom Gold (Candy Cane) proved he could compete in rhythmic gymnastics with his mastery of jetes through a hula hoop. Jennifer Tinsley (Marzipan Sheperdess) showed off her strength in hops on pointe in attitude, though she seemed to chase the beat during subsequent petit allegro. And Stuart Capps played to the house as tent-skirted Mother Ginger, whose eight little Polichinelles showed off their excellent training in ninety degree arabesques and sharp sissonnes.

The orchestra was led by new music director Andrea Quinn, who set a brisk pace to match the quick rhythms of Balanchine's choreography, although Guillermo Figueroa's violin sounded sharp during a key solo. Lavish costumes were designed by Karinska; original lighting was designed by Ronald Bates, with lighting by Mark Stanley.

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