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Flash Review, 1-4: Extraordinary Things
Morris's Hardy Nut

By Jordan Winer
Copyright 2008 Jordan Winer

BERKELEY -- The brotha' in the tutu has biceps bigger than my thigh. The sets are an acid trip mix of Roy Lichtenstein and Archie Comics. And the teenage daughter is humping everything that moves.

This ain't granny's Nutcracker, it's Mark Morris's "The Hard Nut," playing at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley over the holidays, and it's a trip. Though it follows the usual story (young girl, party, fever, cool mysterious uncle gives her nutcracker, she has crazy dreams of Nutcracker prince who looks mysteriously like her uncle and sweeps her off her feet, throw in enough symbolism to keep Freud and Jung reeling for weeks -- then she wakes, and in some way has crossed over to adulthood), "The Hard Nut," danced by the Mark Morris Dance Group, has a style all its own and that is its great gift to the world.

I took my six-year-old son and he was absorbed the whole time. His favorite part was not the amazing fireworks of glittery snow thrown in the air by a million criss-crossing dancers, but the heartbreaking pas de deux "when the uncle danced with the nutcracker," which to me was a great image of an older man confronting his younger self.

It was an amazing evening over all. A special thrill was seeing Berkeley native (and Berkeley High Drama alumnus) Sam Black dance many ensemble parts, including a sugar plum fairy.

Speaking of that posse...wow. They enter, scores of them, arms swinging like apes, marching in like oompa loompas and proceed to twist and turn and spin in mesmerizing waves as the befuddled Queen looks for her daughter. The fairies lay on the ground grabbing hands to ankles and turn and turn and turn.

The suave uncle was the most memorable figure. When he enters the rollicking holiday party (at which Morris himself plays a swaggering lush snaking everyone's drinks and dressed in polyester like Herb Tarlick in WKRP in Cincinatti) he immediately grabs attention with his debonair white streak in his hair and smooth stride.

There were traditional moments too, such as when the prince and the little girl finally dance together, lifting each other and being lifted and flown by others, until this classical moment is broken too when they fully make out with each other. I don't remember that from the SF Ballet version I was dragged to when I was six.

What makes "The Hard Nut" work so well, so seamlessly, is how very modern or popular dance moves -- let's say the Mashed Potato or the Thizzle dance when the Christmas party gets a little drunken and crazy -- flow seamlessly into the ballet. Morris does this not by morphing or melding one into the other, but by simply letting different physical languages butt up against each other. Far from being jarring, these juxtapositions are in fact a bracing demonstration of how all dance has but one end: to express something so essentially human that it is beyond words.

So thank you Mark Morris, my son Dash loved the show and now wants to take ballet.

Probably because of that guy in the tutu.

Jordan Winer teaches Drama at Berkeley High School, and has danced with Sommer Ulrichson's company and performed in plays and musicals locally.

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