Friday, December 20, 2013

ABT - The Nutcracker

My last event of 2013!  Well, unless I sneak in something while I'm in Ohio, which is very doubtful.  So let me wax rhapsodic about ABT's The Nutcracker...

This is the fourth season for Alexei Ratmansky's production of The Nutcracker for ABT.  This is the third time I've seen it and, as always, I found it wonderful.  I also saw so many new things in it.  I'm just in love with this production; everything about it - set, costumes, choreography, characterizations - is fantastic.

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone
Normally, when I see a ballet, I choose the dancers I want to see.  But for The Nutcracker, since my holiday calendar is so full, I generally only have one or two dates open.  I was thrilled, though, that my only available date this year happened to fall on the night that two of my favorite younger dancers, Joseph Gorak and Sarah Lane, were dancing.  I'd seen both of them perform beautifully last summer - Gorak particularly impressed me with the sunny, open-hearted quality to his dancing.  He never seems rushed or forced, all his movements just seem genuine and lovely.  He has a nice line and lovely lift - if he seemed a tad tentative in his partnering (one lift definitely looked a bit awkward), oh well.  The overall quality he showed was first-rate.  He had a lovely rapport with Sarah Lane, and also with the young boy who played the Nutracker Boy, who, in this version, is the Prince's younger self.  Sarah Lane was lovely, as always, with just amazing carriage in her upper body, stunning arms, and a lot of spring and verve in her jumps.  I thought she was terrific.  The kids playing their younger counterparts, Victoria Arrea and Kent Andrews, were also lovely and quite touching.  I was very impressed with their acting and their movement.  

Photo credit: Andrea Mohin
I know I've mentioned before how taken I am with the "Waltz of the Snowflakes" at the end of the first act, but I was again just transported.  I was noticing so many new details in the choreography - how the dancers made patterns across the stage that looked very like unique snowflakes, and how the drama ratchets up when the unseen voices start to sing.  The young Clara and Nutcracker Boy were charming when playing in the snow, then you could feel their anxiety as the snow grew thicker, the music got more charged and the dancing of the snowflakes got more frantic.  Drosselmeyer really had to come in and take command when he entered at the end - again, new details I hadn't noticed before that added to the richness of the piece.

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone
As always, the first act grabbed my attention more than the second.  And this year I really noticed some wonderful acting going on throughout the entire ensemble, especially from the adults during the party scene at the top of the ballet.  The two spinster sisters were beautifully jealous yet loving; the grandfather was clearly telling naughty stories to the men (and their wives weren't having it); and there was one couple who seemed to be having quite the domestic squabble throughout, which even carried into their exit.  None of this acting was done to draw focus or oversell the story, it was just incredibly detailed and specific acting.  I was quite impressed.  

Roman Zhurbin was his usual wonderful self as Drosselmeyer, who had quite a way with the ladies last night.  Even the Sugar Plum Fairy felt his charm; it was a nice character addition.  I thought Calvin Royal made a wonderful Recruit  'doll' in the party scene - I am so impressed with his progress this season.  And Justin Souriau-Levine, returning as the Little Mouse, was again an impish delight.  He's seriously adorable - what is ABT going to do when he outgrows the role?  Hmmmm...

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone
In the second act, in the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, there was of course beautiful dancing.  I just like me some plot.  :)   The ladies playing the Nutcracker's Sisters were gorgeous and the "Waltz of the Flowers" was particularly well-danced.  I'm still not totally sold on those comic bees, but I do love how they're integrated at the end for some pretty stupendous lifts.  And I love how Clara, at the end of the ballet, needs to learn something and make a choice to love.  Really beautiful.  I am totally in love with this ballet and am so happy it's now a yearly holiday tradition.  And if they sold a DVD, I would buy it.

Seat neighbor wise, ugh.  I think last year I complained about the adults while noting the kids were well-behaved.  Surprise, surprise, that's the way it played out last night.  There was again talking during the overture (why do people do that??), and people trying to videotape the performance with their cameras.  But the main agony began when I arrived - the gal nearest the aisle in my row wouldn't get up to let me pass.  Sigh.  OK.  I got into my seat (I had a delightful seat, right smack dab in the center), settled in, and the gal asks me, rather peevishly, "have you ever seen this production before?"  I said yes and I enjoy it.  She then asked me, "did you see anything at the fall season?"  I said yes, I saw Tempest and other things.  She then, very emphatically told me that The Tempest was the MOST EXCITING THING SHE HAD SEEN ALL YEAR.  Since I didn't share her opinion, I just smiled and said "right."  I guess I wasn't effusive enough, because she harrumphed, and stopped talking to me.  Next thing I know, the couple behind her were tapping her on the shoulder and asking "are you sitting on something?"  She said, yes, I'm sitting on my coat, otherwise I can't see.  The couple behind her demanded she get off her coat because THEY couldn't see.  I mean, I understood their point, but she really wasn't any taller than me on her coat.  What would they have done if someone over six feet tall was sitting in front of them? 

Well, they continued to argue about it throughout most of the overture, though my shushing began early, and I could just feel the animosity between them.  Then the gal behind started kicking the chair of the coat-sitter.  Which of course was like kicking my chair.  At which point I said "Stop."  So now I got the wrath too.  I was so mad that they were ruining my happy ballet place!!!  So I missed most of the charming opening scene with Little Mouse, which irks me.

At intermission, it began again, and I began to worry about fisticuffs breaking out, then coat-sitter finally offered to switch seats with them.  So the complainers moved up and sat next to me.  And complained how they couldn't see over the heads of the little old ladies in front of them.  Hello.  What did they expect - an empty house for their enjoyment?!  And there was pointing at me and whispering, but thankfully, it was relatively peaceful throughout the second act.  Of course, after the show ended, they had to passively agressively just sit in their aisle seats and refuse to let me (or anyone else) pass.  Thank god the actual kids in the house behaved like civilized people, because the adults sure didn't. 

Perhaps I should invent an app where you can check out your seat neighbors before you buy tickets.  Or perhaps I should just learn to shut the nonsense out.  I did a pretty good job of it last night, on the whole, since I was so enchanted by the ballet.  And I'm glad it didn't escalate to physical violence, though I was nervous for a moment.  Thankfully, I have The Nutcracker on my iThing so I could listen to it all the way home.  Music soothed this savage beast.  Here's hoping for good theater, good dancing and good audiences in 2014!!  :)

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