Monday, December 19, 2016

Dance Review - The Hard Nut

I've missed seeing The Nutcracker since ABT took their production to California.  I just love seeing it and it always puts me in a holiday mood.  This year, when I got a postcard to see Mark Morris' The Hard Nut at BAM, I thought 'hey...yeah, no,' but when a few unexpected dollars came my way, I decided I needed to go.  I also decided that my Impossibly Handsome Ballet Buddy needed to go with me, because I love him and we haven't seen quite enough dance together this year.  Besides, we're both already fans of The Hard Nut, having seen it on video/tv, but never live on stage before.  Saturday afternoon was the wonderful day we changed that.

BAM was very prettily decorated for the holidays and was quite crowded, mostly with families, though our row in the mezzanine was all adults.  Everyone behaved themselves, mostly, for which I was very glad.  The gent next to me (not IHBB, of course, the other gent!) had to share his encyclopedic knowledge of the dance with his date now and again, but he always stopped just shy of my on-its-way shushing.  My holiday spirit was not dampened.

When I opened my playbill, I was so excited, I may have made a little noise!  Mark Morris would be performing, too!  I was super-excited about that - I love to watch when creators perform in their own creations, there's something very pure and direct about their performances, generally, and they effortlessly get across what they wanted their creation to get across.  If that even makes sense.

The Hard Nut premiered in 1991, so it's been around for a long time.  I've been doing a little research (had to find a couple of photos!) and it's one of the only versions of The Nutcracker that uses the entire Tchaikovsky score and in the right order.  I was glad to read that - there was one scene at the top of the second act that didn't really make sense to me and after reading plot synopses, I see that it was actually part of the original ETA Hoffmann scenario in The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King!  After reading that, the second act made way more sense to me.  I guess I should've done my research beforehand. Though, I do generally enjoy the first act of The Nutcracker, up until the snowflake ballet, more than the second act, which is more pastiche and divertissement.  I do love me some plot.

photo credit: Stephanie Berger
But I really loved all of The Hard Nut. Seeing it on tv doesn't compare to seeing it done live, with the built-in excitement and a live orchestra.  The first act is done in a 60s/70s send-up, with line dancing, afros and miniskirts.  The family entertaining guests is the perfect family, but not, with lots of secrets.  Mom drinks, oldest daughter is a bit of a nymphet, son is a pest and Marie is between childhood and maturity.  And there's Dad, beautifully played by Mark Morris.  He tries to be a swinger, a good ole guy, but you can see the goofy dad and even some sadness underneath.  The neighbors all have singular characterizations and, of course, there's the sassy maid. The sassy maid was a crowd favorite, for good reason.  The gifts that come to life are a Barbie and a robot, which was cool.  IHBB and I just giggled like crazy people at the antics and the party scene (I mean, hello, there was a tv showing the burning Yule log channel!), which can sometimes be a little dry in a Nutcracker production, was tons of fun.  

After the party, we get to meet the mice,  at first represented by mechanized mice, rolling along, with glowing red eyes.  When the dream sequences begin, and the tree grows to make Marie appear to shrink, then we see the dancing mice.  The soldiers here who fight the mice are GI Joes, which made me laugh.  When the Nutcracker comes to life, he is danced by a lovely young man who has a gorgeous pas de deux with Drosselmeier - it's really just lovely and so musical.  Then we get to the highlight of the act, at least for me, the waltz of the snowflakes.

photo credit: Andrea Mohin
The dancers glide barefoot across the stage, flinging snow up into the air at various intervals, until it becomes an amazingly complex flurry of dancers, snow and loveliness. There's ballet and modern dance vocabulary, and the intricacies of the steps is something to see.  For once, I was happy to be in the mezzanine, so I could see how that gorgeous choreography moved across the stage.  Tears came to my eyes at one point, because the music, the dancing and just the effect of the snow was so beautiful.  It was magical.  I think I appreciated Morris as a choreographer more in that moment than I ever have before.  It was amazing.

photo credit: Julieta Cervantes
The second act, with its various one-off dances, was lovely, too. As I said above, I was a little confused at the beginning, but I now know Drosselmeier was trying to break the curse of the Mouse Queen and traveled the world to do so.  Very cool, in retrospect.  I enjoyed how Marie's mother participated in the waltz of the flowers; in fact, I loved how everyone had a part to play in both acts.  I especially loved how the entire cast danced the final waltzes - it emphasized how important each component was to the story.  And when Marie and her nutcracker prince danced and fell in love, it was so beautiful.  There were hints of the steps in the previous pas de deux the nutcracker prince shared with Drosselmeier, then they grew into much more.  So lovely.

I also want to mention that I really appreciated the orchestra, conducted by Colin Fowler. I heard bits and pieces of music that I never really noticed before, so I appreciated the clarity and precision of the conducting and the playing.  Some of the embellishments in the music beautifully offset the embellishments in the choreography, and vice versa, so there was a wonderful symbiosis there.  I also liked the fluid gender roles in the ballet - men played women, women played men, snowflakes and flowers were both sexes.  It was just a happy thing to see, especially in a story about the gradual awakening of an adult, sexual self.

I did wonder how many parents thought to themselves, hey, this is a little, um, MATURE for my kids!  I didn't hear any complaints, but the thought crossed my mind. But I found the entire experience to be magical, wonderful and just what I needed to get my holiday spirit going again.  After the show, IHBB and I wandered around for a few minutes to find a dinner location; we stumbled upon Scopello, a very nice Italian joint a couple of blocks away.  It was very warm and cozy there, with an excellent cocktail menu, an excellent wine menu and an excellent food menu.  The trifecta!  I opted for the moscato cocktail, which had moscato, tequila, grapefruit and grenadine.  It was potent and very tasty.  IHBB and I started with the burrata appetizer, which was enormous and delicious. Then I got the panino classico, which had pesto, prosciutto and mozzarella on it.  I mean, I haven't had prosciutto since I got back from Italy.  It was time.  We were pretty full, but we had to get dessert, right?  We got the house specialty, cassatelle, which they describe as sweet pasty filled with ricotta cream and chocolate. served hot.  Uh, yum!  It was sort of like a filled, Italian beignet.  Delicious.  It seemed like it would've been heavy and too sweet, but it wasn't.  But speaking of sweet, IHBB also ordered an after-dinner drink, bombardino, which is zabaglione liqueur.  Oh, geez.  That was delicious, too!  So much deliciousness!  The prefect ending to a wonderful afternoon!

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