Not a review: Thoughts on Miami City Ballet & George Balanchine’s ‘Nutcracker’

mcb_new_nut_la-547-by_iziliaev
He’s down but not out: Nutcracker Prince vs the multi-headed Mouse King. Courtesy Miami City Ballet. Photo and copyright by Alexander Iziliaev.

The Music Center last week presented “The Nutcracker” for the first time in five years. The two-act ballet premiered in Russia in 1892, but, as we all know, it ended up becoming a holiday obsession here in the U.S. instead. (Read Jennifer Fisher’s excellent book “Nutcracker Nation” to find out how that happened.)

Rachel Moore, Music Center President and CEO, brought in Miami City Ballet for  six performances, Dec. 7 to 10, and the center became an underwriter for Miami’s production, which premiered in L.A. and has new sets and costumes designed by Isabel and Ruben Toledo, plus video projections by Wendall Harrington. (A spokeswoman said the Music Center would not release information about the dollar amount of the commission.) To further engage the local community, children from the Colburn School and Gabriella Foundation’s Everybody Dance! Program performed with Miami’s dancers, and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus sang during the Snow Scene. That’s an arrangement similar to the one that American Ballet Theatre has with its affiliated school at the Segerstrom Center in Orange County. The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago was the last company to perform “The Nutcracker” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

I was going to post a review of this new production —but then I ended up arriving very late to the theater. I didn’t make it until about half-way through the party scene, so I’ll have wait until next year, when it returns.

But it had been a few years since I saw last Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” and I was struck again by some of its singular characteristics that really rub me the wrong way. A few examples: Balanchine added other music by Tchaikovsky at the conclusion of the party scene, so when Marie (aka Clara) comes downstairs to search for the toy, there’s a startling break from the familiar score. I dislike that the Sugar Plum Fairy performs her solo—which belongs in the grand pas deux—at the start of the second act, and the Cavalier’s solo is done away with altogether. I miss the Russian-themed dance, which Balanchine turned into the Candy Cane variation with hoops. And lastly, at the final show Sunday late afternoon, the tolling of midnight was completely excised. What happened?

I don’t mean to spout blasphemy, but I’m just not sure his production deserves the definitive status it has received. My theory is that whichever “Nutcracker” ballet affected you most as a child, that’s the one that becomes the version by which you judge all others. My first “Nutcracker” experience was with Los Angeles’ Pacific Ballet Theatre, a production that director Andrei Tremaine adapted from his years with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  It was a landmark event in my life, recalled now through the haze of decades and rose-colored memory. Such memory-making will be going on this whole month. Go out and enjoy it.

 

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