Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Nutcracker Season is Upon Us!

Will the sugar plum fairy in the NYCB production of the Nutcracker black out her two front teeth at the end of the season? What other innovations are in store? I've been watching dress rehearsals at our local ballet theater, since my daughter is in three scenes. As she said, "Mom, it's really fine--except for the costumes and the choreography." I said: "What choreography?" 
So we had a good MEOW.
I wish the director were as mean as Jerome Robbins, so that I didn't feel guilty running down his complete lack of imagination. But the truth is, he's so nice!--took us parents backstage to show us the sets, offered me a hand as I came down the rickety stairs. Reportedly he is also a dream of a ballet teacher, and that's saying something in our little village of some 700,000 souls, where good ballet teachers are rarer than hen's teeth, and it's best just to traipse off to Düsseldorf if you want a real class.
But if the criteria is interpretation, I'd take an inconsiderate so-and-so like Jerome Robinson or George Balanchine. They might wreak your knees or grope your heinie, but they can make an audience gasp with delight.
Since I'm not about to identify the director, I might as well say everything I think, as a cautionary tale for anyone who might want to produce The Nutcracker:
(1) Pick one interpretation, not two, or six. Clara is an enchantingly pretty eight-year-old, sweet as a sugarplum, who has enough technique to point her toe.  She's a girly-girl, delighted to be whirled off to candyland by decrepit Uncle Drosselmeyer, who provides a prince.
(2) Alternatively: Clara is on the verge of adolescence, and Uncle Drosselmeyer is the seducer who makes sure she enjoys it--versions of this story go back at least to the nineteenth century. In one, Drosselmeyer himself turns into the prince.
(3) Don't have two Claras onstage at the same time--one a grown-up Clara mothering a tiny girl barely old enough to walk, let alone dance, who goes to sleep in her scallop-shell while grown-up Clara dances with the prince.
(4) In the party scene, select EITHER 18th century restoration costumes OR Punk OR Morticia Addams and consort, but not all three.  Leave out the butler tripping over the tiger's head stunt; that belongs in one place only, Dinner For One, and besides, the rug crumpled up onstage.
(5) The Waltz of the Flowers should not begin with a couple of roses flopping to the stage from the rafters, after which the tiny Clara picks them up and then is nearly run over by dancers.
(6) A massive glowing red rose projected against the wall is not an ideal background for The Waltz of the Flowers. 
(7) Vibrating lines reminiscent of discotheque design c. 1972 don't look like they support Clara's boat or sleigh.  How about real waves?
(8) Costumes: Drosselmeyer should not look like Flash Gordon. The  red lightning jutting from his head and the Zebra stripes on his cloak look great--they just don't say Mr. D. The party scene girls seem attired in first communion dresses. Must the rats, who crouch like gorillas, look like them too? Happy Halloween! The Chinese dance costumes are great, but why are the dancers wearing wigs that make them look as though they'd stuck their fingers in light sockets?
This production is saved by the music. The dancers look depressed and no wonder--they have nothing to do: the children in the party scene stand there or rattle presents; the Arabian arrives in a sling from above, flips her arms Goddess Kali-style and does a walkover. The Spanish dancer gets a fouetté or two and a then with a whirl and a balancé, she's out. 
If I were a dancer, what would I want for a director: a really nice dude who makes sure the orchestra doesn't rush the dancers--or an S.O.B. with a brilliant choreographic mind? Are these the only two choices? Great creative minds are not always known for being considerate sweeties. But surely there must be a nice guy or gal out there with talent.

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