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I never heard of this version before-I'm only 25 years or more behind. I see BAM is offering it in December? Anyone familiar with it? This review from the NYTimes sure liked it. Regards, Len
Review: Mark Morris’s ‘The Hard Nut,’ Tchaikovsky With Cartoon Wit and Verve
By Alastair Macaulay
Dec. 13, 2015
Waves of happy laughter greet “The Hard Nut” from curtain-up to curtain-down, a tribute to the naughty theatrical brilliance of its choreographer, Mark Morris. His production, which turns 25 next month and which returned on Saturday for the first time in five years to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, feels mint-fresh. I witnessed early performances in 1991; in some ways it’s improved.
Part of the fun is that this is “The Nutcracker,” with Tchaikovsky’s score played complete and in the right order, transposed to America 40 or more years ago, with the children watching TV in the opening scene. In the Stahlbaum family, the elder daughter, Louise, is vain, pushy and plaintive; her mother needs a drink before the guests arrive; and a couple of the visiting husbands are enjoying a flirtation before the Christmas party is over. Everyone piles their coats heedlessly into the arms of the overworked, uniformed black maid (in drag).
The cartoon vitality never lets up. Neither does Mr. Morris’s sense of rhythm. In one dance near the end, the young heroine (Marie, played by Lauren Grant) and hero (the magician Drosselmeier’s nephew, played by Aaron Loux) do nothing but kiss and whisper into each other’s ears; yet their body language and timing make this a peculiarly satisfying scene: We watch every aspect of those kisses with a sense of recognition.
The best performances are larger-than-life drag ones: Above all, Kraig Patterson as the fond and foolish maid; June Omura as the heroine’s irrepressible tearaway little brother, Fritz; and John Heginbotham, in a hilariously Eve Arden-like performance as the absurdly genteel, socially anxious Mrs. Stahlbaum. Mr. Patterson dances on point, and, wherever pointwork occurs in this production (as in the Paris-fashions dance, which I adore), it’s a caricature effect.
The production’s cartoon tone derives from the work of the comic artist Charles Burns; Adrianne Lobel’s sets and Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes are pitch-perfect in sustaining the comic illusion. In Act II, Drosselmeier has a daft travelogue across several continents seeking the Hard Nut of the title; the illuminated flight map alone is fun, and the joke dance versions of all the places he visits are delicious. In the Paris number, the women wear blue (with big black polka dots), the men pink, and their hats are le dernier cri (in other words, utterly utter). One carries a hatbox, another a baguette, and the fatuously chic way they present their faces and swerve their hips to the beat is superlatively witty.
The greatest single “Hard Nut” dance is the Snowflakes waltz at the end of Act I. No other treatment of this famous music so excites its audience, and again Mr. Morris’s secret is timing. And yet how crazy it is, with these unisex dancing Snowflakes in their bizarre bikini-tutus and skewed shell hats, releasing snow from their hands now in steady drizzles, now like explosions of cocaine. First, we laugh at, then we laugh with, these creatures. They’re preposterous; they’re life-enhancing.
But timing isn’t all there is to choreographic musicality, and Tchaikovsky’s music keeps telling us how much more there is to “The Nutcracker” than Mr. Morris is showing. This music, so full of heart-seizing vignettes, is the opposite of cartoon: Even the Arabian and Chinese dances have degrees of large-spirited fantasy Mr. Morris won’t acknowledge. Marie’s solo about newfound love doesn’t match the otherworldly sonority of the Sugar Plum celesta.
A further drawback is storytelling. “The Hard Nut” tries to give us more narrative, and more layers of narrative, than almost any other “Nutcracker.” Tries; fails. Who can make head or tail of what goes on in the scenes for Princess Pirlipat and the mice in Act II? Yet such is the staging’s charm and fun that this is of little importance.
How do the virtues and faults of this staging add up? Differently on each revival, in my experience. One of Mr. Morris’s trickiest ideas is the Act I duet for Drosselmeier and his nephew; it tends to stay a concept rather than a breathing moment of drama. At opening night on Saturday, with Mr. Loux heightening the doll-like aspect of the Nutcracker nephew, it felt stranger than ever: ventriloquist and dummy.
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and Mark Morris Dance GroupCreditCreditVideo by BAMorg
Mr. Morris’s other most strangely singular decision is when, in Act II, he gives the Sugar Plum adagio to a cross-section of characters. They frame and carry the two young lovers so that it’s as if the whole story (the whole world) is bringing them together. On occasion — a matter of spacing and phrasing — this conveys the best Mark Morris effect, a kinesthetic rapture whereby something in us finds itself dancing with those onstage. On Saturday, that didn’t begin to happen.
But Mr. Heginbotham is surely the best interpreter of Mrs. Stahlbaum the production has known. Mr. Patterson, the maid in 1991 and still in 2015, deserves a long-service medal for keeping a classic comic performance so enchanting. Ms. Grant, Mr. Loux, Ms. Omura, Billy Smith as Drosselmeier, Mr. Morris as Mr. Stahlbaum and everyone else give fabulously robust performances. Colin Fowler conducts the MMDG Music Ensemble beautifully; from the overture on, his phrasing makes us hear the familiar music anew.
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https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/14/arts ... verve.html
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