Newfangled by Nutcracker

30 Dec

The end of the year is a wonderful thing—looking back at the various milestones and kilometerstones I’ve had, I feel nothing but blessed to be alive to have been through it all. Some marked changes rather than a benchmark experience, with the last of 2012 coming from my recent attendance of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’. During this unseasonably warm and mild-weathered winter, it dawned on me that I was excited to see ‘The Nutcracker’…because…well…I love it. (There, I said it!) If I was a skilled hiker I’d shout it from the top of Mt. Rainier that I love the Maurice Sendak/Kent Stowell Nutcracker, and this is without the onus of decades of family tradition to twist my arm into feeling this way. Nutcrackers generally fall into two camps of a traditional production like that of Balanchine’s or something loosely in the image of Petipa/Ivanov, and then a myriad of ultra modern stagings (e.g., versions by Mark Morris, Matthew Bourne, and Maurice Bejart to name a few). PNB’s Nutcracker is something in between and I love that it’s unique in that way—it’s evidence that we can re-imagine conventional ballets just enough to infuse them with creativity while never straying too far from the original. Coincidentally, a friend of mine who is attending school at Columbia told me that she saw Ratmansky’s Nutcracker this year, and now home to see PNB’s, she realized the artistic fulfillment the latter provides, while others seem to relegate themselves to a certain level of pageantry. Last year I had written about Sendak’s interpretation of Clara’s dream intertwining with a journey along the Silk Road, and even the second time around I still can’t get over how brilliant an idea that was. May Sendak—who passed away this year—rest in peace.

This year I made it a point to see the seraphic Carla Körbes as Clara, and I even splurged a little on an orchestra level ticket. At fifty dollars, it was the most I had ever spent on a ticket to see PNB, but I wanted to have that experience of seeing the company as I had never seen them before. I should mention that I have in fact seen a few programs from orchestra level—but not from the fourth row! Some people spend their fair share of income to be that close to artists at rock concerts and I’m proud to say that it’s ballet that demands of me a certain proximity to the stage. What else to do but oblige? Inevitably, part of me missed my second-tier nosebleed seat that I had become accustomed to because patterns among the corps de ballet are indeed more evident, but up close you really get to hear that magical pitter-patter of pointe shoes, so there’s some give and take. Unfortunately, a far less ambient addition to the soundtrack came from restless children and when the toddler behind me started screeching during the grand pas de deux, among my sighs of pleasure may have been a sigh of despair. I know, I know, “magical experience for kids” and what-have-you but let’s be real—some kids just can’t handle sitting still for two hours (although, given the heated argument the married couple next to me had during intermission, I had some severe doubts about some adults too—awkward! Gah!). I’m of the opinion that rambunctious kids should live true to their nature; there are plenty of wintertime activities like sledding or ice skating that can tire out even the rowdiest of little folk, and really, at that age they’re practically indestructible anyway so it’s the best time to engage in activities that as adults we have to think twice about (or drink enough) to do without fear.

At any rate, the dancing was superb, and despite numerous performances preceding the one I saw, the company still looked fresh as daisies. I quite liked Jerome Tisserand as the Sword-Dancer Doll (one of the gifts from Herr Drosselmeier), and the Masque—a short pas de trois to a duet from Tchaikovsky’s opera Pique Dame—was a picture of elegance with mile-long arabesques from Emma Love, Price Suddarth, and Steven Loch. Though not original to Tchaikovsky’s score for Nutcracker, I love the inclusion of this music and adore the choreography for it, the style of which is reminiscent of courtly dances. In the larger ensemble pieces like ‘Snowflakes,’ corps dancer Angelica Generosa really stood out to me, which is quite the feat in a literal flurry of fake snow, sixteen dancers, and a lot of allegro work, but Generosa has the most marvelous port de bras—crisp but not forceful and finished with beautiful hands. The ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ was just as pretty, with Margaret Mullin leading the floral cascade with effervescence and lucidity. The “Silk Road” divertissements were great fun, and I especially loved Benjamin Griffiths in ‘Commedia’ as the lead harlequin. Clement Crisp once wrote that the jester is “a despicable figure in all ballets” but he’d be wrong about this one—it was wonderfully appropriate to the ‘Danse des Mirlitons’ (and Griffiths has a wicked penché—I love it when men get to do that!). With a common thread of splendid performances by Körbes as a halcyon Clara, and Batkhurel Bold as a quiet but majestic prince, I couldn’t help but feel an immense amount of satisfaction in being in the audience that night—it was truly gratifying to be treated to such marvelous performances by so many talented individuals.

All in all, I had a genuinely great time and now have a hard time imagining another Nutcracker living up to this standard and being so enjoyable to me. As I left McCaw Hall for the last time in 2012, I reminisced about how much Pacific Northwest Ballet has made my year so wonderful, and felt a great sense of contentment. Earlier in the year I decreed 2012 as the year of my dreams coming true, as evidenced by the following tweet that a certain favorite celebrity of mine responded to:

Who tweeted @youdancefunny? Kristin Chenoweth, that's who!

Who tweeted @youdancefunny? Kristin Chenoweth, that’s who!

She couldn’t have been more right, as there certainly have been a LOT of “YAYYYYYs” throughout the year! Now, I find myself looking forward to 2013, but with a new perspective on what I want to accomplish. More than ever I feel a need to take decisive action, to do things I’ve never done before, and experience the unknown. It’s exciting and maybe a little scary (actually, a LOT scary), but I think I’m ready—or maybe, I know I’m ready! Regardless, my new Moleskine planner shall provide the inspirational words I need to see every day, with a boldly embossed movie quote that I find accurately describes the outlook I want to have in life:

Immortal words...

Immortal words…

Happy New Year friends! Let’s make 2013 a year of “doing” and not trying, shall we? And thanks ALWAYS, for reading!



7 Responses to “Newfangled by Nutcracker”

  1. wingspace December 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    Seconded! I was able to see the final performance (yesterday) with Carla as Clara, and marveled at her gracious command of the stage in every section. And I also particularly noticed the arabesques of Loch and Suddarth in the masque, although Carli Samuelson was the Pirlipat.

    • youdancefunny January 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

      We’re so lucky to have Carla in Seattle–I still have to pinch myself sometimes! But really, the entire company just looked amazing during this Nutcracker run. Maybe the extra couple of days off after Thanksgiving helped!

  2. Peter December 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Nicely written- thanks! Have a great 2013!

    • youdancefunny January 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

      Thank you! And a Happy New Year to you as well!

  3. ballettothepeople December 31, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    Oh lucky you, Steve!!! But I disagree about kids at the ballet (or the opera, or the symphony) – they need to be brought at an early age (I was brought at age 3 and did the same with my kids), they need to be seated right up front, they should be briefed beforehand, and the rest of us should just tolerate the inevitable fidgeting.

    These are tomorrow’s audiences, and if they don’t start coming as kids and develop their passion for these art forms, they will die (the art forms I mean.)

    I do stock up my bag with cookies and string cheese and crayons and mini sketchpads; asking a kid to draw what they see on stage or in the orchestra pit is a great way to get them to pay attention and to distract them at the same time – and balls of putty and other small toys that won’t be too annoying for the folks next to us but that will help settle the kids if need be 🙂 I do the same thing at the ballet as when we go to museums – and I have taken groups of 8 or 10 kids at once – I always prepare a “treasure hunt” on sketchpads with clues and make the kids find either a piece of art or a character or story element in a ballet, then they have to sketch it or scribble something that the scene makes them think of… The only time I got thrown out of a museum with kids was when a 6 year old walked up to a Picasso that was on the “treasure hunt” list and touched it with his fingers, because he said “the paint looked wet and I wanted to check”…!

    • youdancefunny January 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

      I like the idea of engaging kids during the performance!

      It’s true–I’m cantankerous when it comes to unruly kids in the audience…but I don’t necessarily think “earlier is better”. My parents never took me to a ballet growing up, and I’m crazy about it now! When I took my dad to see the Royal Ballet, the experience that changed my life, he was moderately intrigued but hasn’t shown interest in attending ballet since. I’ve heard plenty of stories from people who saw the Nutcracker growing up, or were even in it, but only go to the Nutcracker or stop attending ballet entirely.

      I guess it comes down to personal temperament and character, and it’s up to me to give every child the benefit of the doubt!

      • Peter January 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

        Steve, I side more with you about disruptive children at functions such as the ballet. Yes, I have taken my nephews and nieces to art based functions, even when they were very young but they were well behaved and kept to our agreement of quiet during the performance. I did take the daughter of a friend once who became ill behaved and as per our agreement, I took her out and we watched from a video screen away from the audience. She behaved after intermission . For caregivers who feel everyone else should accept an unruly child then I hope someone with a severe, turbulent and sinus opening gastric problem sits next to them at their next performance and see how accepting they are of that. Just as a child should experience the beauty of a performance they should also be taught the manners that need to be utilized. If my energetic nephews and nieces can do it, so can other children.

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