writers on dancing


Astonishing Moment

"The Nutcracker"
American Ballet Theatre
Opera House, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
December 7, 2005
by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

So astonishing, surprising, unexpected was her sudden appearance from within a swirl of snowflakes that the ballet's little heroine and hero fell back on their butts. And the public, too, pressed back in its seats. She, the Snow Queen, was tall. As her torso unwound and she attained her full on-pointe height, Veronika Part towered over the snowflakes corps in regal glory. Bourréeing a bit, rotating with her arms out, she was gone all too soon, yet the impression lingered of a long stemmed flower awakened from winter's sleep. Nothing else in ABT's "The Nutcracker" matched this magical moment.

Not even Herman Cornejo's brave Nutcracker/Nutcracker Prince. The staging (by Kevin McKenzie) allows this boy hero to dispatch the Rat King honorably, face to face, but the story (Wendy Wasserstein's version) hasn't made the rat threat frightening enough. Cornejo seemed to be a character in search of a role , dancing with dynamism and scope but forever having to tag along with Clara. Xiomara Reyes, as the diminutive heroine, was inauspicious throughout and she's on stage from start to finish.

This production's staging has smoothed out since it was new. Your eyes go where they ought to more often than not, and McKenzie has learned to be a better traffic cop. Still, needed are more excitement, more mystery, more wonder. The first act's Party scene is a somewhat contemporary view of 19th Century mores and manners. Grandma (Carrie Jensen) stands out as a caricature geriatric (AARP should protest). Among the children, the bully boy has authentic temperament (worthy of "Struwelpeter") but the other lads were mighty stiff. The pater familias, Mr. Silverhouse (blond, suave Vitali Krauchenka), wore his dark mustache a bit vainly while his spouse (Jennifer Alexander) circulated among her guests with dignity. As Drosselmeyer, the maker of magical dolls, Victor Barbee was efficient but gave no hint that there are other dimensions to this personage. Craig Salstein's Toy Soldier was exacting, and Misty Copeland an appealing doll version of the Sugar Plum Fairy. At midnight, the Silverhouse parlor grows or, rather, Clara shrinks to toy size as she begins to dream. The change of scale has been done better in many another production. Two styles of choreography clash in Snow scene: the acrobatic adagio for Clara and Nutcracker and the more classical passages for the snowflakes and their Queen. A singularity of this "Nutcracker" is its unicorns, in the Party scene a doll version that's female (Marian Butler) and then a unicorn male (tall Daniel Keene).

Carnivorous is the feeling the flowers in the Act 2  set (by Paul Kelly) give, and the costumes (by Theoni V. Aldredge) for the Waltz of the Flowers are so fussy that it is difficult to make out the choreography (by John Meehan for this number only; the rest of the steps are credited to McKenzie). Clara and her Nutcracker are supposed to be traveling the globe in order to sample divertissements, but there's no sense of a journey. The dancers (Anna Liceica, Maria Riccetto, Jesus Pastor and Gennadi Saveliev dressed Russian; Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky, respectively dressed and half dressed in Araby style; Marian Butler, Karin Ellis-Wentz and Alejandro Piris-Nino in China fashion; Julio Bragado-Young, Bo Busby, Carlos Lopez and young John Thomas Manzari as the 3-and-a-half Russian Ivans) simply came on. When they went off, they left us with a faint feeling of disappointment. It had all been decorative but no one had dazzled. For the grand pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, ABT gave us on this opening night Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes. Herrera was herself— good legwork, beautifully arched feet but above the waist just ordinary. Gomes is big, and he danced big and soft as a great cat. Good to see him stretch in the air and rebound as if from cushioned ground. Yet, he seemed distant, still partly in sleep's realm and not awakening as had the Snow Queen before she disappeared from view.

In the four days that followed, ABT was scheduled to present six more "Nutcracker" performances led by Michele Wiles and David Hallberg; Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreno; Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky; Gillian Murphy and Gennadi Saveliev; Veronika Part and David Hallberg; and, Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo. Charles Barker and David LaMarche alternated conducting Tchaikovsky's music. In addition, the company gave a special "Nutcracker" holiday performance in the East Room of the White House on Monday morning, December 5.  

Volume 3, No. 46
December 12, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson



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last updated on December 5, 2005