writers on dancing


Peter Boal's Drosselmeyer Debut

“The Nutcracker”
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
December 21, 2005

by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2004 by Mary Cargill

New York City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”, for all its corporate trappings (the trademark symbol even appears on the program cover) is still the most magical, lyrical, and innocent picture of the childhood we all wish we had. It is also, in its way, one of the most majestic declarations of the power of beauty, harmony, and classical decorum on record, and makes all the later Vainonen-influenced, post-Freudian versions, with Marie trembling on the edge of some sort of grown-up experience seem labored and heavy-handed. Balanchine’s version is not an escape into a gooey Never-Never Land (despite the overly pink curlicues of the second act sets), but a vision of a mystical perfection, seen through the eyes of a child.

The solid bones of the ballet make it dancer-proof—it has never failed in its magic. But NYCB certainly has dancers to help the magic along. Peter Boal’s Herr Drosselmeier was particularly effective. He played him as genuinely loving eccentric uncle, playful and fun. There were no vaguely creepy undertones, and he made it so very clear that Drosselmeier crept in when Clara was asleep to fix the Nutcracker so she would really think that it was mended by magic. His was a gentle and very persuasive account. He made the switch to the more mysterious character on the clock clearly a character in Clara’s dream, mysterious but obviously not real, a dream a child might have after an evening’s excitement.

The dancing in the second act is just dancing, not an exploration of a child’s psyche or elements of whatever is in store for her later in life. It is a generous and glorious explosion of beauty, something we can all take with us. Wendy Whelan danced Sugar Plum. Her best classical roles evoke an iridescent and mysterious control, and the petite charm of Sugar Plum’s choreography doesn’t show her at her best; at times the choreography looked too small for her. But she was warm and gracious and it is always fascinating to see what she can do with music and shape.

Ashley Bouder was Dewdrop, a role that suits her heroic classicism. She must be the most three-dimensional dancer on stage now—she seems to cut through the air with power and grace, molding the most beautiful shapes. But she is so musical that her power doesn’t look forced or extravagant, and her attention to detail is exemplary. Every nuance was there, from the delicate finger to the chin gestures to the noble thrust of her head. She dances like a shower of light.

I was also struck by Dena Abergel’s Coffee; Tchaikovsky based the music on an Armenian lullaby, and she found the elegiac melancholy of the melody. (Folk lullabies are usually a combination of love and a sad resignation, since the life ahead of the child would be anything but easy.) It was nice not to see it danced as a grinning hootchie-kootchie variation.

The featured children were, as usual, well trained. The Fritz, Steven Lobman, was somewhat restrained, naughty rather than destructive, which suits the atmosphere. The Nutcracker Prince’s mime, performed by Ghaleb Kayali, was clear and concise. The program included an article by Siobhan Burns with the text of the mime, making it much easier to capture the nuances of the little Prince’s speech—it should be included every year! It is particularly moving, of course, because it is directly from the original production as performed by Balanchine himself, a connection to both the choreographer and to classical ballet’s roots. The final sentence is “She and me saved the whole land, and I have told you everything”. And the same could be said for Balanchine’s “Nutcracker”.

Volume 3, No. 1
January 3, 2005
Copyright ©2005 by Mary Cargill


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Robert Greskovic reviews two new DVDs of Fonteyn dancing "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella"

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last updated on January 3, 2005