Just when you thought that your due diligence (snooping) revealed everything that "Santa" was to bring on Christmas, you get a surprise gift that makes you sit back and wonder How did they know I wanted that? and Where were they hiding it?
ABT’s first preview performance of The Nutcracker last night was a sold-out event. Must say, and Chelsea Clinton will agree because she was also there last night, that this is one heck of a Christmas gift. While preview performances aren’t routine when it comes to ballets, it was probably a good idea in this case where there was unfamiliar choreography and extensive new scenery and costumes to be tested on an unfamiliar stage that wasn’t available until hours before the first performance. Throw in 28 kids in the cast and that’s a lot of variables to manage. But ABT managed them superbly last night, and we had ourselves a World Class Premiere.
In a nutshell, this Nutcracker has charm, imagination, and warmth, and will require multiple trips to BAM to absorb and enjoy all of the details. Alexei Ratmansky has inserted new humor and humanity into the classic and has created it more from little Clara’s perspective than most other grand productions. One stroke of brilliance was when Clara and The Nutcracker Boy – Athena Petrizzo and Philip Perez — came face to face with themselves as the adult Princess and Prince – Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes. The couples mirrored one another with a bit of mime and then as Part and Gomes began to waltz, the children performed the identical movement downstage – clearly dreaming and seeing themselves as grownups. Then the children sat face to face spotlit in the downstage corner while Part and Gomes performed a dreamy PdD to the In the Tree musical section.
Ratmansky’s two grand PdDs employed the Princess and Prince within Clara’s vision of what grownup dancing would be like. Part and Gomes were playful in the snow combining serious, elegant technique with teasing one another. The Prince pretended that he was going to drop the Princess. That simply heightened the excitement for the Princess who was beaming her beautiful smile throughout. They chased each other around the stage with childlike excitement – of course while turning, jumping, and teasing one another. The Princess had a little bit of Titiana in her personality, as most little girls do.
The choreography had a lot of off-center aspects to it. It was pretty thrilling to see Part have such confidence in Gomes that she really did throw herself into the lifts and falls as though she was daring him and challenging him to catch her. Where in the strictly classic version, a pirouette that lists off to the side would look wrong, here the spinning while the listing occurred looked magnificent. The variations employed the same aesthetic where falling off balance was an important element which conveyed the hyper-excitement of the moment. These were not the perfect Prince and Princess of past productions; these were a Prince and Princess having the times of their lives in the snow, a little girl’s dream of dancing the way one can dance only in her own dreams – full out, taking risks that reality would not reward and having it all her way.
The opening scene which occurs in The Kitchen was another stroke of genius. The Little Mouse who terrorized the maids in the kitchen, escaped defeat in the The Battle Scene and roamed The Kingdom of the Sweets was brilliantly performed by Justin Souriau-Levine. He was the smallest, most scrawny little creature on the stage, and when his mouse head came off during bows, he looked even smaller. What a terrific job this young man did. Haglund went home hoping to find little mice in the house.
The soldiers’ choreography was challenging and the kids, who included an original Billy Elliot, Trent Kowalik, managed it skillfully. Bunched as a group, the soldiers moved and flipped directions to address the advancing mice led by the seven-headed, seven-tailed Mouse King, Thomas Forster.
Columbine and Harlequin were Gemma Bond and Craig Salstein. The variations were technically charged with beats and pointe work that both managed seamlessly. Meaghan Hinkis and Luis Ribagorda were the Recruit and Canteen Keeper in the same scene and danced fabulously.
The choreography of the Snow Scene was inventive and linear whereas the choreography of the Flowers seemed more circular. Haglund observed this from the Orchestra level and is looking forward to seeing it from the upper level tonight. Little Clara and The Little Nutcracker played all around within the snow until the storm’s intensity grew to a dangerous size and began to threaten them. Drosselmeyer, played by Victor Barbee, rescued them before the storm evolved into a beautiful blizzard.
The variations of The Kingdom of the Sweets were, as far as Haglund knows, unique in every respect to this production. The Nutcracker had Sisters – Isabella Boylston, Melanie Hamrick, Yuriko Kajiya, Simone Messmer, Leann Underwood – who danced in green trimmed tophats and long tutus. All were beautiful with articulate pointes, but as has been the trend the last couple of seasons, the eyes were drawn to Hamrick who is offering an emerging artistry that somebody better capitalize on quickly.
The Arabian section was lead by Sascha Radetsky with Nicola Curry, Isadora Loyola, Kelley Potter, and Devon Teuscher. Haglund is going to say this before the Old Donut Hole at the New York Times does. Radetsky looked like he’s been sampling the Sugar Plums. It was apparent along his rectus abdominis muscle between the Number 3 and Number 4tendinous inscription bands of his eight-pack. Then, there were Sugar Plums sticking out of the back – oh, wait, they could have been Trapezius Plums. Haglund will examine Radetsky with the binoculars later this week and report back. No small by-the-way, Radetsky’s Number One Sugar Plum has been much missed so far.
Radetsky’s Arabian character bit off a little more than he could chew with the four ladies. They pursued him relentlessly and wouldn’t allow him to sample any one of them for long before the rest intervened. All were hysterical. Isadora Loyola is finally getting a bit more to do, and it is becoming all the more apparent that she has some Ferri-like qualities.
The Spanish section included Maria Riccetto and Jared Matthews, Jessica Saund and Alexandre Hammoudi, Misty Copeland and Blaine Hoven. Their costumes of chocolate and red were, well, delicious. The swish of the petticoats could be heard in the Orchestra level as these couples hot-sauced their ways around the stage.
What an unexpected treat to see the talented Joseph Gorek given an opportunity to shine. He and Marian Butler danced the Chinese section splendidly. Gorek had a mile-high leap with cat-like soft landings.
The Bees (Forster, Daniel Mantei, Ribagorda, Eric Tamm) in striking yellow and black costumes, with especially attractive black lips, were to die for as they buzzed around the beautiful flowers. These were the best costumes in the Kingdom of the Sweets. The flowers had a French taste to them with layers and layers of pink icing. Absolutely stunning. There was a lot of material to those flowers, and each lady wore it beautifully.
Haglund knows that he’s forgetting to mention some of the many other characters in this fantastic new production. But suffice to say, this is a wonderful new full-length Nutcracker with grand costumes, grand scenery, and above all grand dancing. A little bit of a non-traditional Pump Bump Award is in order. Here is a beautiful pink Steve Madden number which would look delicious with the Waltz of the Flowerscostumes: