Watching the children perform in the New York City Ballet's annual Nutcracker is a little like watching a collection of rare Madame Alexander dolls come to life. There is no end to the perfectly curled hair, the perfect smiles – and no one ever misses a beat or a step. All cuteness with killer instincts for seizing and controlling the audience's attention.
This year's crop of little boys has a few more Dennis the Menace types who on opening night seemed to truly relish acting out and antagonizing the little girls. The kids make or break The Nutcracker – they know it – and it's hard to recall any year when the kids in the NYCB Nutcracker failed to completely captivate the audience with their honest, knock 'em dead charm. On Friday night, Fiona Brennan as Marie, Colby Clark as the little Nutcracker prince, and Maximillian Brooking-Landegger as Fritz led the children's cast with poise and polish.
There were some admirable performances by the adults, too. Tiler Peck as Dew Drop managed the frantic pace of the choreography with aplomb and clarity. The beauty of the dancing by the ladies in the Waltz of the Flowers easily survived an unfortunate belly splat by one lovely tall stem in the back. She quickly peeled herself off the floor and returned to waltz. Her quick, reflexive recovery was actively discussed with admiration by people on the way out the door at the end of the evening.
Georgina Pazcoguin as Coffee, Sean Suozzi as lead Candy Cane and Troy Schumacher as Tea gave thoughtful and generous performances. Georgina was especially mysterious and slightly dangerous as the alluring Coffee.
Sara Mearns and Jonathan Stafford as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier were a bit of a mismatch. Sara's feet etched out the choreography with exceptional clarity and grandness. However, her port de bras was a mess. Dropped elbows and pointy elbows were the rule instead of the exception last night. It's been a while since Haglund has seen arms overhead in fifth position that quite literally formed the shape of a rectangle instead of a circle. Of course it feels so good to raise the shoulders up to the ears and stretch those arms straight up instead of rounding them. It makes the dancer feel like she is making herself look taller and more slender. The truth is that it just makes the dancer look hopelessly unclassical and like she doesn't know what she's doing. It does not make the dancer look taller or more slender; it has the opposite effect.
Broad shoulders accent a classical tutu beautifully when used with a classically rounded port de bras. Sara is blessed with those shoulders; however, when she jumped to sit on her cavalier's shoulder, she raised her arms victoriously like a showgirl who'd just hopped on a circus pony. Not pretty at all. Nor were the fold-at-the-waist backbends with the stomach pitched forward instead of a classical curving of the spine up and over to the back.
Haglund isn't being overly fussy. When a NYCB dancer puts on a classic shaped tutu in order to perform traditional classical choreography, she shouldn't dance like it's a black & white leotard ballet.
Jonathan Stafford came fully prepared to be a princely cavalier last night. He generally presents one of the more classical forms among the NYCB men, as he did last night, and successfully managed his jumps and turns. However, he looks much better with a more refined ballerina who is similarly attentive to form and classical lines. It would be nice to see his Cavalier to Rebecca Krohn's Sugar Plum Fairy. Haglund likes Jonathan Stafford as the Cavalier and bestows upon him this elegant Givenchy lace peep toe Pump Bump Award ($791) for his elegant portrayal of The Cavalier in the opening night of The Nutcracker: