Things are still soggy around the boroughs in New York from Hurricane Sandy. The Christmas Spirit among the natives isn't as crisp and warm as it often is at this time of year. "Muted" would be a fair description. It seems that everyone is trying to feel happy while also wishing that the holiday season would hurry up and advance itself through the final page of the calendar. A fresh calendar on the wall can sometimes feel like a fresh start, a fresh chance.
ABT opened its brief run of Alexei Ratmansky's The Nutcracker last night at BAM. Everyone – the performers, the parents, the balletomanes, even the bartenders – were all trying hard to be happy. The combined efforts seemed to push the struggling needle on the Holiday Fest-i-meter past vertical.
There were new things to smile about. It was noted that the Little Mouse, Justin Souriau-Levine, now in his third year of his created role, has grown slightly and has less difficulty scrambling up onto the kitchen furniture to reach the hanging sausages. Philip Perez, also in his third season as The Nutcracker Boy, is finally as tall as – maybe even taller than his Clara, who was wonderfully dance-acted last evening by Adelaide Clauss.
Xiomara Reyes and Eric Tamm danced the lead roles of Clara, The Princess and Nutcracker, The Prince. Haglund can't recall seeing these two dance together and their performance occasionally looked under-rehearsed. Each had danced the role previously. Reyes was a favorite Clara to Herman Cornejo's Nutcracker Prince for two years, and Tamm had a highly successful debut last year opposite Gillian Murphy when David Hallberg had to bow out due to injury. So each dancer knew the role. But Ratmansky's PdD is supremely difficult choreography and bears the burden of needing intensive rehearsal no matter how many seasons one has performed it.
At the point of the Grigorovich lift where Clara is held vertically in the air, last night Xiomara was leaning forward, and Eric had to nearly run forward to stay under her. The other partnering difficulties came with some of the poses at the end of phrases. Much of the rest of the PdD went smoothly including the difficult supported turn in which Clara changes her spot so that she faces the Nutcracker Prince.
This year Tamm was a substitute for Cornejo who was not sufficiently recovered from an injury to perform. Eric is one of the most gifted dancers in the corps de ballet who gets precious little spotlighted stage time except in Ratmansky's works where he seems not only to shine but to grow artistically with each opportunity. He is natural prince material with beautiful masculine lines. There's a sense of warmth and generosity that radiates from his chest each time he opens his arms to second position. Last night his solo variations were the highlight of the evening with their soaring leaps and confident pirouettes. Haglund has seen this Nutcracker more than a dozen times in its first two years, but last night for the first time, he noticed that as the Nutcracker Prince walked to the back of the stage to begin his variation, he paused to look up at the beautiful stars in the sky. Tamm made it such a natural moment that for a second we turned our eyes to the heavens, too.
Xiomara had some technical difficulties last evening. Her diagonal line of double step-over turns during the Snow Pas curved abruptly toward the center of the stage. But at least these two dancers did the double step-overs and didn't change the choreography to the much easier double pique turns as some have done. Again, her issues seemed related to not having had sufficient rehearsal to maintain the shape of the choreography. But overall, she conveyed the youthfulness and charm of the young Clara with the grown-up, mature dancing of the Princess Clara.
There was fantastic dancing in the supporting roles, too. In Act I, Gemma Bond and Craig Salstein as Columbine and Harlequin were captivating with their doll-like stiffness that combined with technical precision. In Act II, the Arabian women seemed to be in heightened aggressive pursuit of their bare chested hunk, Patrick Ogle. Mikhail Ilyin, Craig Salstein, and Arron Scott as the Russians got a great reception from both kids and adults for their precision slapstick comedy.
The Waltz of the Flowers continues to be one of the most beautiful sections of this Nutcracker. The ladies could not have been more lovely in their multi-layered pink ruffles.
The Pump Bump Award, a creative stiletto of classic lines and interesting shading, is bestowed upon Eric Tamm, a princely dancer who Haglund hopes will be featured more prominently in major classical works in the spring season.