’Tis the season for traveling far and wide in search of the spirit of the Nutcracker. Recently Haglund packed his bags, climbing gear, and Homeland Security ID and cautiously ventured across 8th Avenue to the chaos that awaits all who venture to the other side of 8th Avenue.
First stop was the Land of Silver Spoons & Linings on the Upper East Side for Francis Patrelle's Yorkville Nutcracker which was celebrating its 20th Anniversary. This production always hovers around the top of the list of Haglund’s favorite productions. It is filled with characters straight out of New York's history and should be a school field trip for kids in the city’s school system. They surely won’t learn of the existence of Hamblin and Jane Babcock, Arturo Baldasano, H. Ruthven Pratt, or Colonel William L. Strong in any school class, and yet, these were among the movers and shakers of New York City in 1895. Patrelle has them dancing and shmoozing at a Christmas Party in the Gracie Mansion, today the official residence of the Mayor of the City of New York.
The cast always includes students from several area ballet schools with a majority coming from the very fine Ballet Academy East. Professional dancers take the lead roles – this year Abi Stafford and Adrian Danchig-Waring from New York City Ballet were dreamy as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince – and distinguished community adults take on the roles of the distinguished guests. Everyone has a great time, but it is also very serious business. If the transplant surgery gig ever falls flat for Dr. Myron Schwartz, his dancing martial arts-infused characterization of Hsu Nai Kwang, the 1895 Consul General of China, may help keep bread on his table.
All of the kids are superbly rehearsed, genuinely excited about being on stage, and full of seasonal spirit. Here’s a toast to another 20 years.
Next it was time to search for the F-train to Brooklyn’s trendiest, currently artiest neighborhood – Dumbo – where Gelsey Kirkland’s brand new studio/performance space is located. On weekends, the F-train is never where it is supposed to be. This time we found it lazily chugging along the A/C train line in the West Village and climbed aboard for the quick trip under the East River to a Brooklyn stop just a short walk from the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center at 29 Jay Street.
We’ve been following the development of the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet and Academy of Classical Ballet for several years. Its rise has been nothing short of miraculous considering the challenges and obstacles that young performing arts organizations in this city face. Every time we return for a performance by this group, we see more and more of the values in the company that we remember in its leader – not just in the leading dancers but even in corps dancers who may possess only modest ability. There is an understanding and joy in getting it correct from the inside out, in being faithful to the art, and in resisting the bloated trends of the times.
In the December 13th 5pm Nutcracker performance, Marie was performed by Dawn Geirling Milatin, a long time protege of Gelsey Kirkland’s and one of the clearest exponents of Gelsey’s values. Swift supple feet, imaginative musical phrasing, radiance, and the ability to vividly convey the story made this one of Haglund’s most favorite interpretations of the season. Cast as her prince was none other than her husband, Erez Milatin, also a company veteran of several seasons. They were living a dream on stage that afternoon and what a joy it was to be able to watch.
Polish and projection were apparent in every level of dancers in this production particularly in the corps ladies who danced the Snow Scene and Waltz of the Flowers. Brooklyn has a fabulous new Nutcracker.
Sunday morning Haglund trudged up to Stamford to check out two of his favorite dancers who were guesting in the Connecticut Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Palace Theatre. Connecticut always delivers on its Nutcrackers. Last year Haglund traveled to New Haven to see Simone Messmer and Adrian Danchig Waring perform with the New Haven Ballet. The year before that he traveled to Westport to see Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews deliver an inspired performance with Ballet Etudes. This year Stella Abrera and Amar Ramasar danced together for the first time in Director Brett Raphael’s 1984 staging for the Connecticut Ballet.
Oh my. My my my my my. What a magical, irresistibly handsome couple these two make. Their limb lines complimented each other, their demeanors meshed beautifully, and their coordination was nearly perfect. It was love at first sight for the audience. Stella, in the pinkest of pink tutus, was beaming with joy and confidence while creating all those glorious shapes and musical moments that we have come to love. Amar worked the smallish stage to its maximum in his variations and was so very generous a partner to Stella. Let’s hope that these two find many more guesting opportunities together.
The Connecticut Ballet has a wide range of skill levels and talent, and all were illuminated their best in this very inclusive production. There was a moment when we couldn’t be sure what two toddler reindeer might do while “harnessed” to the front of the sleigh but the curtain came down on the first act promptly which left that issue to the herders behind the scenes.
Company standouts included Gvantsa Gavashelishvili as a fearless, glistening Snow Queen and Claire Mazza as the sparkling Dew Drop Fairy. We must commend the tiny Red Cross Ambulette Rescue Mice who arrived on the Act I battle scene just in time to cart away an injured baby mouse on a stretcher.
It has been an eventful couple of weeks and, as usual, we haven’t been able to cover all of the Nutcrackers that we wanted. But we were very happy with all that we saw, in particularly, the very original Yorkville Nutcracker that has a special place in our heart. Our HH Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon the many who have dedicated themselves to this production over the years.
What a tremendous opportunity and honor for Sarah who will dance in Helgi Tomasson's charming Nutcracker production on December 22nd at 2PM and on December 23rd at 7PM with the San Francisco Ballet. She will dance the Grand Pas de Deux with Principal Dancer Vitor Luiz.
Haglund loves the Tomasson version of the Nutcracker that he has seen a number of times on PBS. It is set during the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair and features designs based on the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal.
Here is beautiful Sarah dancing with Angel Corella in Swan Lake several years ago:
A gazillion thanks to Robin for pointing us to this video of Stella & Sterling in the Swan Lake PdD from last November at Kaatsbaan. They are ravishing. The tempo is a bit quick in places for Haglund's taste but he could probably get used to it if it were surrounded by Acts I through IV. This, like Stella's Giselle, is something that we should have seen ten years ago. She's the real deal.
is not showing this Sunday in the customary Manhattan cinemas on 42nd St and Union Square. It is showing at the Kew Gardens Cinema on Sunday and at the Cinemas 1,2 & 3 (1001 Third Avenue) on Tuesday, December 22nd.
The cinemacast seems to be showing in many other places throughout the country on Sunday, except New York. Bummer.
If you were planning to watch the encore cinemacast of the Bolshoi's Nutcracker in Manhattan next Sunday, be aware that it seems to have disappeared from the Bolshoi in Cinema's local schedule for that date on its website and disappeared entirely from the major 42nd Street and Union Square cinemas that usually show these presentations. Hopefully, it's just a website malfunction, but being that this is the Bolshoi, well, ....
Stay tuned. We're trying to check the situation out for everyone.
Simone Messmer will return to the New Haven Ballet for Nutcracker performances at the Shubert Theater December 18-20. Her partner this year will be Miami City Ballet principal Rainer Krenstetter. Tickets here.
Ana Sophia Scheller will perform the role of Aurora in the Syracuse City Ballet's production of Sleeping Beauty next March 11th and 13th. Having witnessed her Aurora debut with New York City Ballet a couple of seasons ago, Haglund recommends that nobody miss either of her performances next March. Do. Not. Miss.
Li Cunxin hasn't wasted any time plumping up the profile of theQueensland Ballet and securing its foundation beyond the foreseeable future.
The new artistic director has secured an additional governmental investment of $1.2 million each year beginning in 2016, a $5 million gift from the Ian Potter Foundation, and a 50-year renewal, yes 50-year renewal, on the company's contract with their performance space at the Thomas Dixon Center which also gives them scope to redesign the facility. Cunxin plans to increase the size of the roster by more than 25% over the next four years with the addition of eight new dancers.
Cunxin's vision, with the strong support of the Aussie government, is to build the Queensland Ballet into an "Asia Pacific powerhouse" that can leverage the growing cultural tourism market in Queensland.
One imagines that Cunxin, the acclaimed Houston Ballet principal–stockbroker–inspirational speaker–Australian Father of the Year–artistic director makes one heck of a convincing presentation whenever he gets in front of a group of number-conscious potential donors. He's probably fairly hard to resist - like, thedonor whisperer.
One of Haglund's favorite Tharp "bombers" from ABT's In the Upper Room is a principal down there now - beautiful Laura Hidalgo.
If you enjoyed yesterday's cinemacast of the Bolshoi Ballet's production of John Neumeier's masterpiece, The Lady of the Camillias, be sure to try to see the next Bolshoi cinema presentation on December 20 of Yuri Grigorovich's Nutcracker. It is the most magical Nutcracker that Haglund has ever seen - charming as can be. And very big. Big big big.
Neumeier's production hasn't been seen in New York for several seasons; so this Bolshoi cinemacast was an eagerly anticipated event.
Yesterday, Svetlana Zakharova gave a very worthwhile, uncharacteristically emotional performance of Marguerite, excelling foremost in Act II, the white dress act. Opening night nerves and concentration may have affected Act I which seemed more acted than lived. Act III found Marguerite more robust than sickly, but still convincing in many ways. While Svetlana quickly wiped off Marguerite's makeup at her dressing table prior to dying, she was far too made-up for Act III. What is it about these Russian and Ukrainian ladies that they cannot let go of their red lipstick (Zakharova, Vishneva, Dvorovenko) for a role of a lifetime?
Of course, Svetlana couldn't resist throwing her legs to the ceiling a lot more than was appreciated, but she also showed us a dramatic side of her artistry that we haven't seen before. In her moments of stillness, we knew precisely what Marguerite was feeling.
Edvin Revazov, a Ukranian from Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet, was a compelling Armand. Any time a dancer playing this role can stand at the edge of the stage and shed real tears, he gets an "A" in appeal, acting, and authenticity. A tall man of haunting good looks, Revazov's dancing was so secure that one did not consider that he was dancing - just living.
Seymon Chudin and AnnaTikhomirova contributed fine performances of the inner story of the theatrical production of Des Grieux and Manon. Andrei Merkuriev gave what may be the most perfectly dramatically weighted performance of Monsieur Duval that Haglund has ever seen, but he simply looked too youthful to be believed.
Neumeier's lighting design did not, at times, translate well in the cinemacast, particularly when Revazov was dancing in his black costume. His legs and feet disappeared in much of his grand allegro because the cameras could not pick up the image on the dark stage. As in past cinemacast's, the insistence of the camera operators in closely following soloist dancers at the expense of the overall stage was annoying.
Neumeier's telling of this story is masterful. His choreography is as inventive and story-filled as his contemporary, Kenneth MacMillan's was in many of his narrative masterpieces. This probably accounts for why the Macaulay regime at the New York Times has sought to bash it over and over again even though it was admired originally by Anna Kisselgoff, the last NYT critic with any serious ballet training.
While it probably would have been more satisfying to have seen a different Bolshoi cast, such as Obraztsova and Lantratov, we know from the experience of the Bolshoi's Onegin just the kind of fuss that Zakharova will make if she doesn't get opening night cast of an important new production.
John Neumeier was not in Moscow for last night's premiere because he was in Hamburg supervising the premiere of Alessandra Ferri in his latest creation Duse, inspired by the great Italian actress Eleonora Duse. The music of Benjamin Britten and Arvo Pärt propelling the genius and artistry of Neumeier and Ferri is almost overwhelming to imagine. Here is a clip:
The Yorkville Nutcracker with choreography by Francis Patrelle opens at the Kaye Playhouse (Hunter College on East 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues) on Thursday December 10th for six performances through Sunday evening. This year's Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier will be New York City Ballet's Abi Stafford and Adrian Danchig-Waring. Now celebrating its 20th Anniversary, this is the most-New York Nutcracker around because it incorporates many of our beloved landmarks into its scenes including Gracie Mansion. Tickets here.
Former Joffrey Ballet star Willy Shives will take over the artistic direction of Ballet San Antonio. What a coup for them. In the past year they also signed on former Houston Ballet principal Amy Fote as a ballet master. A quick glance at the roster yielded another familiar face: Christopher McDaniel, who years ago was so impressive in the above referenced Yorkville Nutcracker, is now a Demi-Soloist at Ballet San Antonio. The company is celebrating its 30th year and opens its Nutcracker on Friday. Tickets here.
The Gelsey Kirkland Ballet opens its unique and very charming Nutcracker in its brand new Brooklyn home (29 Jay Street in DUMBO) on December 10th through December 20th. Tickets here.
These folks are fabulous:
Don't forget the Bolshoi in Cinema's presentation of Lady of the Camellias this Sunday. Check here for participating cinemas in your area.
Haglund recommends that all ballerinas immediately get pregnant.
At Sunday evening’s performance of NYCB’s Nutcracker, Ashley Bouder, with a four-month bun in the oven, danced the role of Dewdrop more beautifully than possibly at any other time in her career. Unadorned, unforced, unfussy, unpushy, unflappable with a graceful ease and peaceful joy – she pretty much personified the spirit of the Season. Of course, in another few weeks we may be wincing at her disappearing line and suggesting she put her feet up, but on Sunday night, she was magnificent.
Everyone in the cast was superb. Our Sugarplum and Her Cavalier, Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar, were as smooth as Mrs. Gibble's Christmas buttermints in their PdD. Rebecca’s earlier solo in Act II captured the delicacy of the celesta's notes.
Our little Marie was Avery Lin, also one of the most famous Bunnies in all of recorded Nutcracker history and a true Bunnypoleon. What a Nutcracker career she has had so far while growing from Bunny costume to Party costume to Marie's costume. The mice nearly got to her, though. During the battle scene, Marie hopped up on her bed to escape the mice and then fainted. Unfortunately, she fainted right off the side of the bed onto the floor. She caught herself and broke her fall without hitting her head, but it was a reminder why all of our moms warn us Don’t jump on the bed.
Emil José Kelso was a dashing Little Prince who we look forward to seeing again next year. Sawyer Reo repeated his fine performance from last year as Fritz.
Megan LeCrone’s Coffee was more of a complex Galliano Ristretto liqueur that one might reach for around 9PM. Lauren King led the Marzipan Shepherdesses with aplomb and fine form. Harrison Ball commanded the stage as head Candy Cane. His overall dancing has quickly moved up the Watchablilty Scale in the past year. However, that downstage double hoop jump with the hoola-hoop gave him trouble again.
Haglund was just joking up top when he recommended that all ballerinas immediately get pregnant. Really. But we’re really happy to see a truly happy Ashley Bouder take the stage at Christmastime. She spreads the joy. The HH Pump Bump Award, a Christian Louboutin Patinana sandal with delicate drops of crystal, is bestowed upon our Dewdrop.