’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.