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Nut' 08

Posted Dec 06 2008 8:39pm

Once again its December, and once again, every ballet school, studio, and company is performing or getting ready to perform their production of The Nutcracker. Well, every one except mine that only dances Nutcracker every other year, but we won't get in to that.

Every year, you see the same ballet over and over- Girl gets present at party, present breaks, creepy uncle fixes it, girl falls asleep and dreams of a land of sweets. While it is a cheerful holiday experience for many an audience member, it's almost sad that the only impression most of the American public has of ballet is such a trippy ballet that's based on a quite creepy story and that every dancer hates. You perform the same roles to the same music year. After year. After year. Not that we don't have fun along the way.

Some companies stick to the old classic story and variations. Others are trying to spiff it up. While few end up with a watchable and entertaining ballet (whether it's classic Nutcracker or not), most completely fail (these are usually the ones that attempt a darker version, sometimes with Drosselmeyer -Clara pedophilia alluded too, and some just strange). Usually the ones that succeed only deviate from the original in setting, whether time period, country, or both. Versions exist set in the Revolutionary War, at Mount Vernon during George Washington's presidency, during the 1920's at a vaudeville nightclub, in a poor orphanage, and many other creative and weird settings. I saw one example of a successful Nutcracker in a different-than-usual setting today in Saint Louis Ballet's production of The Nutcracker.

Gen Horiuchi's The Nutcracker is set in 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri (aka World's Fair mania) at the home of a local dignitary. The dancing and stage presence were all very good, especially for a production predominantly featuring company apprentices and children from the company's school. There were some oddities, like the random bunnies in the battle scene and a few problems with fog and snow obstructing the movement and vision of dancers, but it ran quite smoothly.

As in almost every Nutcracker, Snow Queen (Kate Highstrete ), Sugar Plum Fairy (Jennifer WelchCudnik ), and Arabian (Pamela Swaney ) were the definite standouts. It was a fast paced show that didn't drag in the party and transformation scenes like many others do. I have definitely seen better (read: Joffrey, but I wouldn't expect a small Midwest company to be up to par with another of Joffrey's caliber) and also much worse (touring productions a la Great Russian Nutcracker), but all in all, it was quite enjoyable. However, the ending was sort of unclear. Clara is left sleeping in a different house than she fell asleep in, and it is implied that even the Christmas party was a figment of her imagination.

This week, OvationTV aired their annual Battle Of The Nutcrackers. I would have loved to see this but all of the times any of the ballets aired were times that I was in my own dance classes or weird times like 3 AM for a production that wasn't worth staying up that late for. This year, Balanchine, PNB, Bolshoi, Bejart, Mark Morris, and Matthew Bourne versions of the ballet competed for the coveted Christmas Eve slot. Viewers can still vote for their favorite production at the OvationTVwebsite.

The Nutcracker is a ballet that I am always fed up with, yet always want to see and participate in anyway. What is your opinion of The Nutcracker in general and/or any specific production that was particularly different from the original?

Stay on your toes,

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