I went to see City Ballet’s Nutcracker last month. I’d seen a couple of different filmed versions of it at least a dozen times, but seeing it live was still wonderful. Spoilers/tl;dr: Balanchine choreographs perfectly for groups of women even in full-length story ballets, I’ve never clapped so hard for a Nut grand pas in my life, and I still think the violin solo is heresy.
I really enjoyed the party scene. I have a few quibbles with it, but they’re minor. Overall it is joyful and realistic chaos, and that’s something that often isn’t portrayed well onstage. The biggest issue I have (apart from the nephew/Clara relationship, which I don’t like in general) is with the bit where the children run and jump at the tree; I’ve never understood the obsession. I do love the parts before that, though, with everyone arriving and then all the conversations and games going on in the hallway. The gift scene is also a highlight and a good example of the chaos I mentioned; I like that all the children get presents from their own parents and play in different smaller groups before merging. They all fall down when the music becomes dramatic for Drosselmeier’s entrance, though, and it’s before anything seems odd onstage, which is a bit confusing. Later on, I love everyone fighting over the hobby horse, and the tug of war is great (especially one of the dads joining in). But then the kids all form a circle and lift the horse up and down in a weirdly worshipful way, which I don’t understand. Luckily, this is interrupted by the appearance of the nutcracker.
Emerson Tate Alexander as Marie was fine, though not great. I don’t think she had the best presence in the party scene, but her battle scene was better. Charles Goehring as Fritz was really good. He had the right level of mischief and jealousy and really wanting to be a part and admired. (Pulling on Marie’s bow when Drosselmeier comes in and everyone is hiding! Pretending to conduct the boys when actually they’re about to sneak up on the girls!) But he didn’t do a good job being spanked, and the blocking for him bumping into the nephew is really awkward.
Robert La Fosse was Drosselmeier and masterful. He had so much fun with it and acted so well. He was very upset the first time the boys interrupt the girls, then went to check if Marie was okay and pulled up a chair to keep watch but fell asleep, and that whole sequence is great. And he enjoyed himself so much in the grandfather dance, strutting around kind of conducting things and also sneaking sips from a flask. And spinning the grandmother until she’s dizzy and it’s delightful. Also all his little conversations with his nephew (who mostly stands around, sigh) were adorable.
The doll dances were good. I was pleasantly surprised that Harlequin was danced by a woman, Emma Von Enck.
Marie really doesn’t get much dancing; all her pre-battle/battle parts are mostly walking or running around, and I don’t think it’s that interesting. The windows coming in full grown after everything else except the bed is dramatic, but then it doesn’t really make sense that everything has clearly grown relative to Marie except the bed. The growing is also really sudden, and Marie didn’t seem surprised by the soldiers.
Speaking of the soldiers, I’m a fan. The battle scene choreo doesn’t really make sense, but it’s fun. The mouse king shows up even later than normal, though, but at least he has seven heads and is armed.
So, I’m not a fan of the violin solo. At first, it’s just extra music that gives more time for changing costumes, but then there are some meaningful things that happen…followed by nothing sensible happening to pieces of music that are actually part of the score. And while the violin solo is still Tchaikovsky, it’s not the same, and you can hear the seams. So there’s dead time between the party scene and the battle scene, and then there’s dead time after the battle scene as well, while the bed wanders around stage alone. It’s a bit awkward, and again, it neither does justice to the music nor furthers the plot.
Balanchine choreographs perfectly for groups of women. By which I mean Snow, oh my goodness. I don’t really have specifics on that, but Snow is gorgeous as is right and just. And how do they dance on so much snow (because that stuff is annoying)? But seeing the patterns they leave in it is perfect.
The second act as a whole wasn’t the cleanest. Ghaleb Kayali as Chinese did six toe touches ( I think it should be seven), and he didn’t get his hips turned right for the splits on his fourth. He also cheated a double tour (it was very much one and a half). Sara Adams as the Marzipan lead fell out of a pirouette, but she was going to her knee anyway, so I don’t know how many people noticed.
And Teresa Reichlen was a brilliant, sharp, bright Dewdrop and then fell right before the end. I think it was in a turn, though I can’t find the right spot in recordings — but she slipped and fell (not just off pointe, to the floor). Before that, though, she was incredible. Both she and lead Marzipan were so sharp and precise in their movements, and Reichlen seemed to get warmer as the music swelled later in the piece, and I don’t remember Marzipan being that great.
Candy Cane, led by Daniel Ulbrecht, was the favorite divertissement of the crowd and deserved it. Spanish is also just so much fun, with so many tour jetes. I don’t like this Arabian choreography; it doesn’t feel like it has much content, especially given how long it was. In the Mother Ginger dance, Aaron Sanz as Mother Ginger was great. The kids did fine but unremarkably as Polichinelles.
I hadn’t been impressed with the nephew in the first act, but his mime at the beginning of the second act was quite well done. (I clapped for his mime along with the citizens of the Land of Sweets. The people sitting beside me looked at me like I had seven heads.)
I’ve never clapped so much for a Grand Pas, and this is a version that doesn’t include my favorite part. (RIP Tarantella.) I actually wasn’t sold in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Tiler Peck was good, but I just didn’t feel much warmth or regality or awe. But then in the pas, she and Tyler Angle had perfect timing and better chemistry. They anticipated all the right moments and drew others out. I started really getting it in the section where they repeat the same sequence of steps a couple of times, circling around each other each time. Then came the partnered turns into her bending back, and all the timing and positioning of leaps and jumps, and the little throw before the dive, and everything just clicked. And then Peck and Angle had just the right timing on her falls/his catches at the end of the coda and in the finale. Perfect. Angle’s part of the coda was good as well, especially his jetes and his a la secondes.
I’ve seen recordings of this at least a dozen times. I knew how so much of it would look. And yet seeing it live added so much. I don’t know that I’ll make it to NYCB Nut every year, but this will definitely not be my last time.