I last saw Veronika Part dance with Marcelo Gomes last July in Sleeping Beauty in a brilliant and memorable performance (the photo at the top of my blog is Veronika in that performance). They picked up where they left off on ABT’s Friday opening night Nutcracker at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Veronika was spectacular as the Clara Princess as she took command of the stage with energy, confidence, and style with precise technique and grace, taking full advantage of her long, pure, elegant line, and extension. In addition to her technical capabilities, she was very expressive, capturing a range of emotions throughout the performance. Marcelo perfectly complemented Veronika as the Nutcracker. He is a perfect prince as he showered attention on his new love, beaming in admiration. He partnered her effortlessly throughout, which is a difficult task as the pas de deux has several intricate and difficult lifts. They exchanged playful glances in several parts as they were having fun. His solos were also graceful with nice deep plies ending in a tight fifth position on his tours and jumps. His solos featured many beats, small jumps in a circle, coupé grande jeté, and rapid pirouettes from first position. He makes dancing look very easy, a sign of a great dancer.
In Alexi Ratmansky’s Nutcracker, there are two Clara’s, a girl (Adelaide Clauss) and Clara the Princess (Veronika) and a Nutcracker boy (Duncan McIlwaine) and Prince (Marcelo). Veronika and Marcelo make their first appearance as grown up versions of Clara and the boy Nutcracker after the boy Nutcracker is victorious in the battle with the Mouse King. In Ratmansky’s version, the shy and at times awkward young couple envision a grown up version of themselves. The two couples dance in unison without acknowledging each other in Clara’s fantasy dream.
Ratmansky introduces several other innovative and comedic touches. The opening sequence is in the family’s kitchen as the cooks and maids prepare for the festivities. A mouse disrupts the work as the kitchen help frantically attempts to catch the small visitor as the snooty cook (Julio Bragado-Young) is aghast. The mouse makes another appearance during the Act II Mother Ginger/Polichinelles dance; the mouse appears from under the mother’s dress as she throws a fit. Another nice touch is the battle scene in which Clara views the fight from a huge chair far above the action, highlighting the fantasy. In a scene that will irritate traditionalists, bees (well cast with Thomas Forster, Luis Ribagorda, Calvin Royal, and Eric Tamm) wearing yellow helmets and aviator-type goggles pollinate flours in the Waltz of the Flowers. In one segment, the bees toss the flowers around in synch, probably representing the pollination processes.
Ratmansky’s Chinese and Russian dances are not my favorite. In Chinese (Gemma Bond and Joseph Gorak) the dancers don’t do much except hop around, in contrast to other companies like the Mariinsky Ballet that have a very athletic version. (Check out the Mariinsky version of the Chinese dance above and the MASSIVE entrechat six at 0.10 and 0.20. The Russian dance follows. I love the Chinese dance but not their Russian version). However, in the finale, Gorak does let loose with a few double tours. The Russian dance (Blaine Hoven, Craig Salstein, Arron Scott) is a campy, comedy version with a lot of clowning around.
I enjoyed James Whiteside in the Arabian dance. With commanding stage presence looking like Yul Brynner in The King and I, he was arrogant and stern as he presided over his four-woman harem. He parades them around the stage as he maintains a pensive look throughout. In the end, the four women dump him and exit stage left. When he realizes their departure, Whiteside briskly chases after them, throwing in a nice double sauté de basque. The Spanish dance was also notable with Isadora Loyola/Patrick Ogle, Christine Shevchenko/Grant DeLong, and Brittany Degrofft /Jose Sebastian.
Overall, I thought the performance was quite good and no evidence of opening night glitches. ABT has been doing the Ratmansky version since 2010 and it looks as if the company has worked out the kinks. The many children danced in synch and seemed well rehearsed.
I bought tickets when they first went on sale and greatly enjoyed the up close view from the front row side. As I mentioned in a previous post, BAM Nutcracker tickets are very reasonably priced; I paid $55-$65 for my front row tickets. BAM is cozy to begin with and I could really see the dancers well as some were only about 10 feet away. I caught the reaction of conductor Ormsby Wilkins and musicians as he smiled when snow confetti from the Snow Scene rained down on the musicians. Must be difficult to play the violin with small bits of paper getting in your way.
The production runs until Sunday, December 22. Veronica and Marcelo dance again on Sunday (6 pm) and Saturday December 21 (7 pm). I look forward to seeing Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak Thursday.
Update: Positive review from Alaistair Macaulay of The New York Times.