ABT Nutcracker at BAM

Sad to see that this is ABT’s last season of Nutcracker at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Beginning December 2015, ABT will perform at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. When ABT announced the new Alexei Ratmansky Nutcracker in 2009, ABT’s original plan was to increase the run to four weeks. ABT trumpeted the economic virtues of The Nutcracker as it is the financial foundation of many ballet companies. However, despite attractive ticket prices relative to the NYCB version and positive reviews, ABT’s plan for an extended BAM run never materialized.

New York’s loss in California’s gain as Ratmansky’s Nutcracker is very entertaining, filled with nuances that keep your attention performance after performance. Ratmansky emphasizes storytelling, sometimes with tongue-in-cheek humor, over bravura athleticism; at times I wish Ratmansky would turn up the dance dial on the solos, but it seems as if he intentionally tries to keep the dancing understated. Aside from a few challenging lifts in the pas de deux, I can’t remember any individual steps, but numerous segments from the story stand out.

Act I doll dances are an example, where the Columbine, Harlequin, and Recruit prance around but don’t do much dancing of note. Generally bravura divertissements such as Chinese and Russian provide more examples; the Russian dance with a trio of males features a number of comedic touches such as high fives, handshakes, and fistfights, performed at times in a simulated drunken stupor. A lot of action, but not much technical dancing. The Chinese dance with a male and female features a few split jumps from the male but not much else that is technically noteworthy. Solos in the pas de deux consist of largely straightforward steps with the solos devoid of many tours or major turn sequences.

Instead of technical wizardry, Ratmansky emphasizes the story of the dual girl Clara/boy Nutcracker and adult Clara Princess/Nutcracker Prince. Unlike the Baryshnikov or Kirkland/Chernov versions, Ratmansky has a girl Clara/boy Nutcracker in the party and battle scenes with the adult Clara Princess/Nutcracker Prince first appearing in the Snow Scene. The two pairs then perform a mirror image pas de deux in the first part, representing Clara’s vision of her transformation into a beautiful Princess. In Act II, the boy Nutcracker tells the story of Clara’s bravery in the battle with the Mouse King. The Clara Princess and Nutcracker Prince activity in Act II is limited to the Grand Pas de Deux. Thus, the time onstage for the adult Clara/Nutcracker is limited to two pas de deux with little dramatic responsibilities.

I particularly enjoy the creative opening scene; while most Nutcrackers open with guests arriving at the party, the Ratmansky version focuses on the kitchen of the Stahlbaum house as the cooks and housekeepers prepare for the family Christmas dinner. When the food is finished and everyone leaves, the mice appear and enjoy food scraps with numerous comedic touches. One small mouse introduced in the scene darts in and out of the action throughout the performance, particularly prevalent in the Mother Ginger segment in Act II. I also enjoy Ratmansky’s vision of the Battle Scene where Clara watches the action from her perch in a giant chair high above the action, emphasizing the fantasy and dream nature of the scene.

I have mixed reactions, mostly negative, to the Waltz of Flowers segment where bees dressed in aviator-type helmets buzz in to pollinate the flowers. Love it or hate it, it is very unique and creative.

I’ve had a bad cold, so I did everyone a favor by staying at home the first week of the BAM Nutcrackers. I did make it to the Thursday performance when I showed up without a ticket and, to may amazement, found out that it was sold out, demonstrating Misty Copeland’s drawing power. Fortunately, while standing in the cancellation line, a ticket materialized.

Misty and Eric Tamm were quite effective as the leads. Although the choreography in the solos is fairly simple, the pas de deux has a number of treacherous maneuvers that the pair were able to navigate successfully. There is a particularly difficult lift in the pas de deux in which she ran to Eric on a diagonal, jumped and turned as he hoisted her up with one hand on her rear end, as he slowly walked forward. Another tricky segment in the Snow Scene is a flip over shoulder sit, again performed well.

Roman Zhurbin was an expressive Drosselmeyer while the Maids Adrienne Schulte and Luciana Voltolini stood out, particularly when they mocked the guests after their departure.

Nutcrackers are great for upcoming dancers and Soloists, who have the opportunity to dance with the abundance of roles. This year, only four Principal Dancers were featured: Gillian Murphy, Hee Seo, Cory Stearms, James Whiteside. Soloists Stella Abrera, Misty Copeland, and Sara Lane performed Clara duty while Soloists Joseph Gorak and Alexandre Hammoudi and Corps member Eric Tamm were Nutcracker Princes.