Friday, December 03, 2004

Ballet Review: Nutcracker

As a matter of fact, I don't go to a lot of ballets. It's not really that I have any objection to them, but on the whole I tend to prefer opera, or at least a play. But it's definitely one of our holiday traditions now, to swing over to the IU Musical Arts Center and catch Nutcracker when it's here. A couple of years ago a friend told us that we were really lucky to see Julie Kent performing in it, as she was one of the greatest American ballet artists living, and we felt appropriately privileged, but Julie was back again this year, so she must have some kind of special connection with IU and it wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Highlights: The Arabian Dance, Mother Ginger, and Damian Woetzel as the Cavalier. I thought his solos were an impressive display of leg strength. He's from the New York City Ballet. His duets with Julie Kent were good too. Mother Ginger is played by the same person (Colin Donnell) every year and he's utterly hilarious, camping up the role and bumping and grinding his 20-foot wide hips. Joshoa Sutton and Angelina Sansone did a very erotic Arabian Dance. They play a snake and a snake charmer, and she spends her time mostly crawling up and down his body. You could just feel the steam coming off them. I mentioned it to my wife, and she said, "Oh, the one two years ago was hotter." Guess I was still too sleep-deprived then.

Lowlights: The Prince didn't quite make it under Father Christmas's robe. You could see him running along behind, and that effect didn't work at all. I've thought the last few years that the magician (Theodore Keener) kind of gets short shrift. You can see the intent in what they're doing, to make him look mysterious and magical, but the timing always seems to be just far enough off that you don't get the impression of a puppetmaster pulling the strings of the other characters that they're going for. We thought the choreography in the Dance of the Snowflakes was slightly off.

In general: Fritz (Justin Zuschlag) was very effective, hassling the girls, swordfighting the magician, and sticking his tongue out at him when he thought he could get away with it. I wasn't that excited with any of the marionettes, which is a bit odd, because Joshoa Sutton played the Moor, and he also played the Mouse King and the snake charmer very effectively. They've redone the Chinese dance recently. I dunno; the dancers were very good, but I think I still preferred the dragon from last year. The Russian dance is my favorite to watch, it just pulses with energy. There was a baby on stage for the party scene. The lady next to me said it was Ms. Kent's, which is why she didn't perform last year. Having a baby must be one of the worst things a professional dancer can go through.

Here's what I found most odd: I think they were lacking a dancer. Not that they were lacking any of the parts, but the sequence at the beginning of the second act where the prince narrates the battle with the Mouse King, is supposed to be narrated TO someone - and no one was there! They told it all to themselves, just a little narcissistic reminiscence. I also thought that Julie Kent played the Dew Drop Fairy, but now that I check my program I see that's wrong; unless maybe that dancer was the missing one and Ms. Kent took over for her.

It seemed short to me this year, but maybe that's the sleep deprivation again. I can't imagine what they would have bothered to cut. We were home by 10:30. It plays twice tomorrow and once again on Sunday. See it if you have a chance!