in the box? Northeast Ballet’s Nutcracker.
Mae G. Banner
Ballet’s The Nutcracker
Theatre, Dec. 4
The annual observance of The Nutcracker is a family
and community rite. People who go to Mass only at Christmas
or to temple only for Yom Kippur do not fail to join the audience
for this secular winter event. Love of the arts takes second
place to participation in the ceremony.
we gathered together at Proctor’s once more (the 18th time,
actually) to see the Northeast Ballet Company re-enact the
ritual passages of the story of Clara and her Nutcracker,
their heroic defeat of the Rat King and his army of mice,
their subsequent travels through the Land of Snow and arrival
at the Kingdom of Sweets where diverting dances are performed
Like Greeks watching a play at Epidaurus, we know the story
well. We want to see how well the dancers perform it and we
want to be sure they don’t leave out the essential parts.
In Northeast’s Nutcracker, artistic director-choreographer
Darlene Myers made most of the essentials happen. The mysterious
Uncle Drosselmeyer (Brian Bayly) gestured to make time stop.
The Christmas tree grew, stretching toward the ceiling. The
snow fell like diamonds over the hushed woods. Mother Ginger
(Jeff Wilkin in a hoop skirt as big as a circus tent) pulled
the cord and out came a slew of tiny red-cheeked dancers who
hopped about as the full house clapped in rhythm. Alexis Blair
and Marcus Rogers were snaky and acrobatic in the exotic Arabian
dance. Long-legged Alexis Pangborn was poised and grave as
Dewdrop, who led the Waltz of the Flowers.
And, of course, the ultimate duet of the Sugar Plum Fairy
and her Cavalier (New York City Ballet’s Jenifer Ringer and
Philip Neal) made us swoon, Neal for his gallantry as a partner
and for his smooth and dynamic solo variations, Ringer for
the crystalline beauty of her dancing. Remember, this duet
is Balanchine’s choreography. Nobody messes with it because
it is perfect.
But, Myers, probably a bit bored with doing exactly the same
thing every year, has allowed herself to abandon a key part
of the narrative. While her Nutcracker generally followed
its pre-ordained path, she muddied the tussle between Clara
and her brother Fritz over the toy Nutcracker. I didn’t see
the Nutcracker fall and break, nor did I see Drosselmeyer
comfort Clara by bandaging the toy with his handkerchief.
Clara creeps downstairs after midnight to check on her beloved
Nutcracker and is surrounded by an army of mice led by the
tall and scary Rat King (Jordan Haskins). The Nutcracker (Rogers)
and his battalion of Toy Soldiers defeat the mice, but this
should happen only with the help of Clara, who is supposed
to throw her slipper at the Rat King’s head at a crucial moment.
Without this brave deed—omitted in this production—the point
of the journey is lost.
So, we saw some beautiful and imaginatively choreographed
dancing, but pulled out of context. Praises to former NYCB
dancers Deborah Wingert and James Fayette, who choreographed
their duet as the Snow Queen and Prince. Fayette, six months
after his retirement, still has classic line and presence.
He was a strong partner to Wingert, in a glittery midnight-blue
dress, lifting her to breathtaking heights.
Myers’ choreography for the Snowflakes and the Flowers was
shapely and satisfying, making full use of the expanded Proctor’s
stage. These young dancers get better every year.
The first-act party scene, peopled by non-balletic adult couples
dressed in jewel colors of velvet and taffeta, looked like
a ball from an Edith Wharton novel. The posh swags and bows
of the women’s gowns were reflected in the satin and velvet
finery of many young girls in the audience, which brings us
back to the communal nature of the Nutcracker rite.
It’s a bit of winter fun that we take very seriously.