The Hard Nut - Mark Morris Company

When the original production of this ballet made its first splash, I missed it.  Instead I saw it as a holiday special on PBS.  I remember I recorded it on VHS (long time ago) and watched it continuously.  Meanwhile after a few seasons in NY, the Morris company took the show on the road and performed it at other various cities.

It came back to BAM this year and I purchased my ticket as soon as they were offered to the general public.

I didn't regret it at all.  It was just as wonderful in live performance as it was on television.  Abet some of it was pared down into a smaller, cosy setting.

The small BAM stage suited the production very well.  Everything was very pop art in the style of Roy Lichtenstein, set in an indeterminate time from the late 60's thru the mid-70's.  Morris used a number of contemporary dance styles for the party scene which fit the mood of Tchaikovsky's music quite charmingly.  Morris seemed more able to access the slight tongue in cheek tone of the music that bigger stagings miss.  Like other stagings using adults for the roles of Marie/Clara and the Prince, Morris did reference the Freudian undertones but he didn't get hung up on them.   I did notice that some of the more outre elements of this production were toned down.  Marie's lascivious sister was more of an awkward rambunctious flirt rather than an uncontrollable hormonal fiend.   The party guests were less bump and grind, swinger types.  Originally I think the production was conceived as a Nutcracker for adult dance fans but it also became a huge hit among the young set.  Truthfully the ballet is not lessor for becoming family friendly.  The audience favorite in the first act was Kraig Patterson as the Housekeeper.  He was very comical and quite deft in his pointe shoe work.  Mark Morris himself took over the roles of Marie's father and a fairy tale King in the second act.  He was fantastically campy.

The showstopper of a snowflake scene was also different.  In the original production the snowflakes were danced by a mostly male cast with many of them in pointe shoes.  It was amazing to behold, since it required a more streamlined, softer and more elegant style than is usually choreographed for men.  In this production, I think only the lead male snowflake danced partially in pointe shoes.  But the rest of the cast was barefoot.  There were also more female dancers among the cast.  I don't think these slight changes hurt the piece.  It just made it different, changed its tone.  I liked watching men dance delicately.  But in today's performance, the women in the piece were so impishly elfin and took to the choreography so naturally that it kind of made the male dancers look somewhat ungainly.  Still these were only small constraints.  There aren't a lot of men who are trained in pointe work and the ones who are don't all work for Mark Morris.  The dancing was still fantastic and the pinnacle of the dance, musically synchronized grand jetes with the dancers throwing snow confetti was perfect.  It called forth cheers from the audience.

This version of the Nutcracker has also been changed to make it two fairy tales in one.  The first act was about Marie and the Nutcracker defeating the (Elvis, lol) Mouse King.  In most productions the story ends at the first act and the second act is just celebratory dancing with loosely connected divertissements.  Morris decided to stage a Cinderella-esque story in which a princess is cursed by magical mice.  She is turned into an ugly little doll who must find the one man who can crack open a walnut with his own teeth in order to break the spell.   It is a little confusing storywise but it is fun.  The ballet ends with Marie finding puppy love and becoming a character inside the fairy tale.  Which is very upbeat since the majority of the productions deal with Marie losing her Nutcracker prince, waking up and getting older.

This production is wonderful and I hope it stays in New York for the next few years.  Because I would make it a tradition to see it every season.

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