Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Theater Review: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker

Location: New York City Ballet, David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center, New York, NY

Website: Official NYC Ballet The Nutcracker site

Starring: The NYC Ballet company

My Review: Confession: Despite my rabid theater geekiness and general adoration for the performing arts, until last Friday I had never attended a professional ballet performance. Shameful, I know. Like many little girls, I took ballet lessons as a kid, but when I started developing boobs and discovered my love of fried foods and cake, I gave it up to pursue extracurricular activities that I could realistically be good at. But my appreciation for the art form didn’t die with my discontinued participation in it, so that it’s taken me so many years to actually attend a performance is kind of embarrassing.

Also kind of embarrassing is that I chose The Nutcracker—generally acknowledged to be geared towards children—to be the first professional ballet I attend. But whatever, it’s Christmas time, The Nutcracker is a classic, and I don’t care what you think.

Before seeing the New York City Ballet performance, my knowledge of The Nutcracker story came from a picture book I had as a kid and some bizarre animated version I saw once upon a time (but can’t currently find any verification of its existence now). At her parent’s Christmas party, young Marie is gifted a handcrafted nutcracker by her odd and mysterious uncle. While she sleeps, the nutcracker comes to life to do battle with the Mouse King and his minions who have taken over his kingdom. Marie throws a shoe at the Mouse King, distracting him long enough for the nutcracker to kill him, the nutcracker is transformed into a human prince, and Marie and the prince go to visit the magical kingdom that is now his again.

But it turns out where I thought the story ended, was just the end of the first act. In Act II, Marie and the prince visit the Land of Sweets, where candy-based characters dance for their enjoyment. Obviously anything candy-related is going to grab my attention, and the majority of the recognizable Tchaikovsky movements from the score are found in the second act. After enjoying the performances, Marie and the prince are taken back home in a flying sleigh, where I’m assuming he turns back into a wooden nutcracker.

While thin on plot, The Nutcracker is a beautiful production, and I can see why it’s become a Christmas tradition for so many. It’s bright and colorful, with plenty of whimsy and magic. The dancing is—naturally—superb, from the group parlor dancing in the first act Christmas party, to the featured solos by the candy people in the Land of Sweets. And it’s short enough (clocking in at just under two hours) that those who aren’t ardent ballet fans are unlikely to grow bored. Though those who are may be inclined to ask, “Is that all?”

My one and only gripe with this production is the cost. Is it worth the insane prices the New York City Ballet charges (with orchestra seats going for over $100)? For one time, maybe, but how people who come back year after year justify the cost (some with entire families in tow), I have no idea. It was a fun, festive evening, and a great was to start off my holiday preparations, but I don’t plan to be back next year.

Bottom Line: If you can get past the sticker price, this production of The Nutcracker is a marvel to see. Nearly everyone is familiar with at least some of Tchaikovsky’s music from the score—whether you know it of not—and seeing it danced to by some of the world’s most talented dancers adds a whole new level of appreciation to his work. It leaves you feeling just like the holidays should (but often don’t): Whimsical, childlike, and with a hankering for something sweet.

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