Peter, Valerie, and I saw this performance by the Mark Morris Dance Group at BAM on 12/18. It's choreographer Mark Morris's version of *The Nutcracker*, using every note of the Tchaikovsky score (and in the order he intended) and joining it with the original E. T. A. Hoffman story and the comic books and graphic novels of Charles Burns. It's at once the most brilliant use of the music and a totally irreverent take on what we see as *The Nutcracker*.
I first saw it on PBS in 1992 and loved it. Karen Miller and I saw it at BAM in 2010 and it knocked my teeth out. I had never seen a dance piece that was so funny and so full of joy. I was thrilled that BAM was bringing it back this season.
The last time they did it, it was with the Brooklyn Philharmonic - - this time they had the 53-piece Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble. They were good, but not AS good. For instance, in the overture, the strings were divine but the winds were a little insistent. Granted, this is my favorite music in the piece, so my expectations are high, but it creased my brow a little. Strangely enough, it was the only movement that bothered me - - it might have been they needed to warm up and get into their groove, or it could be simply that it's the only music that's played with no dancing, and the dancing distracted me from any shortcomings in the musical performance. Either way, who cares, I was happy.
Isn't it a delight to hear an audience laugh and spontaneously applaud at the ballet? There were many, many children in the audience, and they were totally into it. It works on two levels: it's a splendid ballet but also fabulous show biz. Morris is the Pedro Almodovar of the dance world: he's often silly, campy, and hilarious, but also technically dazzling, emotionally meaningful, and deeply human.
The highlight of the show is the waltz of the snowflakes. Morris said in an interview that a lot of people thought it was politically relevant that he had men and women dancing, when it's usually done just by women. He had two reasons for this: first, snowflakes have no sex/gender characteristics, right? And second, he wanted a lot of people onstage, and the only way he could do that was to have the majority of his company doing it together. He doesn't address the issue that the men are wearing dresses, but it's important visually that they all wear the same thing, and it adds a touch of whimsy to have the men wearing dresses (as opposed to everyone wearing body stockings or something equally androgynous).
Let's all be happy that this movement is on youtube. I watch it at least four or five times a year:
There's a moment at 4:45 when the dancers cross each other in two intersecting lines. Was Morris giving us an homage to Michael Bennett's choreography to "Turkey Lurkey Time" from *Promises, Promises*? It happens in that song at 2:57:
My guess is that Bennett and Morris both pulled it out of that old trunk of show biz cliches. And why not, it's damn effective.
I want to highlight two performers in the show: Michelle Yard was my favorite dancer, she did the hully gully (or similar) at the party scene and was the bull in the Spanish number. She's full of verve and just a bit plump, which is a nice thing to see at the ballet. And Kraig Patterson was back in the show as the family maid, stealing the show like he always does. Such a riot, and nice to see a man dancing on point for a change.
The waltz of the flowers is my other favorite number in the show. Once again Morris uses men and women, all wearing flower dresses. It's funny to see them lifting each other. But what is the mother character doing in this number? She doesn't add anything, it's a little odd.
The final pas de deux is done by the lead little girl character and the young man, this show's version of the nutrcracker prince. Morris stages it as a little girl's dream of what it is to have a boyfriend: he's cute, he's got good hair, his outfit matches mine. We kiss, we dance around, we kiss, we smile at each other, we dance around, we kiss. All of these kisses are adorably chaste, they're simply the pressing of lips, and the audience giggled. Most moving of all, Morris brings on characters from earlier in the show, from nearly every scene, so it's like a whole community surrounding this couple in their love.
I don't need to see this every year, but more often than every five years. Could BAM please do it every two or three years?