Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Nut to Squirrel Away

Anastasia Barsukova. Photo: Igor Siggul
Around the year-end holidays, we tend to settle into traditions and habits, and dance's one uncrackable tradition is The Nutcracker. The big two, at least through this year, are Balanchine's at New York City Ballet, and Alex Ratmansky's at BAM, which moves to California next year. A number of smaller companies mount productions, and Gelsey Kirkland Ballet's has risen surprisingly quickly as an alternative to the biggies. (She established her Tribeca-based school just four years ago and in recent years has mounted three or so ambitious annual productions.)

This production, choreographed primarily by Michael Chernov after Vasali Vainonen, takes few shortcuts other than using recorded music. The steps for the group scenes are smartly kept simple, garnering the basic desired effects. The costumes (also by Chernov) look of high quality, even from the close distance afforded by the wide house at Pace's Schimmel Center. With its shallow stage, there is nowhere to hide at such a proximity; jitters, sweat, and cheap fabrics could be easily detected by viewers, and the costumes fared well in this test (as did the jitters and sweat).
Chinese Ambassadors. Photo: Igor Siggul

At the Saturday matinee, Anastasia Barsukova danced the role of Marie, in this case both as a child and an adult (and shown above as a Flute from another cast). She impressed with her strong basics—balances, extensions, pirouettes—as well as in the fine tuning of her head positions and delicate hand gestures. A radiant Anderson Souza played her Nutcracker Prince, commendable for his partnering and the athletic sweep of his grand jétés. Of the many secondary roles, of special note were Katia Raj and Shelby Chaney as the Arabian Ambassadors, both long of limb and emanating a magnetic intensity, and an energetic Galen Bolard and Souza again, as the Russian dolls. 

The large group scenes felt well populated—no scrimping on the personnel—including the party scene, which the tiny Charles Klepner stole with his adorableness; the mouse/soldier battle, the snowflake dance, the angel scene, and the "Prince's Kingdom: The Theater of Life" scene with international dances. Chernov incorporated the dancers into the stage set by artfully arranging them in an upstage niche during the final scene. It's just one more indication of making the most of the company's assets, its dancers. Even the "that's theater" moments—seeing a stagehand haul the rope that moved the streetlamp, hearing the mesh-mounted Christmas tree unfold with a thud—had their charms, given the context.

With tickets ranging from $39—59, it's not the cheapest (ABT's tickets began at $20, but again, that's not an option starting next winter), but nowhere near the gulp-inducing range at the Koch Theater for NYCB's: $71—260. But it's the best production if you want your children to connect with the dancers; proximity and overcoming human vulnerability are its strengths. Kudos to Kirkland and company for making a real go at enriching ballet life in New York City. In May, the company takes on no less than a full-length Don Quixote.

No comments: