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Dances Patrelle’s “The Yorkville Nutcracker” Charms on Dance and Confuses on Story

by Bonnie Rosenstock
December 20, 2016
Kaye Playhouse
695 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021
(212) 772-4448
Last holiday season my goal was to see as many small-company “Nutcrackers” as I could. I stopped at four before I cried “Uncle Drosselmeyer.” From Company XIV’s X-rated adults-only “Nutcracker Rouge” to Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York’s “Nutcracker Winter Suite” and New York Theatre Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” both charming kid- and adult-friendly spectacles and Peridance’s mélange, they all recreated the traditional tale in their own way.

This year, I had a go at one more, for old-time’s sake, and ventured uptown on December 8 to the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College to see Dances Patrelle’s 21st season of “The Yorkville Nutcracker,” choreographed by artistic director Francis Patrelle (pronounced “Patrelli”), which played for six performances. Although the dancing was exceptional, I couldn’t figure out who was who without the small-print program synopsis, which I read some days later.

Dances Patrelle’s version takes place on Christmas Eve in 1895 in Gracie Mansion on East 88th Street and East End Avenue, i.e., the Yorkville section of the city. At that time, Gracie Mansion was privately owned by Hamlin and Jane Wheaton Babcock, who lived there, and was not yet the official residence of the mayor. (There is also a page of informative historical background on New York in the 1890’s, accompanied by black and white archival photos.) The Babcocks invited William F. Strong, the newly elected—and last—Mayor of Olde New York (the five independent counties/boroughs were consolidated into New York City in 1898), his mother, wife and their two children, Mary (Emma Belorserkovsky, 11) and Putnam Bradlee (Micah Kittay, 12) as their special guests. The mayor invited foreign dignitaries and their families to attend, which made for a colorful dance parade in period costumes.

Noah Wheaton (the adept John-Mark Owen), Jane’s father, arrives with life-size “dolls”: pretty in pink Dutch Flower Dolls who danced beautifully; a plush “Teddy” bear (Courtney Conner), who entranced the children with his antics and is later revealed to be Teddy Roosevelt, the newly appointed Police Commissioner; and explorer and Civil War hero Yellowstone Kelly. Wheaton, bald, bearded, wearing a covering over one eye and a black cape, is billed as Mary Strong’s “uncle,” but I couldn’t figure out in what way. He is, nonetheless, the mysterious, benevolent magician who gives her a replica of Kelly as the Nutcracker doll. After the siblings fall asleep, at the stroke of midnight, the dream unfolds.

There is a less than convincing mouse battle scene (set by William Woodward, a student dancer) with Mouse King’s army waving swords versus human gun-wielding soldiers, a fine opportunity to employ all those appealing children and teach them the power of firearms. What saves the life-size Yellowstone Kelly Nutcracker is when Mary throws a shoe to distract the Mouse King (the able Felipe Aragao). That toss was enough for Wheaton to reward Mary and the Nutcracker, soon to be revealed as her brother, with a magic sleigh ride to Central Park. Nice repro backdrop of the park’s Balcony Bridge. Later repros included The Dakota, completed in 1884, and New York Botanical Garden’s glass Conservatory, completed in 1902.

The park’s frozen lake and lightly falling snow is the setting for the Snow Queen (Therese Wendler) and Snow King’s (Maximillien Baud) gorgeous pas de deux. Ten women in severe black dresses danced/skated smoothly and splendidly. Finn Duggan, the Snow Prince, is an obvious crowd favorite. The gangly teen is on the cusp of attaining his full-bodied potential.

For that section, however, I found the program notes perplexing. They indicate that the lead skaters, i.e., the Snow Queen and Snow King, and the Snow Prince look to Mary like Mr. and Mrs. Babcock and their nameless son although clearly people other than the aforementioned dancers portrayed these three roles at Gracie Mansion. Clarification, please?

Act II went pretty much according to “Nutcracker” custom: the Grand Pas de Deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Abi Stafford) and her Cavalier (Craig Hall), both courtesy of New York City Ballet, the various Divertissements and Flower Corps de Ballet, magnificent all. From the principals, soloists, principal character dancers to the littlest participants, culled from a battery of ballet schools, the dance production was a delight. And, a special shout out to Emma and Micah, who shouldered the roles of Mary and Putnam winsomely on this night. They were pros from start to finish with an abundance of talent and effervescence. The future is theirs.

For more information about Dances Patrelle, write to 478 First Street, apt. A, Brooklyn, NY 11215, telephone (212) 722-793 or visit dancespatrelle.org.

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor


Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor


Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

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