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Marian Horosko
Dance History


by Marian Horosko
December 1, 2009
"At Christmas time," said Sol Hurok, the canny, impresario, "the whole country turns into one great big '"Nutcracker!'" How right he was. No school can avoid the tradition of a yearly production; no parent can expect anything less than a role for a student dancer from age 7 to rise each year to a more advanced role; no grandparent or relative can avoid seeing a production. For the school, the production is a money maker.

"The Nutcracker," or "Casse-Noisette" was based on the famous "Tales" by E.T.A. Hoffmann. First produced in St. Petersburg, 1892, it was choreographed by Petipa, who, unable because of illness to complete the work, gave it over to his assistant Lev Ivanov, who followed Petipa's outline. Only the Petipa Grand Divertissement with the Sugar-Plum Fairy and her Cavalier remain. Many schools hire a guest pas de deux couple from a regional or professional company to perform this portion of the work. London produced a version in 1934 for Sadler's Wells followed by a great number of companies worldwide. The U.S. version was produced for the San Francisco Ballet in 1944 by Willam Christensen, followed by a great number of companies as the second act..minus the first act battle with the mice choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The glorious Tchaikovsky score remains the same.

In 1954, Balanchine, who was, as a child, in the St. Petersburg version, was sentimental about the production and invested what was considered to be a huge sum for his New York City Ballet, then with a cast of only 32 girls and 11 boys. The cost for mounting the mechanics in the constricted area of the City Center Theater, the home of the company, was a growing Christmas tree, a snow scene, a sleigh to take the "Clara" and her hero to Candyland.

At the first performance, Balanchine stood in his usual place, the first wing stage left (audience stage right) and look very worried as the tree trembled and grew and the furniture in the first scene rose up into the flys. The stage hands were ready for any emergency as the set became a snow scene.

The first NYCB Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier in the grand pas de deux were Maria Tallchief and Nicholas Magallanes. The rest of the cast ran up and down the dressing room stairs to change into national costumes to become the peoples from other countries. The full female cast in "Waltz of the Flowers" had a brilliant touch in casting Tanaquil LeClercq as the Dewdrop Fairy. Balanchine's sentiment and financial investment paid off handsomely in yearly, long run seasons.

The current New York City Ballet version is relatively the same. Other productions to come are the December 5 Bolshoi version at Symphony Space by Valentina Kozlova, who recently celebrated her 1979 defection from the Bolshoi company with a performance featuring her pupils.

A surprise "Nutcracker" production was just made possible through a 2.5M gift to American Ballet Theatre, by David H. Koch for a version by former Bolshoi director, Alexei Ratmansky. It opens in 2010 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The yearly presentation by the Joffrey Ballet, opens on December 18, 19 and 20.

It's Not Over

A wise man once said, "It's not over 'til it's over." Although the remark was about a baseball game it applies to "The Nutcracker" as well. There are still a few perfor-mances to enjoy. Instead of braving the trip to Manhattan, audiences can visit the Queens Theatre in the Park at Flushing Meadow Corona Park, Flushing, NY, to enjoy the Ballet for Young Audiences in their performances of the Christmas classic on Tuesday, December 29 at 1pm and 4 pm and Wednesday, December 30 at 1pm and 4pm at the Clair Shulman Playhouse Main Stage Theatre.

Ballet for Young Audiences was established in 1985 as an adjunct company to the Rockefellers Traveling Playhouse. It was an enormous success in the theater designed by Philip Johnson in 1964 for the World's Fair. It underwent a 4M renovation to become a 464-seat theatre and 99-seat studio theatre. "The Nutcracker" as always played to full houses.

Just a reminder to resist the temptation to photograph the action on stage, although most houses will announce a warning before the curtain goes up. It's because of copyright law. If you are tempted to photograph a youngster or adult member of the cast backstage, you must also ask permission of the performer as well the producer, choreographer or teacher. Many companies throughout the country produce a video during dress rehearsal and offer it at a fair price. None of the material may be reproduced in any way.

For more information on the Kids Series: wwwqueenstheatre.org.

An organization devoted to building young adult audiences presents a mixed bag of choreographies as Dance Gotham at the NYU Skirball Center, January 8-10, at 8pm on Friday, 1/8/2010; Saturday, 1/9, 2010 at 8pm and Sunday, 1/10/2010 at 7 pm. These performances at the Skirball, 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South are inexpensive and the twenty-seven companies are refreshing, young, sophisticated and witty.

For a full list of performing companies: http://www.skirballcenter.nyu.edu/events and then select "type: dance", or phone 212-352-3l0l or 866-811-4111.
Tallchief as first NYCB 'Sugar Plum Fairy' with Eglevsky in rehearsal. Eglevsky was injured and Nicholas Magallanes danced the first program.

Tallchief as first NYCB "Sugar Plum Fairy" with Eglevsky in rehearsal. Eglevsky was injured and Nicholas Magallanes danced the first program.

Photo © & courtesy of Unknown

A recent production of The Nutcracker from Brooklyn, NY.

A recent production of The Nutcracker from Brooklyn, NY.

Photo © & courtesy of Unknown

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