The Nutcracker has been done by everyone; classic choreographers, modern artists, filmmakers and wackos alike have tried their hand at reinvigorating an almost requisite production. Audiences first experienced the story in St. Petersburg on Friday, December 18th, 1892. It is an adaptation of E.T.A Hoffmann’s tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, and the irony is that it wasn’t a success and only became popular in the mid 20th century.
This is the second time I’ve taken in a production by the Nashville Ballet, under the artistic direction of Paul Vasterling. The first time was for their production of Cinderella (http://atlanta.thebackstagebeat.com/2011/10/nashville-ballets-cinderella/) and now for their Nutcracker season.
For someone who has seen countless interpretations of this story, there is always the fear of boredom and the worry that there won’t be anything to chew on. This was definitely not the case, this year, in Nashville.
I love a town with pride and feel that Nashville Ballet told the classic holiday tale, but also took the opportunity to pay homage to their fair town. This version of the story takes place in 1897 at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Clara and her Uncle Drosselmeyer stroll through the international vendors and buy a little Nutcracker doll from a German toymaker.
One of the most intriguing elements in this production is that Drosselmeyer dabbles in magic, and it is real, “How did he do that?” magic. He teases his niece by making the toy disappear.
It then materializes a couple of months later at the Staulbaum family’s Christmas party.
Drosselmeyer creates lights between his fingers, makes a cane dance in mid-air, levitates furniture and makes a person disappear. As the tricks become more complicated his presence gets more imposing. His purple cape and midnight blue velvet waistcoat compliment his bright red turn-of-the-century lambchops.
Sometimes I feel the party scene is a missed opportunity and choreographers resort to too much pantomime, which gets dull. Vasterling seizes the moment. This shin-dig is exciting. There were couples spinning around the stage, mischievous children and presents being tossed high in the air from guest to guest.
The evening has all you would expect. Dancing dolls are carried off, stiff as if packaged in a box. The mice come in all sizes. The tree grows to Jack and the Bean Stalk proportions. The Snow characters swirl around stage and it actually precipitates on the proscenium. Little pink and black sheep pas de cheval in unison and Clara takes her world tour of sweets..
The real treat of the evening is Sadie Bo Harris. I first saw her as the title character in Cinderella, and she was lovely. But she is magnificent as the Sugar Plum Fairy. This is the role traditionally given to the Prima Ballerina. Harris fills those point shoes with perfection. Every millisecond is accounted for. Movement becomes dancing when the steps are secondary. It is all about what happens during the transitions. Harris plays with the in-betweens masterfully like a fine blues singer. Everything is executed on tempo, but she makes you hold your breath waiting for the belly of the beat. Nothing else matters when she performs the Sugar Plum variation… She was worth the travelling… I was putty in her hands.
I am excited to experience the enchantment of productions to come, firsthand. I would also like to be a witness of this company’s growth and maturation. So if you are within a 4 hour car drive, or want to embark on a family trip and take advantage of all Nashville has to offer, make sure you schedule it around a ballet (Nashville Ballet). It will be worth the commute.
The Movement In Stillness – “First Breath” by Travis Magee
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There are these moments among skilled choreography and seasoned performances where you lose yourself. If you happen to be experiencing this, you will most probably hear a gasp or a groan. There is no language adequate to tell the tale later because they affect you in a primal, visceral way. These moments transcend language and are too intimate to describe. To those of you who don’t frequent the many exquisite dance events happening around the world today… this is the reason to see dance live! The bitter sweet dichotomy can perpetuate a frustration, that the experiences can’t REALLY be translated to anyone who wasn’t at the dance performances, sharing the adventure. These feelings lead to the question, “How do we bottle this?”
Dearly Departures: “A Long Way… A Longer Distance Call”
The Lucky Penny has become a cornerstone of Atlanta’s cutting edge dance and technology. Dearly Departures: A new dance by Blake Beckham and her impeccable motley crew of technicians and performers, at Georgia Tech’s DramaTech Theater, have created yet another night of artistic excellence
The little black box theatre, more of a trapezoidal space is reminiscent of the old train stations lined with a long illuminated bench Stage Left, an “Old Skool” telephone booth Stage Right and a Split Flap display board hanging above. The experience begins with a Rolodex scrolling sound as the Split Flap illustrates very slow, movie style, credits. This sets a mellow tone, allowing the audience to hunker down in our seats and get comfortable. The lights dim then flicker off, in a “cool” and unusual manner, foreshadowing the unexpected and poetic experience to come.
The clickety clack of the display is overtaken by ambient music and lights go up on dancer Alisa Mitten. She smoothly makes her way around with long relaxed movements, allowing her fingertips to initiate her locomotion. As we watch, the Split Flap is feeding us contemplative ideas to ponder as the action unfolds.
“Away… Way back… Go… Go… Go back.” And a repeated mantra of “Begin again” & “Begin & End.”
T. Lang: A Woman Searching
The raw space at the Goat Farm is set up with four see through scrims hanging from the ceiling, situated in a square, to separate the performers from the audience. Seats are arranged in the round, meaning all the way “a round” where the action was about to take place. The first question of the evening is to figure out which side of the room we want to experience this evening from. Obviously, there is no right or wrong… just questions.
On June 7th, I found myself asking a lot of questions at the World premiere of T. Lang Dance Company’s performance of Post Up. The cast of nine extraordinary women were uniformly exposed in white bras and cherry red leggings. The uniformity brought to mind a complex woman or many women in a similar situation, perhaps battered or in a prison. An inquiry later enhanced by zig-zagged projections on the fabric we were looking through. The tastefully sparse costumes highlighted the performers’ beauty and I was reminded of how majestic women are, in all iterations, with different curves, hair lengths, textures and hues of skin.
The tone in this screened in cage was desperate, sad and played with themes of struggle and vulnerability but through it all a feminine strength became apparent. Not only through the athleticism of these prodigious artistic athletes but in an instinctual comradery that naturally exists between woman, especially at times of crisis.
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