Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Nutcracker

Speaking of "The Nutcracker", it was, quite naturally, the first ballet Joshua attended and the first ballet I attended. However, we have never attended a performance of "The Nutcracker" together.

Joshua first attended "The Nutcracker" at age seven when his grandmother took him to a performance by The Tulsa Ballet. He attended a performance again, a couple of years later, when his parents took him to see a performance by The Kansas City Ballet.

I first saw "The Nutcracker" when I was ten years old. That year my parents had taken my brothers and me to New York for the week between Christmas and New Year's, and we attended a "Nutcracker" performance at The New York State Theater. That, of course, was the Balanchine production, performed by The New York City Ballet. I loved it.

The only other performance of "The Nutcracker" that I have attended was one offered by The Joffrey Ballet, inferior in every way to The New York City Ballet production.

The Twin Cities are not a dance center, and the productions of "The Nutcracker" on view here are by small, local companies, all of which offer only a single weekend of performances. The largest company here, Metropolitan Ballet, is not offering a "Nutcracker" at all this year. We will not be attending any of the local "Nutcracker" performances.

The only ballet performance Joshua and I have attended together was about five weeks ago--the Sunday night before our trip to Germany--when my parents took us with them to see a performance of "Don Quixote" by Miami City Ballet.

Josh and I both hated that "Don Quixote" performance with a passion. The Minkus score is painful to listen to, and that ballet is so hopelessly old-fashioned that it probably should be dropped from the repertory. I cannot imagine what it is about that ballet that makes companies want to keep it alive. If companies insist on a "Don Quixote", they should try the Balanchine version, with its Nabokov score--it cannot be any worse than the traditional 19th-Century version, which positively creaks.

The Miami City Ballet production of "Don Quixote" was borrowed from American Ballet Theater, and the production looked its age (it premiered in 1978). It was an entirely witless night in the theater.

The only good thing about that evening was that Josh got to see Northrop Auditorium on the campus of the University Of Minnesota. Northrop Auditorium, a virtual barn of a building, was the former home of the Minnesota Orchestra. My parents met at Northrop Auditorium.

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and attend New York City Ballet performances from the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's. Some of Balanchine's ballets are almost unbelievably good, and audiences who experienced them under Balanchine's personal coaching were very lucky. The Balanchine currently danced by New York City Ballet is obviously an unfocused, diluted version of the real thing, which no longer exists.

However, Balanchine, danced elsewhere, is even worse. In 2003, I saw The Paris Opera Ballet perform a centennial program in tribute to Balanchine, and the performances floundered. "Symphony In C", which Balanchine choreographed for The Paris Opera Ballet in 1947, was nonetheless completely alien to the dancers. The tempos were much slower than at NYCB, and yet the dancers could not keep up. The virtuoso variations in the second movement were omitted entirely. It was a peculiar performance, and gained only a smattering of applause from the Parisian audience. "The Prodigal Son", placed next on the program, also suffered from little cuts here and there. However, the dancers seemed to enjoy it more, as it provided them with opportunities to "act". It was, however, fundamentally a provincial performance, and at the second interval I departed, not waiting to see how "The Four Temperaments" would be butchered.

I don't think there is anything on the ballet horizon for the rest of the Twin Cities season that Josh and I want to see. If we see any ballet in the next year, it will have to be in New York during a visit at my brother's, or in London, where we shall take our next major trip--and our first trip together by ourselves.

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