Justin Souriau-Levine as Little Mouse in Alexei Ratmansky's The Nutcracker for American Ballet Theater (photo by Rosalie O'Connor)
The central change to the story and characterization, akin to the recent adaptation from San Francisco Ballet, is to recast the Sugar Plum Fairy sequence for an adult "Princess" Clara and a grown Nutcracker prince. The older couple first appear moving in tandem with the younger pair and go on to act out the girl's dream of growing up and falling in love. Productions of this ballet tend to feel mainly aimed at either children or adults, and Ratmansky's seems to fall into the former category, emphasizing burlesque entertainment over more classical ballet sequences, seen in the addition of four male bees, for example, who buzz around the female corps in the Waltz of the Flowers. (Further illustrating the point, two of the company's dancers appeared on the satirical television show The Colbert Report on Wednesday night, sending up the ballet's pas de deux with the host prancing around in a suit jacket, tights, and prominent codpiece.) This is more shrewd calculation than anything else: for ABT, as for most companies, the slew of December Nutcracker performances is big business, as shown in a comprehensive article on the subject recently in the Wall Street Journal. This is a production that will charm children and adults, but the serious balletomane, hoping for more than a smattering of traditional choreography, may be disappointed. That group of people is not the sort a company depends on to fill the house in December, however, so this Nutcracker is likely to have a long and profitable run.
Sarah Kaufman, American Ballet Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker” at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, December 10)
The mysterious Drosselmeyer retains some of his menacing qualities here (danced by Victor Barbee), involved in the action throughout, including having to rescue Clara and her prince when the snow scene darkens into a blizzard, threatening hypothermia to the exposed children. Ratmansky gives away most of his ideas for the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy right at the beginning of the second act, when all of the solo dancers appear on stage as a group. Most of these "solos" are really small group numbers: an acrobatic pair of Chinese dancers (Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin), a cocky sultan (Sascha Radetsky) and four concubines from his harem for the Arabian dance, a trio of bouncy Russian dancers. What should be the climax of the second act, the pas de deux for the grown Princess Clara and Nutcracker Prince (a fine Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes), is trivialized a bit by being linked to the charming child pair (Mikaela Kelly and Theodore Elliman), with too many cutesy and shy movements. At least here, in the Sugar Plum Fairy sequence, one hopes to have some classical ballet for adults, even in The Nutcracker.
The run of the American Ballet Theater's Nutcracker continues through Sunday, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.