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Washington Ballet 'Nutcracker'

Septime Webre's choreography of The Nutcracker, made for Washington Ballet and presented each December at the Warner Theater, will always be associated with good memories. Webre reimagined the famous story as taking place in Washington, with Clara receiving the present of a nutcracker from her eccentric godfather at a Christmas party in Georgetown, seeing the dance of the snowflakes with the monuments in the background, and the Land of Springtime, cherry blossoms and all, replacing the Land of Sweets. It was the first ballet that Miss Ionarts ever saw, but when I asked her what she remembered about it earlier this fall, she recalled very little. So we decided to make our first trip back to the Warner Theater to see what this Nutcracker was like now.

As we have reported over the past few years, since our first experience of this production, the Washington Ballet has stopped performing its Nutcracker with a live orchestra -- except for a small orchestra hired last season, which turned out to be an exception. This was quite unfortunate for the company, since it happened when Alastair Macaulay came through Washington on his Nutcracker Chronicles tour and the review was damning. Washington Post critic Sarah Kaufman, after soft-pedaling the orchestra issue in the last couple years, led with it in her review on Sunday. Who knows how bad press affects ticket sales, which it should, but the crowd on Saturday night seemed not as full as it should have been.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, Lack of orchestra takes some of the magic out of Washington Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ (Washington Post, December 2)
We have suffered through a Nutcracker without live music before, and the effect was just as disappointing here. Without a live conductor and musicians, there is no elasticity to the coalescence of music and dance, and too much of the movement just felt rushed as dancers nervously made sure that they did not get behind the unfeeling metronome blasting from the speakers. So this is not a Nutcracker for purists or for most adults who have expectations about ballet from experience. That being said, the choreography is delightful in many ways, and Miss Ionarts was so charmed that she proclaimed it her favorite Nutcracker yet. Although Webre has stacked the stage with a critical mass of cute kids -- mice in pilgrim hats! snow angels! toadstools! butt-shaking bees! polka-dot polichinelles! -- the corps scenes and the pas de deux are far from child's play.

Washington Ballet's production of The Nutcracker continues through December 23, at the Warner Theater.

3 comments: said...

I'm surprised Ionarts did not cover the Baltimore Symphony's concert last weekend. I attended Thursday at Strathmore, and it was very impressive. Mario Venzago conducted a strong performance of Franck's (very underated, in my opinion) symphony.

Also, Sol Gabetta played a stunning Elgar concerto. I had not previously encountered Ms. Gabetta, and she is a cellist to be reckoned with, in my view. Her solo encore, a piece by Peteris Vasks, in which she accompanied herself vocally, was a tour-de-force (I had never heard music by Vasks before; I'm obviously going to have to do some cathing up).

Charles T. Downey said...

It was on my list -- I have admired Mario Venzago's work before -- but we cannot get to everything! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it.

Anonymous said...

We saw "The Nutcracker," Thursday, Dec. 13, and enjoyed the performance overall. One complaint: Well into the first act, the balcony ushers continued seating patrons. Roughly 30 minutes or so after the curtain parted and at the high point of the dream sequence [the nutcracker is battling the rat king], in trudges a portly usher with two patrons. They stood in the aisle [the usher examining their tickets with a flashlight], totally blocking our view of the stage. Not to be picky, but there were plenty of empty seats. The usher should have told them to quickly sit anywhere, and she would find their ticketed seats during the intermission. Certainly, patrons arriving late must anticipate that they will pay a price. The ushers at Warner are probably very fine people, but they nearly ruined a good show.