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December 17, 2013 5:45 pm
It was clear at its premiere four years ago that Alexei Ratmansky’s wise, touching Nutcracker for American Ballet Theatre (until Sunday, with various casts) counted as a bildungsroman, but it only occurred as I watched this season’s outing how much Clara’s growing up centres on love. From the party scene into the snowstorm and beyond, she samples as many kinds of affection, desire and union as there are candies in the Land of Sweets.
When the ungainly Nutcracker whom she has rescued from the paws of the rat-financiers awakes from a faint, she bursts into tears of relief, then notices he has shed his bulky wooden head. She pats the boy’s arm, his chest and face: “You are here – and here and here!” Soon the adult avatars arrive to expand on the sentiment. The grown-up dream Prince throws the future mature Clara spinning into the air to catch her on the way down. They dance in unison, companionably, and in animated exchange – first her, then him.
Jagged pleasure turns into threat with the snowflakes, whose spiky icicle arms hunger for innocent flesh. The flower scene offers vegetable love. The perfume of excitement wafts among the 16 blooms until finally four worker bees dispense with their charges’ woozy desire in an assembly line of thrills. And for preening vanity, we have the head (and bare chest) of a harem eventually so enraged by the man’s stony egotism that they turn feminist. So many romantic possibilities, so many potential pitfalls!
At the ballet’s denouement, princess and prince run through the gamut of grand pas de deux moves – the fish dive, the woman held aloft – but without the usual triumphalism. The steps possess impetuosity – coltish and plucky – or slippery luxuriance more than imperial grandeur. They do not beg for applause (and, sadly, do not get it). The ballerina’s free leg may point from front to side to back while the standing leg pistons up and down and around and around, but it does not entirely distract from the yearning torso.
The first cast, Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part, maintained their luscious elasticity despite the quick tempo – the jagged edge of youthful passion matured into elegance. In another cast, Hee Seo brought a loving attention to James Whiteside, who responded by bounding and spinning gloriously, to the very edge of recklessness.
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