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Thursday, December 29, 2016

December Warhorses, part four: Cats, and Yet Another Nutcracker!

Cats! photo @ Richard Termine

Last year I took my mom to see The Lion King, which I decided would be the perfect momsical. This year I decided to extend the tradition. My mom will only see family friendly musicals. And so my mom, predictably, chose Cats (what else)? The reason: "I love cats." (She does.)

A picture of the junkyard set
So I took my mom to see Cats, and it was an even more perfect mom-sical. I never saw the original 1982 Broadway version but I've read that this revival (also directed by Trevor Nunn) hasn't changed much. The dancing and lighting effects do have a very 1970's disco jellicle ball feel to them. My mom has a hard time understanding dialogue in the theater. Cats is a pure song-and-dance extravaganza. There's almost no storyline or character development (even my mom said "I wish there was more of a story") but she loved the non-stop dancing numbers, the cool set (the stage and theater is decorated like an abandoned junkyard), and of course the big 11 o'clock number "Memory."

The dance numbers are very fun and the ensemble cast performs these numbers with high energy. It's a big cast but some standouts:  NYCB dancer Georgina Paczoguin as Victoria the white cat was quite the scene-stealer. All she had to do was lift her leg in a high developpĆ© and she caught your eye. The musical has some charming, tuneful vignettes -- the duet between cat burglars Mungojerrie (Jess LeProtto) and Rumpelteazer (Shonica Goodman) is an earworm. The best dance production number is "Magical Mister Mistoffelees" (played by the stunning Ricky Ubeda). It's really just fabulous. Leona Lewis was the original Grizabella but her performance wasn't well received by critics and she left the show quickly. Now Griz, the old cat with memories of her days in the sun is sung by Mamie Parris. She did a decent job but her voice doesn't have the volume or power of this:

Is Cats a deep musical experience? No. Is it is a great musical? No. But once you accept it for what it is, it's fun. I enjoyed the show, and what's more important, my mom loved it. I'm already planning next year's mom-sical.

Claire Kretzschmar as Coffee, photo @ Paul Kolnik
I rounded out my December warhorse tour by seeing -- you guessed it -- another Nutcracker! In this case the SPF/Cavalier leads were familiar (it was the tried-and-true Hyltin/Veyette pairing), but I did get to see some new interpretations I hadn't seen previously. Emily Kikta's Dewdrop, for one. Kikta certainly has the power for the role, and her movements have the right amplitude. What she needs is some refinement -- the timings of some of her exits and entrances were a bit off with the music and her posture could be improved. But that will come with experience.

The dancer who blew me away was Claire Kretzschmar's Coffee. I've complained in previous posts that none of the dancers seem to have the flexible backs and sensuality to sell this variation. Well, look no further -- Kretzschmar's Coffee was exactly that -- sinewy, sensual, a bit of a tease.

Also, can Harrison Coll get some sort of trophy for the incredible amount of roles he's played in Nutcracker this season? I saw him as Drosselmeier last night, also saw him as Candy Cane and Mother Ginger. I didn't get a chance to see his debut as Cavalier. But in the roles I did see, he brought a wonderful energy and enthusiasm. It's hard to picture such a young guy as Drosselmeier but Coll made it work.

So I've attended a record four Nutcrackers in a season, here are just some random happy memories:

- The high quality of the Candy Cane variations. I saw Harrison Coll, Devin Alberda (twice), Daniel Ulbricht (last night). All the Candy Canes made it through all 12 hoop jumps, the double jump at the end, and more doubles in the coda without tripping.

- Noticing corps de ballet members I hadn't previously -- Olivia MacKinnon as the only Marzipan I saw who could really do the gargouillades, Claire Kretzschmar as Coffee.

- Ashley Bouder and Tiler Peck in a fierce neck and neck battle for the Greatest Dewdrop of Them All. Because I saw both this season and I couldn't choose. Of course Teresa Reichlen was also not far behind and Emily Kikta definitely has potential.

The 8 amazing Polichinelles of this year's run. Photo @ Andrea Mohin

- The amazing 8 polichinelles, who in every performance I saw danced like true Balanchine ballerinas. They danced with the speed, precision, and musicality that would make Mr. B smile. In three of the four performances I saw the girls were: Veronica Dronsky, Eliza Eder, Kate Eid, Camille Leveque, Manuela Lira, Caden Santander, Ada Sensoy, Brando Speach. Remember the names. They upstaged their excellent Mother Gingers every time (and this season, I saw some good ones -- Alec Knight, Harrison Coll, Aaron Sanz).

- The three Sugarplum Fairies I saw who ALL brought something special to the role. They were all very different. Sterling Hyltin is the twinkly, bubbly, charming fairy and her partnership with Andrew Veyette is long-standing and very special . For instance in the coda/finale of the ballet Veyette lifts Hyltin around in a menage of lifts before finally lowering her SLOWLY. Hyltin does small beats with her legs as she's being lowered. The effect is enchanting.

Ashley Laracey and Zachary Catazaro were the most elegant, classical pairing. Laracey has a natural regal bearing and epaulement. But there's also warmth in her portrayal and I definitely want to see it again. Tiler Peck's SPF is a technical wonder -- endless balances, effortless turns, such a strong core that you never for a moment think she'll fall over.

So that's a wrap. Mr. B's production is so beautiful, so perfect, that when Nutcracker season is over I'm always sad. No more Nutcrackers. The positive: next year I get to see them again!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

December Warhorses, part three: MORE Nutcrackers!

Shelly Anderson as the hostess of Nutcracker Rouge
My December chestnut tour ended up with ... more Nutcrackers. Also, a visit to the Trocks. I didn't really enjoy the Trocks as much as I thought I would (despite their very funny Passages in Space, a parody of Merce Cunningham). The Dying Swan number was cute, I guess. But it really wasn't my kind of thing.

So let's talk about those Nutcrackers. On December 22, I went to see Company XIV's wonderful Nutcracker Rouge. It's now in the Irondale Theater in Brooklyn (tucked away by a church) but it's still the same great show it was last year, with a few changes here and there. Austin McCormick's skill at putting together a cohesive entertainment from a company of such eclectic talents is amazing. There's been some turnover (Laura Careless is no longer with the company -- Allison Ulrich danced Marie Claire this year) but the mainstays are still there -- Shelly Watson as the hostest/cabaret singer, Marcy Richardson singing Sia's "Chandelier" while doing some jaw-dropping Pink-like trapeze artist moves. As usual, the Nutcracker score is mixed with Madonna, baroque music, even hip hop, and whatever else strikes Austin McCormick's fancy. The result: by far my favorite alternative Nutcracker, ever. Go see them. You'll have fun and become an instant fan of this quirky, wildly talented company.

Here are some videos I took of the evening.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Warhorse Diaries, part 2: More Nutcrackers!!!

Abi Stafford in Yorkville Nutcracker

My tour of December warhorses has predictably resulted in more Nutcracker-ing. I did another round at NYCB with a different cast, and then headed over to the Yorkville Nutcracker.

Yorkville Nutcracker first: Francis Petrelle's Nutcracker is one of those "locally-based" versions. In this case, it's set in 1895 in Gracie Mansion and all the characters are historical people. The heroine is "Mary Strong," daughter of NYC mayor William L. Strong. The dancers are culled from a variety of sources but the kids are mainly of Ballet Academy East. If you're expecting a super-professional high-calibre Nutcracker you're likely to walk away from Yorkville Nutcracker disappointed -- the students and professional dancers are at varying degrees of ability, the production values consist of three different painted backdrops, and the music is recorded.