Monthly Archives: December 2010

Mrs. Stahlbaum in Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut

From the NY Times in an article about Mother Gingers and Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut, specifically about the Waltz of the Flowers presided by Mrs. Stahlbaum:

“Mrs. Stahlbaum, the heroine’s mother… is played by a man (John Heginbotham), and the dance she presides over — a fertility ritual she seems not to want to understand — is the Waltz of the Flowers. Vain, feckless, affected, vulgar, silly but tender-hearted, she’s the American dance equivalent of one of the great comic mothers of fiction: Mrs. Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice.””

You know, I don’t agree with this at all – I feel like this scene in Mark Morris’ Hard Nut is an exploration into Mrs. Stahlbaum’s heart. I see a woman of many secrets, embodying unfulfilled desire, anger, but ultimately, a calm and a peace of acceptance. Through most of the waltz, she seems wrapped up in her own world with swiveling shoulders, participating in the music but not in the dance with the flowers around her. Sometimes she finishes the phrases the flowers starts, and seems to conduct the dance in other moments. She is cognizant of the world around her, but has chosen to find peace in herself. And what better gift of womanhood can a mother share with her daughter?

Maybe my interpretation isn’t too far off from what the article was saying.

Everyone loves the snow scene in The Hard Nut, but from my very first viewing, the waltz of the flowers was my favorite. The complexity, the darker colors, and the eye opening moments in the music are all wonderful. I love that Mrs. Stahlbaum, in the middle of the waltz, starts pulling imaginary pizzicatos in the air, mirroring the still but sure pizzicato bass line in the strings. It’s a dream of a dance and music lover like myself, when both fields merge into one, and it’s so fun to watch.

For those of who have stumbled onto this blog looking for information on The Hard Nut, all I can see is, GO SEE IT. I’ve never seen kids so riveted in a Nutcracker performance, and it’ll entertain everyone from the dance newbie to the longtime dance obsessive. It’s funny, touching, and remarkably complex. Click here for my sister’s review in 2007 when they were in Berkeley.

This year it’s only playing in Brooklyn through December 19. Click here for more information.

Review: 2010 San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker. © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s lush production of the Nutcracker opened for the holiday season, and attending this ballet is always a nostalgic experience for me. SF Ballet’s Nutcracker is a family tradition of mine, having seen my first production when I was about 7 years old, and it was nostalgic to see families and kids participating in the tradition like my family did. The people watching is particularly touching in front of the Christmas tree in the lobby, with families taking photos with children dressed in their holiday best and children playing outside in the “snow” that falls gently outside the main doors.

Holding the reputation to have put on the very first Nutcracker in the US in 1944, SF Ballet continues the tradition in fine form. The production and the company this year looked particularly fresh and inviting. The costumes by Tony Award winner Martin Pakledinaz are absolute perfection, brightly colored and sparkly confections of what every girl dreams of wearing. Helgi Tomasson’s current production debuted in 2004, but it looks just as new as ever. Set in early twentieth-century San Francisco, the show unfolds as it tells of Clara’s journey, filled with wonder, dreams, and love. Tomasson’s choreography misses a few musical moments, but adds plenty of innovation and modern twists to a traditional storyline. Martin West conducted the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra with bright nuances to Tchaikovsky’s romantically lush score.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Artem Yachmenikov in Tomasson's Nutcracker. © Erik Tomasson

The first act hums with warmth and intrigue, starting at the family holiday party and ending with a trip through a snowy forest. One of the joys of the Nutcracker is watching the children onstage, with their natural charm – the children were impeccably trained, with an especially charming performance by the party boys who added lots of character to their presence onstage. The girls who danced the butterflies in the beginning of the second act held lovely lines in their arms, as they flit back and forth onstage. The second act in the Land of Sweets contained more than a few superstar performances. Dana Genshaft danced the role of the Arabian with a seamless beauty and almost unfit-for-children’s-eyes sensuality – mystery in every unfolded limb. Vitor Luiz shot into the air with gymnastic prowess as “Chinese” with precise articulation in quick footwork, in addition to a good dose of humor. The trio in the Russian dance (James Sofranko, Benjamin Stewart, and Matthew Stewart) were a seamless group and a clear audience favorite. Sofiane Sylve reigned with regal beauty as the Sugar Plum Fairy, dancing with warmth and impeccable control. Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets danced the Grand Pas de Deux. It’s uncanny the way that Van Patten doesn’t merely dance, but she tells us a story. From stepping out of the jewel box, she looks down at her own transformation, looks around, and sees her prince. Each moment falls into the next. She delineates each moment so perfectly in setting the scene that the pas de deux falls into the storyline, rather than the story being an excuse to show off the dance. Van Patten’s performance (and with her partner, Tiit Helimets) was luminous, only slightly marred by a series of harried turns and a two-footed moment in the middle of her fouettes. Helimets was in top form, an attentive partner and a virtuosic soloist with such princely style; his sissones are a wonder.

There is nothing like the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker, and I can’t recommend it enough. This production is especially great for families and for a date that you really really really want to impress. For the record, the standing room looked quite empty the evening I went, so if the ticket prices or availability are deterrents, I highly recommend getting standing room tickets.

San Francisco Ballet