Danc­ing away from dark­ness

Pasatiempo - - Music And Performance - Janet Eigner For The New Mex­i­can

None of the half-dozen danced ver­sions of The Nutcracker I’ve at­tended in pre­vi­ous years and in var­i­ous cities has been as creepy as E.T.A Hoff­man’s orig­i­nal story: a sin­is­ter old god­fa­ther, Herr Drosselmeyer, en­trances the young heroine, Marie, with fan­tasy sto­ries and then hu­mil­i­ates her when she be­lieves them. Vi­su­als are gross and in­clude a mouse with seven heads. Not even Mikhail Barysh­nikov’s ver­sion for Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre, which closely fol­lows the Hoff­man story line, com­mu­ni­cates Hoff­man’s ex­tremes of good and evil.

Dance pro­duc­tions can­not spare the time for Hoff­man’s com­pli­cated lit­er­ary trans­for­ma­tions (from lovely in­fant princess to grotesque melonhead baby), curses (a Mouse Queen that pledges to bite off the head of the royal baby), and bad and good magic (the Prince, trans­formed into the Nutcracker, ac­ci­den­tally kills the Mouse Queen while un­do­ing the spell on the in­fant princess and later re­turns to his for­mer princely self).

Most ver­sions don’t al­low Marie to en­joy the ro­man­tic dream that Hoff­man writes into his magic con­clu­sion: she leaves her fam­ily to re­turn as queen with the prince-as-king and reign for­ever from Marzi­pan Cas­tle in Sweet­meat­burgh. I won­dered how closely three of this month’s danc­ing Nutcracker pro­duc­tions in Santa Fe— by Mov­ing Peo­ple Dance, Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let, and the Na­tional Dance In­sti­tute of New Mex­ico — would in­cor­po­rate Hoff­man’s orig­i­nal script.

Only pos­i­tive magic em­anated from the Mov­ing Peo­ple pro­duc­tion, which ran Dec. 4 to 6 at the James A. Lit­tle The­ater. Layla Amis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mov­ing Peo­ple, and Cur­tis Uh­le­mann, artis­tic di­rec­tor, co-di­rected this 10th and last year of the com­pany’s Nutcracker, known as Swingin’ Suites. Mu­sic in­cluded brief selections from Tchaikovsky’s bal­let score and jazz by Duke Elling­ton, Billy Stray­horn, and Glenn Miller.

In Mov­ing Peo­ple’s ver­sion, the hero is Maria Mon­toya, whose ec­cen­tric Aunt Drosselda ar­rives with mag­i­cal gifts, in­struc­tions in swing dance, and time-trav­el­ing pow­ers. No fright­en­ing Herr Drosselmeyer and no prince are found here. Af­ter Maria and her aunt sam­ple sur­prises in the Land of Swingin’ Sweets, they travel to the 1940s to face gang­ster rats. The only hint of dark­ness in this pro­duc­tion is the fight with the ro­dents.

Na­tional Dance In­sti­tute’s Vladimir Stad­nik di­rects this year’s “Nutcracker,” a 20-minute

Ipor­tion of NDI’s Home for the Hol­i­days pro­gram. Stad­nik stud­ied bal­let in St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia, at the Vaganova Bal­let Academy, which served the Kirov Bal­let (re­named the Maryin­sky Bal­let af­ter the Soviet Union dis­in­te­grated). As a Vaganova stu­dent, Stad­nik danced in the Kirov Bal­let’s Nutcracker pro­duc­tion, with chore­og­ra­phy by Vasily Vain­onen that re­tains some of the orig­i­nal scenes from the first Nutcracker ver­sion writ­ten by Mar­ius Petipa and chore­ographed by Lev Ivanov. Speak­ing by phone from NDI in Al­bu­querque, where he’s as­so­ciate artis­tic di­rec­tor (he’s also co­or­di­na­tor of bal­let for the School for Per­form­ing Arts at NDI in Santa Fe), Stad­nik de­scribed a cheery menu of Nutcracker ex­cerpts — no Nutcracker, no mice, and no fight­ing. Stad­nik in­cludes snip­pets of the bal­let’s themes that he has chore­ographed for NDI’s youngsters and teens. The “Dance of the Su­gar Plum Fairy” is the only clas­si­cal bal­let from old Rus­sian ver­sions. Home for the Hol­i­days also con­tains car­ols, tap danc­ing, and other en­ter­tain­ment.

Good magic is also at the core of ASFB’s clas­si­cal bal­let ver­sion of The Nutcracker, as cre­ated by Jean-Philippe Malaty and Tom Moss­brucker, the pro­fes­sional com­pany’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and artis­tic di­rec­tor, re­spec­tively. I con­tacted Malaty in Fayet­teville, Arkansas, dur­ing his break from re­hears­ing with the lo­cal cast of chil­dren for that city’s first ASFB Nutcracker. Malaty spoke of a cir­cus theme and an up-tempo Nutcracker pace as well as an em­pha­sis on cin­e­matic style, where more than one scene is al­ways on­stage to keep chil­dren’s at­ten­tion. The taped mu­sic is the Tchaikovsky score, with some cuts and more can­nons.

An avun­cu­lar Drosselmeyer ac­com­pa­nies the heroine, Clara, through the story, en­gag­ing her in the Hoff­man tale as he opens and reads to her from a gi­ant book. In­stead of Clara vis­it­ing the Land of Sweets, she trav­els to a fair and sits on a carousel and watches the en­ter­tain­ments. In the land of healthy snacks, novel dances are sub­sti­tuted for some of the tra­di­tional con­fec­tion dances. To con­clude, Clara closes the gi­ant book.

Gisela Gen­schow, di­rec­tor of the Santa Fe School of Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let, pre­pares her stu­dents for the lo­cal pro­duc­tion. The ASFB’s pro­fes­sional com­pany dances the adult roles, with a few dancers hired just for th­ese per­for­mances.

Gen­schow elab­o­rated the phi­los­o­phy of ASFB, say­ing there’s enough dark­ness in the world without hav­ing to scare the young au­di­ence. The prod­uct, Malaty added, has “no curses, no evil and good, just the dream of a lit­tle girl.” (Al­though the Nutcracker does kill the Rat King.) “If there’s a mes­sage, it’s about har­mony and di­ver­sity, a com­mu­nity uni­fied through the com­mon lan­guage of dance.”

Santa Fe na­tive Beth Kaczmarek, a guest dancer with Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let

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