Ballet San Jose’s New Nutcracker

12 Dec

Karen Gabay was commissioned to choreograph Ballet San Jose’s “Nutcracker,” following the unfortunate departure of Dennis Nahat, leaving his production of the holiday perennial in limbo. Ms. Gabay was affiliated with that production from its second season onward; thus,  her familiarity with the score, the plot and the choreography was quite logical.

Equally logical, I suppose, was the use of American Ballet Theatre’s production mounted by Mikhail Baryshnikov; it got a new audience and I am sure ABT got some sort of rental out of it. While there were some pleasing touches in Paul Kelly’s designs for the production, the drop curtain’s blue with its concave snow scene and nestled cabins was almost garish in its intensity; it was little relieved by the border with a nutcracker on one side, a pink-tutued dancer arms en couronne on the other side and toys scattered over and around the top. With a fin de siecle First Act set with deep brown walls, it was hard to fathom what had happened to the excitement and the warmth  associated with other versions.  I credit Theoni V. Aldredge,  the original designer, with the women’s gracefully flowing costumes.  George Daugherty kept the orchestra at a lively clip and David K. H. Elliott lit the story with his usual sensitivity.

Raymond Rodriguez, the company ballet master, became Drosselmeyer in  nearly stringed-puppet style, his dark hair topped by an obvious white wig and  demeanor which seemed to copy Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, unlike his hilarious  gimpy general in Graduation Ball.  His Drosselmeyer  is a bit of a misogynist;  the family maid  had to heist his bulky box of tricks and gifts.

For opening night, Maria Jacobs-Yu and  Ramon Moreno were cast as Marie and her Prince. Other pairs include Karen Gabay and Maykel Solas and Alexsandra Meijer and Jeremy Kovitch.

The child Clara has been abandoned for an adult Marie dressed in demure calf-length white with touches of lace at the collar and wrists. Mirai Noda participated in a pantomime of ‘The Hard Nut’ where three males contend to crack the nut which will release a royal coma  from the touch of a slinking mouse;  the King and Queen go into paroxysms of grief anger and ineffective broom wielding.  The two unsuccessful suitors, Nimble and Nye, danced by Akira Takahashi and Peter Hershey, danced a pas de deux of a quality equal to their names, one of the best crafted in the ballet and, yes, nimbly executed.

Marie was  assigned the Sugar Plum Fairy music in Act I as a kind of reverie before the mice come round.  Marie was all over the ballet, except the Russian, Arabic and Chinese variations in Act II;   for all Jacobs-Yu’s skill and charm , this omnipresence diminished instead of cohering the story. Ramon Moreno, whose grand jetes, jazz style [en face instead of on a diagonal] were peppered around to a fault, danced with his usual panache; he was allowed to give the hand and cheek of Marie, a refreshing human touch.

Both the Snow Scene and the opening of Act II included students from the San Jose Ballet School, Snow en pointe and Act II opening in soft shoe; that like a year-end student recital. The Waltz of the Flowers, seen previously at the company Gala in November, repeated its geometrical paces with Jacobs-Yu and Moreno making a late appearance as the central couple.

The variations were danced with great energy, the Russian enhanced by Amy Marie Briones as the central figure, doffing her cap at the finale after having dazzled us with the forceful  turns and  strong jumps.  Three Japanese dubbed as Chinese for that variation – Akira Takahashi, Mirai Noda and Junna Ige maneuvering in “Oriental” pastiche typical of Russian ballet.  When it came to the Arabian, Maximo Califano was permitted polygamy with Ruth Ann Namey and Nutnaree Pipit-Suskun.  The latter’s gestures conveyed everything  expected in sensual allure;  hip swivels  delivered with understated humor.

Califano, it should be noted, did more than a lion’s share in the production, moving from the Rat King to the Arabian before shoving himself into Mere Maxine’s eighteenth century hoops which sheltering students dressed as an  international  covey of children.

I enjoy the artistry of Jacobs-Yu and Moreno; but  the choreography did not  create some possible spectacular phrasing in the grand pas de deux.  Emphasized were supported pirouettes, arabesques and attitudes, few, if any, lifts where the Tchaikovsky score swelled to suggest a physical echo.  Since Gabay is  dancing in the production,  Marie’s role may have been tailored to her own technical range.

My reservations did not seem shared with other audience members.  The woman in front of me rose spontaneously when the dancers bowed to the audience.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: