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Retro and Traditional Nutcrackers Take the Brooklyn Stage

Friday, December 17, 2010

From a burlesque "Nutcracker Rouge" to the more traditional George Balanchine New York City Ballet show, there's no shortage of Nutcrackers in the city this holiday season. And if you head to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (B.A.M.), you won't even have to go into Manhattan to see two very different adaptations of E.T.A. Hoffman's novelette.

Through Sunday, Dec. 19, the Mark Morris Dance Group brings its "The Hard Nut" back to B.A.M. after an eight-year absence. The show is a witty, gender-bending take on the Nutcracker story set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score. Scenes feature actors making merry with plenty of booze in the swinging '60s or '70s, all against sets based on designs of the comic book artist Charles Burns.

The company's founder, Mark Morris, created the production in 1990 in Brussels where "The Hard Nut" had its world premier in 1991. This year, Morris, 54, plays a new part. "For years, I played an inebriated party guest in Act I at the party, and I used to dance the beautiful "Arabian Lady" dance," Morris told me the morning of Friday's show. "This year, I've been promoted, I guess, to Dr. Stahlbaum who's the pater familias...My principal role is to back up the beautiful Mrs. Stahlbaum who is played by John Heginbotham."

After "The Hard Nut" leaves the stage on Sunday, the American Ballet Theater (A.B.T.) puts on Alexei Ratmansky's "Nutcracker" at B.A.M. beginning (in previews) on Wednesday, Dec. 22nd. (It has its world premier at the Dec. 22nd evening show.) Ratmansky, who is the former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, joined A.B.T. as "Artist in Residence" in January of 2009. "The Nutcracker" is his first full-length ballet for the company. Richard Hudson, who won a Tony for his stage design for "The Lion King" in 1998, designed new scenery and costumes for Ratmansky's production.

This is only the third time in A.B.T.'s 70-year history that it's performed the Nutcracker. Mikhail Baryshnikov choreographed the company's first "Nutcracker," which received its New York premier in 1977, and A.B.T.'s artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, choreographed the second show in 1993.

"The Hard Nut" plays at B.A.M.'s Howard Gilman Opera House on Dec. 17th and 18th at 7:30 P.M. and 19th at 3 P.M. Tickets start at $25. The A.B.T.'s "Nutcracker" also plays at  B.A.M.'s Howard Gilman Opera House from Dec. 22nd to Jan. 2nd. Tickets start at $20.

One of many funny moments in Mark Morris' production
Photo by Stephanie Berger/Courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music
One of many funny moments in Mark Morris' production "The Hard Nut."
A dinner party scene in Act I of Mark Morris's 'The Hard Nut.'
Photo by Stephanie Berger/Courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music
A dinner party scene in Act I of Mark Morris's 'The Hard Nut.'
Mark Morris as Dr. Stahlbaum  (left) dancing with Amber Star Merkens as a Party Guest (right)
Photo by Stephanie Berger/Courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music
Mark Morris as Dr. Stahlbaum (left) dancing with Amber Star Merkens as a Party Guest (right)
Kraig Patterson as the Nurse, Mark Morris as the King, and John Heginbotham as the Queen (left to right) in 'The Hard Nut.'
Photo by Stephanie Berger/Courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music
Kraig Patterson as the Nurse, Mark Morris as the King, and John Heginbotham as the Queen (left to right) in 'The Hard Nut.'
David Leventhal as the Nutcracker and Utafumi Takemura as the Rat King in the Battle Scene of 'The Hard Nut.'
Photo by Stephanie Berger/Courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music
David Leventhal as the Nutcracker and Utafumi Takemura as the Rat King in the Battle Scene of 'The Hard Nut.'
The Mark Morris dancers in the 'Snow Scene
Photo by Stephanie Berger/Courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music
The Mark Morris dancers in the 'Snow Scene" from 'The Hard Nut.'
Clara and her doll in Alexei Ratmansky's new production.
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor/Courtesy of ABT
Clara and her doll in Alexei Ratmansky's new production.
'The Nutcracker' as seen through different lense: Gillian Murphy and Catherine Hurlin as Clara in the ABT's 'Nutcracker' production.
Photo by Fabrizio Ferri/Courtesy of ABT
'The Nutcracker' as seen through different lense: Gillian Murphy and Catherine Hurlin as Clara in the ABT's 'Nutcracker' production.
Catherine Hurlin and Philip Perez in The ABT's 'Nutcracker.'
Fabrizio Ferri/Courtesy of ABT
Catherine Hurlin and Philip Perez in the ABT's 'Nutcracker.'

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