Evaluate: This ‘Nutcracker’ Is a Fantasy You Can Enter
You’ll have seen the ballet “The Nutcracker” numerous occasions. Watching it yearly may be a vacation custom. However have you ever ever been inside it?
This weekend, I stood in entrance of a home I had by no means visited earlier than, however acquainted music made it look like a spot I had lengthy identified. Then the door opened and I walked proper into the ballet.
This dreamlike expertise — and the way it’s sustained — is the nice achievement of “The Nutcracker at Wethersfield,” which BalletCollective is presenting by means of Dec. 23 on the Wethersfield Property in Amenia, N.Y. (The manufacturing can be additionally streamed at no cost on its web site Dec. 23-26.)
Wethersfield is a discover. A pink brick, Georgian-style home with antique-stuffed parlors, surrounded by formal gardens and augmented for the event with a circus tent, it makes for a near-perfect “Nutcracker” set. Or greater than a set: the place you’ve at all times imagined, a fantasy you possibly can enter.
This particular achievement is related to a extra primary one. Most if not all dwell “Nutcrackers” within the space have been canceled, together with the one which issues most to the solid of this manufacturing. Its inventive director and choreographer, Troy Schumacher, and virtually all of its 23 dancers are members of New York Metropolis Ballet, whose benchmark Balanchine manufacturing they gained’t be performing this yr. (A 2019 recording is streaming by means of Jan. 3 on Marquee TV.)
However an immersive “Nutcracker” at a secluded property is feasible in the course of the pandemic. On this rigorously designed operation, masked visitors cluster in seven to eight socially distanced pods, self-selected teams of two to 6 folks. I say “visitors” as a result of you possibly can’t purchase tickets, precisely. Pandemic restrictions don’t permit that. As a substitute, underwriters contributing a minimal of $5,000 are invited to convey a bunch. Forty % of the slots are provided at no cost to native nonprofits and important employees — and to a couple critics like me in order that we might inform the story.
A extra intimate “Nutcracker,” that is in some senses a diminished one. For the opening occasion scene, it’s simply the nuclear household — Mother and Dad, Fritz and Marie (performed by adults) — plus an avuncular Drosselmeyer with a present for magic and three pods of audience-guests huddling within the corners. It’s exceptional, although, how a lot is retained: the comfy ambiance, two dancing toys, 4 large mice.
The Tchaikovsky music is piped in, however some visitors expertise an interlude in an ornate room throughout which the violinist Lauren Cauley performs a virtuosic fantasia on themes from the rating. It’s a pleasant addition to the occasion, and likewise a part of the not-quite-flawless pacing and spacing — occupying the primary visitors whereas later arrivals watch a repeat of the opening part. At factors when the method stalls, you possibly can observe and admire the nonetheless spectacular mechanism.
Peeking by means of home windows from the skin is the way you witness bedtime and the arrival of the mice. Every audience-group sees a unique view. In mine, all of the performers — Drosselmeyer, the daddy, a mouse — couldn’t resist messing with a chess board, as if they’d all been watching “The Queen’s Gambit.”
A lot of the recent particularities are like that: small, on the lovable aspect. The human-size Nutcracker crosses swords with the Mouse King in a courtyard, scaring him off reasonably than killing him, and with no assist from Marie. However then we observe the Nutcracker into marvel.
On the fringe of an oval pool, we watch a gorgeously framed “Waltz of the Snowflakes” within the distance, the dancers doing their greatest on a grassy slope. We observe topiary paths strewn with fairy lights into the tent, the place a desk has been set for every pod, topped with faux and untouchable treats.
Within the heart is a stage, which suggests there might be actual dancing. a lot of the standard divertissement from Act II — minus “Espresso” and “Tea,” and their ethnic-stereotype pitfalls. Mr. Schumacher’s choreography is ample, skillfully assembly the problem of in-the-round staging with an occasional felicity however no actual magic.
The dancing was additionally tremendous, as much as Metropolis Ballet requirements however not Metropolis Ballet heights. As can occur within the Balanchine manufacturing, the Sugarplum Fairy (Ashley Laracey, who alternates with Sara Mearns) was outshone by the Dewdrop, Mira Nadon, who glowed with amplitude and ballerina authority amid eight waltzing flowers.
However whereas a part of the purpose of this manufacturing is to get members of an awesome firm dancing once more, it’s not likely about nice choreography or nice dancing. Neither is it actually concerning the full Nutcracker story, which is partially left behind in favor of the journey. After we go away the home, we by no means see Marie and her household once more. It’s as if we’ve got change into them.
That transformation is the true magic of this resolution to a pandemic drawback. What I discovered most transferring was the mime by which the dancers and some ushers guided us by means of the ballet. This was danced courtesy, a heat welcome, and as a lot because the setting, it invited me proper into the center of a ballet I felt fortunate to not have missed.
The Nutcracker at Wethersfield
Via Dec. 23 at Wethersfield Property, Amenia, N.Y.; and streaming Dec. 23-26, nutcrackeratwethersfield.com.
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