Corrections or additions?

This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the November 21,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

`Nutcracker’ Comforts

The winter holiday season is traditionally a time for

comfort foods — hearty soups, savory roasts, pies, and sweets

of all kinds. But if America’s appetites seem dulled as we enter this

year’s more difficult holiday, it’s wise to remember that the arts

offer their own menu of comfort foods. And among these, "The

Nutcracker"

rates near the top for a confectionery family feast.

American Repertory Ballet’s artistic director Graham Lustig and the

award-winning stage designer Zack Brown have created a new vision

of the favorite wintertime entertainment. Unveiled for the first time

last season, their lavish new "Nutcracker" — which came

in slightly under its $450,000 budget — takes the holiday favorite

out of its customary Victorian surroundings into the elegant parlors

of turn-of-the-century Viennese society. Each performance features

a cast of 40 adults and 75 children, many dressed for multiple roles

in Brown’s brilliant and fanciful costumes.

Performances of ARB’s "Nutcracker" begin on Wednesday,

November

21, at McCarter Theater in Princeton, continuing through November

26. The production will be presented December 7 and 8 at New Jersey

Performing Arts Center, Newark; December 15 and 16 at the State

Theater

in New Brunswick; and December 22 at Patriots Theater at the War

Memorial

in Trenton. Some performances feature special children’s events,

including

Land of the Sweets Receptions and Snowball Brunches.

Leading his company into the holiday season, Lustig is poignantly

aware of the national anxiety. Earlier in his career, as a dancer

in London, he remembers what it was like to be stuck in a crowded

subway car at rush hour during an IRA bomb alert. Today he believes

that helping families and friends coming together to share precious

experiences is more important than ever.

"Our loss is a loss of so many innocent people, but it is also

a loss of innocence," he says. "We hope our `Nutcracker’

performances

can restore our faith in so much of what we feel is precious —

most of all for our children. This gives nurture to our souls at a

time when the soul has been much troubled."

ARB opened its annual season on September 29 with a program titled

"Dance For All" presented with the Carolyn Dorfman Company

at the State Theater. The performance was preceded by a two-minute

silent candlelight tribute to those lost to terrorist violence, with

dancers, staff, technical crew, and State Theater staff all gathered

together onstage.

Lustig says the art give affirmation both to the audience and the

performers. In "The Nutcracker", busy party scenes,

larger-than-life

children’s dreams, and fantastical dancing sweets all come alive on

the theater stage.

"It’s very life affirming to be surrounded by all these children

— 75 in each cast, and we have two-and-a-half casts. And in Newark

we perform with the children of the Garden State Ballet School, and

also with the Newark Boys Choir," he says.

"With so many students performing, this is a time that gives us

a whole sense of the family, and of the close-knit community around

us, and how precious that is. Students this year are an inch or two

taller than last and they’re dancing new roles. It’s truly

delightful."

In St. Petersburg, Russia, where the ballet was born, the original

1892 production of "The Nutcracker" was deemed a theatrical

failure and both Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa died

without ever knowing they had created a 20th-century best-seller.

The first production outside Russia was in London in 1934 and in

American

some 10 years later.

George Balanchine’s first production for New York City Ballet, based

on his own childhood memories of performing it in Russia, was in 1954.

His success was such that it has become a staple for companies across

the nation. New Jersey Ballet and Roxey Ballet are among many

companies

presenting the show in New Jersey this year.

Audree Estey, who founded the Princeton Ballet School in 1954,

presented

Princeton’s first "Nutcracker." Though influenced by

Balanchine’s,

her production was notable for its lavish use of children and students

in all stages of professional development to tell the holiday story.

Today ARB’s opening scene provides a setting for Lustig’s storytelling

gifts and Brown’s stylish gowns and party dresses. From a warm,

spacious

drawing room, a big picture window looks out onto a frozen lake. And

while the party scene unfolds indoors, we can also watch a young

couple

courting and a snowball fight outdoors.

Once Marie’s dreams begin, the Viennese influence extends into the

ballet’s fantastical characters. The Rat King wears a lavish black

velvet robe, trimmed in ermine, decorated with sinuous ropes of gold

braid that is based on Viennese court dress of the period. The magical

Snow Scene, set within a beautiful frozen silver birch forest,

features

young dancers dressed as big rotund snowballs who dance playfully

with elegant snow maidens in ice-blue gowns.

"I don’t want to boast, but we received an overwhelmingly positive

response last year — sometimes from complete strangers," says

Lustig. He reports that at a New York dance performance not long ago,

a young woman tapped him on the shoulder to tell him that she and

her boyfriend had enjoyed this "Nutcracker" so much, that

when they had children they were planning to bring them to his

production.

"`The Nutcracker’ is our holiday gift to our larger community,

so we can communicate the joy we take in what we do," says Lustig.

"But the gift of our dance is only valid when we present it. It’s

only be giving our gift that we become alive."

— Nicole Plett

The Nutcracker, American Repertory Ballet, McCarter

Theater, 91 University Place, 609-258-2787. $25 & $30. Performances

Wednesday, November 21, 7 p.m., and Friday, November 23,

through Monday, November 26.

The Nutcracker, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark,

732-246-7469. Accompaniment by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

$15 to $40. Friday, December 7, 7 p.m., & Saturday, December

8, 1:30 and 6 p.m.

The Nutcracker, State Theater, Livingston Avenue, New

Brunswick, 732-246-7469. Performed to live music. $20 & $25.

Saturday

& Sunday, December 15 & 16, 1:30 & 4:30 p.m.

The Nutcracker, American Repertory Ballet, Patriots

Theater, War Memorial, Trenton, 609-984-8400. $20 & $25. Saturday,

December 22, 1 & 4:30 p.m.

More `Nutcrackers’

The Nutcracker, Roxey Ballet, New Hope-Solebury

High School, 180 West Bridge Street, New Hope, 609-397-7616. The

seasonal

favorite danced by the Lambertville-based Roxey Ballet. $20.

Friday,

November 23, through Sunday, November 25.

The Nutcracker, Raritan Valley Community College,

Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420. International Ballet Theater

presents holiday show. $22 and $27. Friday, December 14, 7 p.m.

and Saturday, December 15, at 2 p.m.

The Nutcracker, Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside

Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343. New Jersey Ballet’s production features

a cast of 100, sets by Michael Anania, and live accompaniment by the

Paper Mill Orchestra. $20 to $44. Performances Friday, December

21, through Sunday, December 30.


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