The Yorkville Nutcracker
by Mary Cargill
Francis Patrelle, a New York teacher
and choreographer, has produced his own version of the Nutcracker,
which was performed at the Kay Playhouse in Hunter College last
week. Like most Nutcrackers, it includes a mixture of
students and professionals, but it has about as much in common
with many seasonal productions as, say, Tchaikovsky has with
Minkus. I do like listening to Minkus, and regional Nutcrackers
can be fun. But I enjoyed Patrelle's version without any qualifications.
He has changed the location from
Germany to Gracie Mansion (hence the "Yorkville") in
1895, where the then Mayor, William Strong, is giving a Christmas
party for his children Mary (the Clara) and Putnam Bradlee (the
Fritz). All the Consul Generals, with their children, come in
their native costumes, so the party scene is wonderfully colorful
and varied. (The costumes were all beautifully designed and very
well made.) Mary and Putnam's uncle, Noah Wheaton, is the Drosselmeyer,
who brings suitably American toys, including a life-sized bear.
The bear is the family friend Theodore Roosevelt in disguise,
danced by Francis Patrelle, in the most fun-loving appearance
of Roosevelt on stage since Arsenic and Old Lace.
The story is the traditional Nutcracker,
except that Mary's brother also takes the Nutcracker Prince
role. This fortunately leaves absolutely no room for any allegory
of a young girl's coming of age. (I do wish choreographers who
want to make a ballet out of The Interpretation of Dreams would
leave the Nutcracker music alone.) The New York locale
suits the story very well--the snow scene is on a pond in Central
Park in front of the Dakota, and the last act takes place in
the Crystal Palace of the Bronx Botanical Gardens. The sets are
painted flats (there is little room on the stage for any furniture),
very well designed and effective. The tree even grows.
The choreography is also very good,
not of course as expansive as Balanchine's, and quite varied,
with interesting contrasts between the social dances, the character
dances, and the classical variations. I
particularly like the adagio from the Nutcracker pas de deux,
where the plaintive rising and falling music can invite difficult
and cumbersome lifts. Patrelle's choreography was not flashy,
but had a musical flow
and genuine charm.
His sugar Plum was Jenifer Ringer,
who has recently been back dancing with the New York City Ballet.
She had been a joy to watch at City Ballet, until, reportedly,
a serious injury interrupted her career. Her performance was
radiant. She always had an elegant and refined upper body, which
Patrelle's choreography showed off, and a warm and generous stage
presence, which the intimate stage magnified.
The Yorkville Nutcracker would be a pleasure just for a chance
to see her, but many of the other dancers were very impressive.
Mary was the 12-year old Daria Foner, whose dark, expressive
eyes make her look a bit like the young Natalie Wood. She is
a natural actress, going from wide-eyed joy to despair over her
broken Nutcracker without every becoming coy or self-conscious.
Deborah Wingert, formerly of the New York City Ballet, was a
majestic and gracious Snow Queen. I particularly enjoyed the
young Philip Spencer (a student at SAB) as the Russian dancer.
He has a sharp, energetic, yet graceful and accurate style, and
he looked particularly dashing in his red uniform.
This was a warmhearted and charming
Nutcracker, which though it lacks the grandeur of a larger
production, might in some ways be more fun for
children, because of its intimacy. And the quality of the dancing
certainly made it fun for adults.