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"The Hard Nut" Is a Great Twist on "The Nutcracker

Brandon Randolph, Mark Morris, John Heginbotham. Photo by Richard Termine

At the matinee on Saturday, December 22nd, as part of the 2018 Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I at long last was able to see the marvelous The Hard Nut from 1991—an endlessly inventive reimagining by Mark Morris of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s immeasurably popular The Nutcracker, after the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann—which replaces the American Ballet Theater production of Alexei Ratmansky’s extraordinary adaptation of the same classic.
This is almost certainly the most delightful and charming opus by the choreographer that I have seen, inspired by the work of cartoonist Charles Burns, with wonderful Pop Art-influenced sets designed by Adrianne Lobel and colorful costumes by Martin Pakledinaz. The music was thrillingly performed by the MMDG Music Ensemble and The Hard Nut Singers, admirably conducted by Colin Fowler.
The satirical spirits of Jerome Robbins and Paul Taylor would seem to be Morris’s likely precursors here, although he refreshingly violates the norms of classical ballet. Throughout he maintains a productive tension with the composer’s glorious score, the frequently intense Romanticism of which starkly contrasts with the choreographer’s burlesque. In the first act, Morris stays closer to the ballet’s original scenario, setting the framing story in a Christmas party in an American household of presumably more than forty years ago, while the second act departs into pure phantasmagoria.
I can scarcely do justice to the full panoply of terrific, often gender-bending dancers in this production, including amongst many others: Lauren Grant as Marie; June Omura as Fritz; Lesley Garrison, hilarious and sexy as Louise and Princess Pirlipat; John Heginbotham as Mrs. Stahlbaum and the Queen; Brandon Randolph as the Housekeeper and Nurse; Billy Smith as Drosselmeier; Aaron Loux as the Nutcracker and Young Drosselmeier; and Morris himself—who proves to be an adept comedian—as Dr. Stahlbaum and the King.
The Hard Nut should not be missed and one hopes that it, as well as Ratmansky’s brilliantly Nutcracker, will join George Balanchine’s deservedly celebrated production at New York City Ballet as a permanent Christmas feature locally. I eagerly await the choreographer’s forthcoming Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at BAM, premiering this spring.

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