Thursday, December 12, 2019

Adventure 43/50 : The Hard Nut

Twenty or so years ago, when I was a grad student at the University of California, I used to try and go to one "cultural event" per month -- despite having very little money. Students at Cal were lucky; we could go see anything at the multiple world-class performance venues on campus for half price. Which didn't necessarily mean things were cheap, but closer to the realm of possibility.

I've never been a dance fan -- I often appreciate the physicality but I don't often find it beautiful or otherwise appealing. But a friend suggested we go see the Mark Morris Dance Group's production of The Hard Nut, a retelling of the classic Nutcracker tale.

The dance opens on three bored children watching television and flipping through magazines, eventually opening up to a holiday party. Drosselmeyer gives Clara a nutcracker, etc. All the classic elements are there -- including the music -- but set in the 70s for the most part. Balanchine's version doesn't include a Soul Train-style dance line.

But the best part -- the part that has remained, even 20+ years later, the most breathtaking thing I've ever seen on stage -- is the Waltz of the Snowflakes.

Waltz of the Snowflakes, image courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group

It happens at the end of the first act -- the entire company dressed identically in small tutus and crop tops, coming across the stage in groups and lines, tossing little handfuls of "snow". I don't have the vocabulary to say that they are doing, but all I can say is that I found myself holding my breath during the piece, and when it finished and the curtain dropped I burst into tears. Just thinking about it still takes my breath away.

Fast forward 20-some years to when we saw the schedule for the "Broadway at the Paramount" series for the current season. In amidst the musicals they were including "The Hard Nut", and I squealed. It was a little weird -- they apologized, almost, and stated that if you weren't interested in the dance piece, they would remove it from your subscription. WHAT? It's the most exciting piece in the entire season, if you ask me.

Last night was our night to go, and well, it didn't disappoint. The party was fun, the dancing beautiful and physical, and, well, those snowflakes still made me gasp. I was sad to see it wasn't well attended, but the people who were there were appreciative, laughed at the right moments, gasped at the right moments, and applauded like mad. Nice surprise at the end: during the curtain calls, Mark Morris himself came out on stage, nattily dressed in a dark suit with a raspberry scarf. Sweet!

If you've never seen the Waltz of the Snowflakes, here's a video from the Mark Morris Dance Group from 1991. I wish it was just a static camera showing the way the dancers move across the entire stage, but it's still lovely. Happy Christmas!

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