The Nutcracker

The American Ballet Theatre at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Thursday, December 30.

The Nutcracker has never been one of my favorite ballets. The Act I party scenes are dull, the Act II ethnic character dances are discomfiting, and the girl-and-her-nutcracker plot is so bizarre that I’ve never been able to make much emotional sense of it.

Yet despite my mixed feelings about The Nutcracker, I’ve seen it more than any other ballet. (In fact, I’ve already written about it two times here on this blog, which might help account for my pitiful sluggishness in finishing this post.) It’s a holiday standard, of course, but that doesn’t mean much to me. (Case in point: I have never seen one of those ubiquitous Rankin/Bass holiday specials—not even Rudolph.) Perversely enough, those mixed feelings are probably the reason for my repeated attendance at The Nutcracker. It’s such an insanely weird ballet that I’m always fascinated to see what the choreographers do with it. I’m usually disappointed or mildly repulsed, at least to some degree, but for some reason, that doesn’t stop me.

Alexei Ratmansky’s new production for the American Ballet Theatre works better than most. Most notably, the choreographer doubles the child Clara and child Nutcracker with an adult couple, their imagined grown-up selves—a conceit that works beautifully. It allows him to provide the main characters with virtuosic choreography, obviously, but it also gives the ballet a stronger dramatic arc, making this Nutcracker sweeter and more intimate than most. I only wish Ratmansky had extended that same thoughtfulness to some of the ballet’s other icky elements, but I suppose it wouldn’t be The Nutcracker if something wasn’t make me mildly queasy. And now I have something to bitch about. Tradition!