Irreverent, hilarious parody of the Nutcracker ballet
Watching "The Hard Nut" is like reading "Dave Barry Slept Here" or seeing the Reduced Shakespeare Company: the more familiar you are with the source material, the funnier the parody is. Having seen innumerable productions of "The Nutcracker" over the years, I find Mark Morris's take on the tale hysterical; it gets better with every viewing. Morris places the Hoffman tale somewhere in the late '70s. His party guests are swingers and hipsters; his Drosselmeier is a suave man-about-town; his Marie is a whiny, spoiled girl who blossoms (uncomfortably) into womanhood; and his Nutcracker Prince resembles a Bob's Big Boy statue. The striking set design, based on the comic books of Charles Burns, plays with the conventions of staging the much-loved ballet; the traditional Victorian Christmas tree is replaced with a gaudy, white, plastic monstrosity; the party guests dance to the light of the televised WPIX Yule Log; the backdrop for the oddly loping `Waltz of the Flowers' is a bizarre, vaginal blossom.
Ironically, Morris's take on the ballet is, in storyline at least, more faithful to E. T. A. Hoffman's tale of the Nutcracker than any other version I've seen. The second act tells the entire second half of the story -- the tale of the ugly princess and the Mouse Queen -- while ingeniously working in the usual `international' dances. Most productions of the ballet dispense with the `narrative' after Marie and her Prince have traveled to the land of the Sugarplum Fairy, but Morris's version tells an entire story. Not even the much-lauded Maurice Sendak/Pacific Northwest Ballet version adheres to Hoffman's tale with such fidelity.
You may be able to locate a video of this production by contacting the Brooklyn Academy of Music, www.bam.org; Mark Morris's dance group performs there regularly. It is worth seeking out. The dancing is remarkable and the production pokes fun at a holiday tradition with reverence and wit.
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