By Glenda Rice Collins, Updated 1-3-20
Bartlesville, Okla., USA — As media and culture analyst, author Marshall McLuhan said decades ago, “The medium is the massage…it does something to people. It takes hold of them. It rubs them off, it massages them and bumps them around, chiropractically, as it were…The poet, the artist, the sleuth – whoever sharpens our perception tends to be antisocial; rarely “well-adjusted,” he cannot go along with currents and trends…There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.”
On that note, I recently set out to reflect further on the past decade, and influential trends in ballet during the past century, that have contributed to the charm of the enduring holiday classic The Nutcracker. To fairly analyze, “First, sum up the culture and the changing times,” thought I. A museum visit helps to consider the larger framework.
Food for Thought: Contemplative Exhibitions
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened on October 21, 1959, and in 2019,
celebrated 60 years as an architectural icon and “temple of spirit” where radical art and architecture meet.
On the dance theme, I especially enjoyed recently viewing a familiar Degas classic while there. The details of its creation are as wondrous as the resulting masterpiece, involving layers of delicate media, refinement and technique! The same can be said of the creation of new, full-length ballets, as well as of diverse art and architectural forays, ongoing.
December 2019 brought to mind my New York City holiday experiences of the previous year, which included my first visit to both the Guggenheim Museum, recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and to Lincoln Center, where New York City Ballet opened the David H. Koch Theater (the former New York State Theater) in 1964, having since been the resident ballet company, performing there 23 weeks of the year.
Current New York City Ballet productions of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® continue through Sunday, January 5, 2020, thereby completing the schedule of 47 performances this season at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. For additional details, and slideshow images visit https://www.nycballet.com/Ballets/N/George-Balanchines-The-Nutcracker.aspx.
As part of its mission to collect, conserve, and promote understanding of the art of our time, the Guggenheim has long engaged experimental performance, dance, music, and theater, as well as related mediums such as film, video, and installation. These intertwined modes of aesthetic creation have played a pivotal role in the history of modern and contemporary art.
Works and Process Series
Since 1984, the performing arts series Works & Process at the Guggenheim, has championed new works and offered audiences unprecedented access to leading creators. The intimate Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Peter B. Lewis Theater is the venue for seventy-minute programs that explore the creative process through stimulating discussions and riveting performance highlights. One-of-a-kind productions created for the Guggenheim’s rotunda offer a unique experience of the landmark space celebrating 60 years as an architectural icon.
January 13 – 14, 2020, 7:30 p.m. — Les Ballet Afrik and Ephrat Asherie Dance
February 23, 2020, 3 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. – Pennsylvania Ballet: La Bayadère by Angel Corella
The full schedule and details are available at worksandprocess.org.
Architecture that Broke the Rules
While my New York City visit allowed me to compare two famed Frank Lloyd Wright architectural deviants — downtown Bartlesville, Oklahoma’s Price Tower, completed in 1956, (his only skyscraper: located near my current home); and his unique Manhattan
masterpiece, the spiraling Fifth Avenue Guggenheim Museum — the Lincoln Center visit allowed me to compare the New York City Ballet’s enduring, traditional version of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, with Tulsa Ballet’s impressive, mid-America version of the holiday classic in my hometown: artistic director Marcello Angelini’s The Nutcracker, created in 2003, and soon to be replaced with another world premiere.
The iconic Russian George Balanchine (1904-1983) is well-known for reflecting the evolving hi-tech culture with exhausting, faster-paced demands on his sleek, technically proficient dancers. Past decades, he demanded emotional restraint in his black and white, sharper, faster choreography, and turned against designating stars in the company, so his dance choreography could star on stage.
Yet, he maintained a traditional approach to his Nutcracker ballet, while changing the “Clara” role to be re-named “Marie.” along the way. And last month, 11-year-old Charlotte Nebres was cast as the first black “Marie” in the NYCB ongoing production.
Honoring tradition and re-framing the past
The current New York City Ballet …Nutcracker production, featuring Balanchine’s pristine influence of past decades, honors his traditional technique and staging, while
Angelini’s Tulsa Ballet choreography situates the performers in upscale 1920’s Paris, with all the dazzling accoutrements that one would expect: regal sophistication reflected in the elegant, flowing black silk gowns for the fashionable women in the party scene; and paparazzi characters on scene to hype their arrival on stage with vehicular flair!
The sets, costumes, characters, and choreography refreshed the mood of the holiday classic, for nearly two decades, with Angelini’s refined Parisian approach, as imagined by an inspired Italian choreographer!
I re-visited Angelini’s sumptuous The Nutcracker ballet again last month at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, and it remains tastefully dazzling! Balletomanes have one more holiday season in 2020 in which to view the glorious production before it is retired.
Consider the Culture
As Angelini said when he took over the reins of Tulsa Ballet in 1994, “We cannot present work for which the public is not ready.” Yet, he has gradually “readied” the public to accept and applaud major works here from many of the most distinguished contemporary choreographers in the world. By cultivating an environment of international wherewithal, this evolution has produced the acclaimed TBT resident choreographer, Chinese Ma Cong, who will choreograph a new Nutcracker ballet for TBT, to be unveiled in 2021, to coincide with Tulsa Ballet’s 65th anniversary.
The $1.5 million project is said to be the largest in Tulsa Ballet history.
Then and Now: Relevant 1950’s History
About half a century ago, the late George Balanchine (1904-1983), co-founder of New York City Ballet, created the first The Nutcracker for his company in 1954. The original cast included famed American Indian (Osage) ballerina Maria Tallchief (1925-2013), of Fairfax, Oklahoma — “America’s prima ballerina” of that decade, according to Time magazine. when her image graced the cover.
Since then, the popularity of the current holiday ballet classic increased dramatically over the years across America. Tulsa Ballet, (co-founded by another American Indian ballerina, Moscelyne Larkin (1925-2012) in 1956 as Tulsa Civic Ballet), celebrated 50 years of full-length The Nutcracker productions in 2019, with nine December performances of the acclaimed 2003 Angelini version, accompanied by the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra at the Tulsa PAC.
West Coast Scene
At the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, American Ballet Theatre on tour dazzled audiences with 12 performances last month, featuring The Nutcracker created by celebrated choreographer and ABT artist-in-residence Alexei Ratmansky (b. 1968), with Pacific Symphony. The Russian-American Ratmansky is a former director of the Bolshoi Ballet, and a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” award.
The Orange County Register praised it as a “… colorful, cinematic creation filled with spectacle, humor and eye-popping costumes.”
According to my California cousin, Cathy Stanfill, the Ratmansky details feature a kitchen scene where food is being prepared, and “the mice at play while the cooks are away.” She attended the ballet last month with her Mother, my aunt Mary Esther, now in her 90’s, who most enjoyed “the Mouse under the table!” My cousin, however, most enjoyed the enchantment of “the Snow Scene and Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Something for everyone choreography still skillfully balances fulfillment with both delightful humor and breathtaking, ethereal beauty, from coast to coast. Bravo!
March 5 – 8, 2020: American Ballet Theatre returns to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts with the world premiere of the Alexei Ratmansky ballet, Of Love and Rage. For ABT tour details, visit https://www.abt.org/performances/abt-on-tour/ .
Battle of the Nutcrackers
As history of the past decade suggests, there is considerable room for new interpretations of The Nutcracker ballet. As shown on Ovation TV’s Battle of the Nutcrackers programming since 2007, the competition therein produced a three-time ‘winner’ in viewer-voter’s applause for Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut rendition in the first three years of the televised competition. In recent years, the Ovation TV …Nutcracker competitions have included various productions ranging from those of The Royal Opera House Ballet to the Mariinsky Theatre.
Dance in the Details: First consider the changing culture
Now: Current Guggenheim New York City exhibitions include Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection, described as “the first-ever artist-curated exhibition mounted at the Guggenheim,” with revolutionary modern and contemporary art on view during the 60th anniversary celebration. Curated by Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chan, Jenny Holzer, Julie Mehretu, Richard Prince, and Carrie Mae Weems—artists who each have had influential solo shows at the museum.
To view The Ten Most Popular Artworks in the Guggenheim’s Collection Online in 2019, visit:
Exhibitions at Price Tower Arts Center, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Ending, January 5, 2020
Witness to Faith:
The Biblical Art of Sadao Watanabe
Featuring “Woven Treasures”
January 24, 2020 – March 22, 2020
GOFF & GREENE Painting the Continuous Present
Featuring works by Bruce Goff and Herb Greene
“Art is whatever you can get away with.” — Marshall McLuhan
# # # # #Glenda Rice Collins 1-3-20