My friend, Michael Northrop, and I were invited to a rehearsal of a rated R Nutcracker on Sunday evening. I had to leave early but Michael kindly stayed and wrote up this review. I took the photo above with my iphone. Here’s Michael:
Did you see the movie Bad Santa? No, me neither, but you get the idea. Holiday traditions are familiar and tend toward the precious and that makes them excellent targets for parody and irreverence. The thing about parody in the dance world, of course, is that it has to be well danced. The examples that leap to mind, en pointe, are the bounding “ballerinos” of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. The modern ballet Nutcracker: Rated R fits the bill nicely, as well.
This raunchy, entertaining Nut is set in early 1980s New York, the era of subway trains tagged tip-to-tail with graffiti, collapsing tenements, and a drug dealer on every corner, rather than a Starbucks. I got an early Christmas present when I got to watch a rehearsal of Act I on Sunday night.
Choreographer/director Angela Harriell got right to business working through the kinks, so to speak, in an intricately choreographed fight scene pitting rats vs. the soiled soldiers of the Department of Sanitation. The rats knew martial arts, which was bound to happen in this city sooner or later. Hyosun Choi, a Mighty Mouse of a rat, flew over the top of a leaning Sanitation worker with a perfect miss of a kick only to take on another.
Harriell gave the dancers plenty of freedom to improvise: “And then it’s whatever you want,” she said. “Wrestle! wrestle! And then there’s the hitting sound.”
Many hitting sounds later, a quick run-through revealed a fun, feisty fight scene, and it was on to the next piece: the Party Scene. The Tchaikovsky was cued up and the partners took their places. A few more quotes from Harriell should give you a good idea of the action:
“Then there’s the moment when you pick up the dildo and you’re like, ‘Nobody needs to know about that,’ and you keep it for yourself.”
“So let’s get back to the drunk parents dance . . . Yeah, you’re totally easy.”
“Then it’s open step and closed step and open and shake-a, shake-a butt.”
Sometimes the dancers had questions:
“So on the second triple thing,” said Eddie Gutierrez, “there’s no butt at the end?”
Harriell had the answers and kept them on the music:
“And roll in, and throw up, and 1-2-3-4!”
The party scene ends on a late-night subway platform. [I’ll pause here so you can remember what that’s like.] And then there was a final run-through of “most of Act I.” The marked steps and questions were replaced by muscular lifts-at a few points, dancer Michael MacLaren was defending three women against the ground-dramatic extensions, and long stretches of seriously good dancing. The dancers were having fun, and it came through in the movement. It was a blast, even in an unadorned studio after two and a half hours. I don’t see what chance the audience has to resist it when the full production hits the stage.
Nutcracker: Rated R begins its fourth season, December 17-31, at New York’s Theater for the New City in the East Village.