The Crack-Up: A Nutcracker Marathon—Four in Two Days—Saw Balanchine Fare Less Than Well on TV

Keith Michael’s new New York Theatre Ballet version is enchanting

Mr. Wright’s Nutcracker becomes a colorful excuse for a conventional love story, turning its back on what we love so much in Balanchine: Christmas as seen and felt by children, for whom Sugarplum and her cavalier are ideal adult versions of themselves. There’s no subtext here, no universality. And unfortunately, the Sugarplum is danced by Miyako Yoshida, giving a dance-by-numbers performance with confident technique and no resonance. (Her partner is the estimable Steven McRae, appealing if half-hidden under his powdered wig.)

There are many other versions, of course. Mr. Ratmansky’s for ABT, now playing at BAM, makes big mistakes but has tremendous virtues, in particular its thrilling Snowflake scene, turned into an unsettling pas d’action. Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut is not to my taste in its bad-boy affect, but it’s original, and many love it. Mr. Wright, for all his ability, gives us a pretty and well-managed standard ballet that has everything but the imagination that Tchaikovsky provides and demands.

An appealing surprise turned up at the small but always intelligent and attractive New York Theatre Ballet at the Florence Gould Auditorium. Keith Michael has replaced his own Nutcracker, performed from 1985 to 2010, with a new version, and it’s a honey. On a tiny stage with a limited number of dancers—the Snowflakes, for instance, are just four girls and two boys—he has made an hour-plus mini-ballet intended primarily for little kids but equally enchanting for ancients like me. It’s completely ingenious the way he deploys the pretty cut-out scenery (by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith) and the equally charming costumes (by Sylvia Taalson Nolan), and it’s extraordinary the way he achieves so much with so small an ensemble. What’s more, the choreography is musical and inventive—and fun. These are committed dancers, as much at home in this classic as they were in Tudor, Cunningham and Alston the last time I saw the company.

The atmosphere is relaxed and rowdy, the experience a happy one. Don’t forget this one at Nutcracker time next year!

editorial@observer.com