Sunday, November 28, 2010

maurice sendak: at least 3 good minutes



Years ago, because I was too hungover to get up and change the channel and the remote was nowhere in sight, I watched The Pacific Northwest Ballet Company's 1983 film version of The Ballbuster Ballet as it was called in my house because our grandparents busted our balls one year and took us. We were a family who, at their squarest moment, went to see A Chorus Line in its opening year. The Nutcracker was just not our style. Even as a child I was annoyed by the whole thing with the exception of those three, lazy, seductive, mysterious minutes of woodwinds, woven in strings that seemed to spiral around them like some kind of mystical incense: The Arabian Dance. Those short three minutes have always amazed me as have many of Tchaikovsky's other suites, the numbers of which I don't know and wish I did.

The Arabian Dance choreography is usually some guy dressed like "Hodgie" from I Dream Of Jeanie or Jeanie herself or a little troupe of phony Arabs just hitting poses and making waste of this striking music much the way Fokine pissed all over Stravinsky's final two minutes of The Firebird. I don't think I will ever get over that. This is the third time I have brought it up in this blog, isn't it...

When I saw this - the above video - this cage being carried in, the exotic "bird" inside, I was in love with the moment. It worked although I would have liked to see the lights down with a red overlay...it needed to be darker, more mysterious. But it beat harem pants and gold vests. Finally, something in The Nutcracker worked! Not every original choreography is Nijinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" - in fact, none will ever be so groundbreaking that they need not be fooled with. The original choreography for the Nutcracker, late 1800's, was someone named Marius Petipa though there is some controversy about that. It may have been someone else but that's like arguing over whose gets credit for wax beans.

In 1934 choreographer Vasily Vainonen became to the USSR's production of The Ballbuster what Balanchine in 1954 become to...well, the rest of the world and that was when the ballet actually became successful. Since then, everyone from Nureyev to Baryshnikov has choreographed the thing. Why not Bob Fosse? He might have made it interesting because seriously, it is a bore. Toy soldiers with "jazz hands!"...yeah.

The Pacific Northwest Ballet's choreography, seen here maximizing the only 3 fabulous minutes of music in this whole ballet, is that of Maurice Sendak. For all I know, the rest of it stinks. I don't remember. But I salute the guy. Because at that moment, I didn't know the Nutcracker could NOT suck, entirely. Years later, I would find Maurice Bejart's version:


If you haven't seen this...it should be called the "Anti-Nutcracker". It's great. So great that I forgave him for that abomination he created to The Rite of Spring.