The Hard Nut– Wrecking Cheerful Havoc with The Nutcracker

In 1991, at 35, Mark Morris was still thought of as an enfant terrible by many dance aficionados. His retelling of the iconic Nutcracker includes party guests wearing disco garb who get drunk, grope, grind, copulate on the floor, and steal gifts, a bratty boy, a nymphomaniac teenager, a bored maid, a magic television, Barbie and GI Joe dolls, a robot, lots of men playing women, and pop dances like the Stroll, Bump, and Hokey-Pokey.

The Hard Nut

The program synopsis describes things one doesn’t see/understand while watching. According to text, the Rat Queen in Drosselmeier’s fable destroys heroine Princess Pirlipat’s face. When a young suitor successfully cracks the hard nut, it’s restored. He then steps back onto said queen killing the rodent. Pirlipat becomes beautiful again, while her savior grows ugly like a nutcracker. She rejects him. I recognized none of this.

There are also puzzles we do observe like Pirlipat’s briefly becoming a pig or a baby carriage from which (I think) a child is kidnapped. Whether accustomed to the original story or turning to the program for help, you may find yourself somewhat lost.

The Hard Nut

In Act I, children Marie (Lauren Grant), Fritz (June Omura with an Alfalfa cowlick) and Louise/later Princess Pirlipat (Lesley Garrison), dress up to join their parents’ party. Mr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum (a well-padded, unrecognizable Mark Morris and John Heginbotham, who looks distinctly like Eve Arden) host, as maid/nurse (a striking Brandon Randolph, the only original cast member) keeps an eye on the kids. Gifts are opened and summarily discarded. Drosselmeier (Billy Smith) brings Louise a nutcracker which Fritz breaks. Act II: Drosselmeier returns at midnight. Finding Louise distressed, tells her a bedtime story which comes alive. A graphic, hypnosis spiral indicates dreaming.

The Hard Nut

There are some touchstones of the original: Louise shrinks, making her proportionate to the Nutcracker hero, who turns into a handsome prince (Aaron Loux). They have several pas de deux. Rats, lead by their King (Utafumi Takemura), and GI Joes (in place of gingerbread men or toys) do battle. Don’t hold your breath for The Sugar Plum Fairy. I thought I caught a glimpse of her, but she gets no cast call out, so what was once a celebration of sweets from around the world becomes something else.

First, we see dancing snowflakes who toss handfuls of glittery snow on perfect cue,  moving back and forth )and back and forth and back and forth) across the stage creating a beautifully programmed fountain. Then, pirouetting flowers, and finally, characters from Spain, Arabia, China, Russia, and France, separately and together.Morris’s updated fairytale ending is extremely clever.

The Hard Nut

There’s as much theatrical mime as choreography in Morris’s work here. Enjoyment depends entirely on your personal taste. If you attend, jettison preconceptions.

Adrienne Lobel’s Set Design consists of comic drawings that look as contemporary in today’s world of graphic novels as they must’ve originally. (Sets and Costumes are or copy the originals.)

Martin Pakledinaz’s Costumes are a mixed bag. Fantasy and international characters are well realized, but party guests look discordant in an effort, one presumes, to be flamboyant. Wigs are wonderful.

James F. Ingalls’ Lighting adds atmosphere and focus.

Photos by Julieta Cervantes
Pas de Deux: Aaron Loux and Louise Garrison
Ending: Aaron Loux & Louise Garrison
All others The Company

The Hard Nut
Based on the book by E.T.A. Hoffman: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky- The Nutcracker OP. 71
Mark Morris Dance Group
Choreography by Mark Morris
MMDG Music Ensemble and The Hard Nut Singers conducted by Colin Fowler
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Ave
Through December 18, 2016

About Alix Cohen (786 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.