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10 Things We Love About "The Hard Nut"

Lauren Grant with Aaron Loux, Photos by Julieta Cervantes

I caught the last Hard Nut of the season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and it reminded me of some of my favorite things about Mark Morris’ riotous, cross-dressing romp of a Nutcracker.

  1. Lauren Grant as Marie, the earnest, modest, tender center of the story. In her late 30s, Grant is short enough and innocent enough to play a child filled with wonder. (Read her "Why I Dance" to learn how she evolved from what one critic called a “whirling dervish of a shrimp” to a dancer who moves “with a command and silky fluency.”)

  1. Live music! The MMDG Music Ensemble plays the grand Tchaikovsky score in the pit of BAM Opera House. Some of the musicians even wear Santa Hats to join the spirit of this nutty Nut. And the singers in the Snow Scene are actually visible in a side stall, audience-left.

  1. The musicality. Mark Morris’ choreography hits all the high notes, making the Tchaikovsky score sound as cinematic as Prokofiev’s music for Romeo and Juliet. Each skip or waltz has its counterpart in the music. During the final pas de deux, the young Nutcracker kisses Marie’s arm on each clash of the cymbals.

Billy Smith as Drosselmeier with the Russian dance

  1. Kraig Patterson is still the wildly boisterous Housekeeper/Nurse, a role he originated 25 years ago.

  1. The bold, modernist sets by Adrianne Lobel, inspired by comic artist Charles Burns. I especially like the giant hypnotic pinwheel that indicates we’re going into or coming out of a dream.

  1. The costumes, designed by the late Martin Pakledinaz, especially the stylish Chinese and crazy patchwork Russian. They contrast nicely with the bold black and white set. Gotta love the white streak in Drosselmeier’s hair, a not-so-subtle reference to Serge Diaghilev. In this production Drosselmeier (Billy Smith) elegantly ushers in each divertissement, so he earns the Diaghilev reference.

  1. The snow scene, partly because of the way that the co-ed dancers sprinkle the stage with accumulating gusts of snowflakes, but partly as a relief from all the incidental humping in the party scene.

  1. The moment when the Nutcracker transforms into a handsome human, two elegantly clad assistants calmly change his clothing and headgear. No coup de théatre here—just an honest, patient solution to a necessary moment in the plot.

The snow scene

  1. The climax of the Flowers scene, with dancers stretched out on the floor, hands grasping the other person’s feet, all forming the shape of a giant asterisk, is worthy of Busby Berkeley.

  1. Back to Lauren Grant, who transforms beautifully from a shy child into a confident young woman. Her breezy, buoyant dancing sweeps her into romance—with the aid of all the other characters who return to help push her dream along.

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