By Bob Hicks
HARD NUT: It’s been a lot of years since I’ve seen The Hard Nut, Mark Morris‘s pared-down version of The Nutcracker, but I’ve always more than liked it. It’s lean yet lush, beautifully framed, and intensely musical.
You still occasionally hear people refer to it as Morris’s winking bad-boy spoof of the ubiquitous holiday story ballet, but people who think that about it (a) aren’t paying a lot of attention to the dance itself, and (b) apparently haven’t read the E.T.A. Hoffmann story on which both The Hard Nut and The Nutcracker are based. Morris took the narrative for his version, which premiered in 1991, directly from Hoffmann’s tale-within-the-tale, which is more sinister than your average sugar plum and which Hoffmann himself titled The Hard Nut. If you’ve never read the Hoffman story, it’s well worth it.
The Hard Nut returns to the Brooklyn Academy of Music next weekend, and this morning’s New York Times carries a freewheeling Q&A interview with Morris by Julie Bloom. It offers a great inside look at Morris’s thinking and his approach to art. He declares himself a classicist in many ways, which I think is true, especially in terms of musicality. And he reveals that it was his love for Tchaikovsky‘s score that prompted him to create The Hard Nut in the first place.
Absolutely. Tchaikovsky strikes me as one of our most misunderstood major composers, a guy whose work is often dismissed as sweet and antiquarian. Hardly. Yes, his music is melodically gorgeous. Structurally, it’s like steel: tough and springy, and fully anticipating modernism. As Morris puts it, it’s “astonishingly advanced.”
BLACK SWAN: Also in the Times, Manohla Dargis has a delicious review of Black Swan, the new Darren Aronofsky backstage-drama movie starring Natalie Portman and Winona Ryder. Aronofsky is the guy who dug Mickey Rourke out of the trash heap and turned him into the comeback king of The Wrestler. Portman plays an ambitious corps dancer in a fictional New York ballet company who is cast over reigning prima ballerina Ryder in a new version of Swan Lake. Apparently, the swan does not go swimmingly. Could be trash, or trashy fun, or artistically insightful. Dargis suggests it’s all three. Read her review here.
Black Swan opens next weekend in Portland, and The Portland Ballet young performers Peter Deffebach, Maggie Rupp and Kelsey Trif will perform the Black Swan pas de deux several times before showings December 10 and 11 at the Regal Fox Tower Stadium 10 Theater. Without the onscreen melodrama, we assume.
BAD ‘Y’: Completing a New York trifecta, Jeff Baker of The Oregonian uncovered the truly perplexing tale of the 92nd Street Y‘s tiff with actor/musician/novelist Steve Martin, whose onstage interview at the Y apparently miffed the staff and a lot of the audience because Martin and his interviewer talked mostly about art. Well, duh. Martin is a collector, and he knows a lot about the contemporary art scene, and he’s just published a novel, An Object of Beauty, about those very things. Why shouldn’t he talk about art, and why wouldn’t the audience want to hear what he has to say about it? He’s a smart and well-spoken man. More to the point, why in the world would the 92nd Street Y, an organization to which art is supposed to be central, insult Martin by saying his talk wasn’t up to their standards and offering refunds to disgruntled ticket-holders? It boggles the mind.
Read Jeff’s story here, and follow the link to Felicia R. Lee’s story in the Times.
Martin seems far too gracious a guy to be caught up in this sort of flap. You might recall the furor last year in La Grande when a group of parents succeeded in getting a production of his comic play Picasso at the Lapin Agile banned from the local high school because of … well, we never did figure that one out. Martin generously offered to pay for the production to be mounted off-campus, and it eventually was, at Eastern Oregon University. Read Marty Hughley’s story here. And pray a little prayer to the gods of common sense.
ILLUSTRATIONS, from top:
- Mark Morris and his Dance Group in the Duffy Performance Space at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 2008. Photo: Klaus Lucka/Wikimedia Commons.
- Nikolai Dimitriyevich Kuznetsov, portrait of Tchaikovsky, oil on canvas, 1893. State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons.