I can’t say how sorry I am to hear that Alexei Ratmansky’s Nutcracker will not return to Brooklyn Academy of Music after this year. It’s such an imaginative, whimsical, and ultimately touching production. The person I went with this year cried at the end, when little Clara wakes up in her bed and reaches for the Nutcracker boy, only to have him disappear, just beyond her reach. “It’s just so sad,” she said when I asked her what had made her so blue. And it is. The confusion we feel just as childhood slips away from us is our first experience of loss, our first intimation of the limitations of life, of death’s presence just beyond the scene.
I’ve always been moved by another moment in the ballet, when the Nutcracker boy is pushed to the floor during the party scene and Clara first feels a rush of empathy toward him. Only she, among the “real” characters, can see his suffering, and she drags him, with great effort—he is as big as she is—to a chair to take care of him. But before she does, the toys—Columbine and Harlequin and the be-turbaned Canteen Keeper—return to help their fallen brother. He’s one of them, you see.
The Nutcracker boy later returns the favor, in the snow scene. He revives Clara, desperately, when she nearly dies of cold. The scene is echoed in last year’s Shostakovich Trilogy, when, in the fourth movement of Symphony No. 9, the central female character places her hands on her partner’s body, as if to discover the place from which he is bleeding, to protect him. These stolen moments of human concern are one of the things I love most about Ratmansky’s choreography and what, I think, distinguishes him from the crowd.
Last year I saw three traditional Nutcrackers, including Ratmansky’s. Here’s what I wrote then.
And here is a piece in the Times about ABT’s decision to take its Nutcracker on the road.