Many Holiday themed shows have become NY Traditions: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, and numerous productions of A Christmas Carol. The Hard Nut, by the Mark Morris Dance Group can also be added to that list. Sadly, the production at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House-now playing through Dec 18th-will mark the end of its 25 year run. With that in mind, you should score a ticket to this delightfully re-imagined ballet before it dances away, for it is well worth the time you’ll otherwise spend at yet another dull cocktail party.
Mark Morris, who choreographs and stars uses the basis as the traditional Nutracker production (the book by E.T.A. Hoffmann) as well as the same glorious score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, but turns the story on its’ ear as he updates it to the swinging seventies. It is all served against the backdrop of Charles Burns’ enticing pop art set. Burns is an award winning illustrator known especially for his graphic novel series Black Hole.
Mr. Morris also infuses some gender bending cleverness to the proceedings. Party hostess Mrs. Stahblaum is particularly exceptional and played with much amusement by John Heginbotham. Brandon Randolph is another scene stealer as the family’s sassy “female” housekeeper. Plenty of naughty antics occur and though some are a tad on the risque side, there’s nothing too deviant that would prevent family participation. Many of the subtle –sometimes even overt- jokes will fly over the heads of youngsters anyhow.
By now, this piece is a finely tuned machine and yet it manages not to lose the freshness so often suffered by long-running productions. Visually, it’s a never-ending feast and while light and comical, precision is clearly something Morris demands. His ensemble delivers. This unique presentation is a fully abundant package. This might be the last year we get to savor it, but it will long linger in the mind as a cherished and vibrant holiday memory.
The Hard Nut is part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival and will run through Dec. 18th. BAM is located at 30 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY. For tickets and show times, click here.