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ABT finds a home for a new 'Nutcracker'

November 30, 2009 | 12:51 pm


For decades, American Ballet Theatre has stood apart from the numerous ballet companies that bring out the snowflakes and candy canes this time of year, relying on weeks of “Nutcracker” performances to fill the coffers. Though headquartered in New York City, ABT lacks a home theater of its own; its primary local performances take place mid-May through mid-July at the Metropolitan Opera House, where it can only move in once the lengthy opera season is over. Since 1997, the company has augmented this with shorter and livelier autumn seasons, in theaters suited for mixed-repertory programs rather than scenery-heavy multi-act story ballets, such as the holiday perennial.

ABT announced today that it will finally be joining the “Nutcracker” party, partnering with the venerable Brooklyn Academy of Music to present a new production by Alexei Ratmansky. BAM has committed to five years of performances, starting with the Dec. 23, 2010 premiere and expanding from a two-week inaugural run to four weeks. The announcement culminates Ratmansky’s prolific first year as ABT’s artist in residence. The former Bolshoi Ballet director – considered one of today’s leading ballet choreographers – has already contributed two major works, and one pièce d’occasion, to ABT’s repertory.

His new “Nutcracker” will have sets and costumes by Richard Hudson, a South African designer whose extensive opera and theater credits include the long-running production of “The Lion King,” and lighting by the veteran, much-honored Jennifer Tipton. The anticipated cost of $5 million (production expenses plus a seven-week rehearsal period) is already halfway underwritten by a $2.5-million lead matching gift from David H. Koch

In brief remarks during this morning’s announcement at BAM, Ratmansky celebrated the Tchaikovsky score as “amazing and energetic, and full of hidden meanings. It speaks to every one of us.” Reluctant to give specifics about the production this early, he confirmed that children’s roles would be played by children (students from ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School), and that he had no radical reinterpretation in mind.

ABT’s earlier versions of the ballet – one in 1976 by Mikhail Baryshnikov, and another in 1993 by current artistic director Kevin McKenzie – were primarily performed on tour, for short engagements, and at a financial loss. The company expects that extended annual runs of this one “will provide a stability most companies enjoy,” said Rachel Moore, ABT’s executive director. The company has not performed the McKenzie version since 2007; this year its dancers have no performances during December.

-- Susan Reiter

Photo: In 2001, Angel Corella dances the title role at American Ballet Theatre's touring "Nutcracker" at the Kodak Theatre. Credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times.