Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Nutcracker

Yesterday I saw The Nutcracker performed by the Korean National Ballet at The Seoul Arts Center.

I left a little before 1 to get to the train station, and even in a knee-length dress, ankle boots, and stockings, I can tell you the snow falling and covering Ansan was quite lovely. I took line 4 to Sadang and transferred to line 2 easily enough to Seocho. The map I had showed the SAC about two blocks straight from exit 3. IRL it's closer to a mile, and halfway through that mile I realized I should have taken a taxi, but I was already halfway there and determined to make it on foot.

The folks at the box office spoke English and were very helpful in helping me choose a seat and buy a ticket. 30,000 won put me on the second row, middle of the second balcony. Should I decide to return, I'll definitely spring for opera glasses and a pricier seat. Programs were only 5,000 won. Yay!

In the theater lobby, there were four orchestra members playing Christmas carols and a man dressed as a 7- or 8-foot toy soldier posing for photos with everyone. The festive spirit boosted my excitement. I've seen The Nutcracker ballet live once as a child and watched it on TV every single year around Christmastime until I moved out. So I was very confused at intermission when I heard a lady behind me explaining to the plot to 6 of her baffled American friends. I had no idea people in the world could be unfamiliar with this masterpiece.

I was so thrilled to be going and wanted nothing more than to enjoy the hell out of the KNB, but this was not to be.

The orchestra was very good, aside from some weird acoustics at the very beginning. The young boy playing The Nutcracker toy in the beginning was hilarious and made everybody laugh. And Jung Young-Jae as the Prince was a fine male specimen, so good, in fact, that he neatly upstaged Marie (not that I'm complaining, mind you, but it is bad form). And that's everything nice I have to say.

Were this North Korea, four of the dancers would be taken out back and shot, along with the choreographer, set designer, and the interpreter/writer. The sets were distractingly cheap with lazy modern art probably designed by a 6-year-old, complete with Escher-esque stairs on the ceiling. Wtf? The Indian dancer had notably wobbly legs more than once. I understand that they probably haven't eaten in a month, but she and three others really made it look like work with noticeably stuttering movements.

As for the choreographer, do you just hate Tchaichovsky or what? Yuri Grigorovich is an acclaimed Russian choreographer and any scene with a dozen or more dancers on stage or just Marie and the Prince is lovely, but the duets of the foreign dancers leave something to be desired. He consistently fails to use the music to its full potential, failing to capture the full emotional depth and grandeur displayed in the score.

And to the writer, what a bizarro re-imagining of a 107-year-old ballet. For anyone unfamiliar, Wikipedia has a good, short synopsis. And the link above has the KNB's freakish version, replete with poised wives carrying their drunk husbands home after the party. Oh how very Korean. And the foreign dancers of the Land of Sweets have become "human-like dolls" that totter along awkwardly stiff-limbed, following Marie and the Prince all over, bearing little resemblance to the fine dancers they are in every other version. You're not supposed to know Marie's time with the Prince is a dream until she wakes, but the program spoils this for you from the outset! Gah.

Dear Korean audiences, "Woo"ing at the performers during applause is NOT APPROPRIATE THEATER BEHAVIOR! Geez, louise. Nor is clapping in time with the orchestra while the performers are bowing. I can name many a-teacher who, over the years, would not have hesitated to smack his or her students for such behavior. Thank you, Plano I.S.D.

It's playing through Thursday at the SAC and a few other places around town listed here. If you're a fan of ballet, pass on this one, but if you've never had the pleasure, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

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