The Hard Nut delights at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre Through December 15, 2019. Get tickets and info here.
When Christmas time comes around, one of the most beloved traditions is seeing The Nutcracker. The ballet, with the brilliant music by Tchaikovsky, has become something that is waited for all year long, by audiences of all ages. If by chance, you are a little tired of that ballet, why not try something different. The Hard Nut is that something. Currently playing at The Paramount Theatre, this is a different take of a classic ballet presented with humor, gender-fluidity, in a wonderful show of holiday entertainment.
The storyline is similar to that of the traditional. [I cannot attest how close or different they are, as I have never seen The Nutcracker. GASP!]. In this rendition, the typical family (Mother, Father, three children) is getting ready to host their annual Christmas Eve Soiree. The eldest daughter is being flirtatious. The middle child son is being a rascal, and the youngest child is enraptured by the excitement around her. An enigmatic guest arrives with wondrous gifts; two life-sized animated dolls are brought for the older children, while the youngest is given a beautiful nutcracker. After much excitement, the guests leave and the children go off to bed. The youngest girl escapes into a fevered dream where the Nutcracker comes to life, and defends her from an attack by the evil Rat King. The next day the same enigmatic guest returns to check on the child. He tells her a story about a magical nut that curses a princess transforming her from her beauty to that of being ugly. Only true love can open the nut thus undoing the enchantment. Many suitors from around the world try, but it isn’t until the right one comes along and breaks the spell. The story reflects life and love is found both within the story and without. The ballet concludes where its story began: the end of a long day, with the children watching television before being sent off to bed.
The Hard Nut is a delightful alternate to the usual seasonal tradition presentations. The cast is excellent using their bodies, gestures and facial expressions in exquisite harmony to the story their dancing tells. The end of Act One (“The Waltz of the Snowflakes”) is a particular delight to watch. The precision in which these dancers move is incredible. The fact that they do it with such beauty, celebrating the sheer delight of movement, and still can add a touch of humor is why this production has been celebrated on both the country’s coasts.
There are definitely featured dancing roles within the different stories of the ballet. They each show the character’s distinctive personalities through their gestures and dancing. “The Maid” shines in several scenes, as does “The Mother”. The Ensemble is excellent, and has their own segments to shine dancing and intermingling like a perfectly synchronized machine. The names of the dancers are all listed in the programs, but the individual roles are not attached to them. This allows the entire cast to use gender-fluidity for many of the roles, both featured and ensemble. Many of the traditional roles danced by women – “The Sugar Plum Fairies” or “Waltz of the Flowers” for example – use a gender-mixed cast. They are all dressed the same, complete with tutus and petals, adding a new level to both the humor and grace of a beautiful ballet.
The Hard Nut is a fun show – even if you are not a fan of traditional ballet. While ‘theatre staging’ may make the viewing of the dancers’ feet almost impossible, the body movements, gestures and facial expressions all help to tell a wonderful story. The sweeping music of Tchaikovsky makes The Hard Nut perfectly enchanting.
The Hard Nut premiered just shy of the one hundred anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. It opened in January of 1991 in Brussels presented by the Mark Morris (originally from Seattle) Dance Group. Based on the works of comic artist Charles Burns, the original score quickly gained popularity for its clever interpretation, gender-fluidity, and use of humor. It was first aired on PBS in 1991 as part of Great Performances. A DVD version was released in 2007.