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Friday, December 18, 2015

An American Christmas

"The Hard Nut"
Mark Morris Dance Group
Brooklyn Academy of Music
December 16, 2015

Kraig Patterson, Mark Morris, John Heginbotham  
Americans take their “Nutcrackers” way too seriously, Mark Morris seems to tell us in his campy Christmas spectacular, “The Hard Nut.”  Played straight, the story is dark sexual symbolism in a world of repression and romance.  Played for laughs, it’s a casual coming-of-age, in a world where sex is just part of growing up. That world is American suburbia in the 70’s, and for all its vulgarity, it’s much more familiar and friendly than the gentrified, stiff-necked Germany where the original is set.

The 70’s were a lost decade, when the hippie movement died but hair continued to sprout from the heads, faces, armpits and open shirt-fronts of America.  It’s all on display in the Act One party scene: afro wigs and pompadours, mustaches and sideburns, set off with too-tight pants and glittery jackets, short skirts and polka-dot pants suits.  The host is Mark Morris himself, as a fussy Dr. Stahlbaum in a hideous party jacket.  But the focus is on the children, who start out staring at the TV.  Father comes along and switches the channel to the Yule Log special, and the party is underway – an American Christmas with too many gifts, too much booze, and guests on their worst behavior. Much of the dancing consists of humping and grinding, at first surreptitious, but as the alcohol takes effect, front and center.     

Aaron Loux and Lauren Grant 
It’s up to Marie to redeem this mess, and she does it beautifully, with the aid of a nearly mechanical Nutcracker. Aaron Loux comes to life as Drosselmeier’s nephew like a toy out of the box – coaxed into manhood in a strong, flowing pas de deux with his uncle. He’s a boy toy, and his function is to plant a first kiss on the lips of Marie, which he does repeatedly and rapturously in the climactic pas de deux of Act Two. Lauren Grant as Marie responds with her own rapture – not mechanical at all, but entirely human, a frizzy-haired adolescent becoming a teenager in love, a passage out of life itself.