Performed by Princeton University Ballet
Tuesday (12/11) 8:00 PM and Thursday (12/13) at 8:00 PM and 10:00 PM
Frist Film and Performance Theater
I can’t pretend to be something I’m not, so to begin with, a confession: before Nutz, my largest exposure to ballet came through Black Swan, my knowledge of terms like “coupé” and “arabesque” only stemming from years of high school French (right up there with “baguette” and “quiche.”) Yet even with my limited comprehension of the art, I was floored by the finesse, grace, and power displayed by the Princeton University Ballet Company as they presented their modernized take on The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s ballet adaptation of the E.T.A Hoffman Christmas classic.
We seem to think that classical forms of dance such as ballet are intrinsically marked by delicacy, as if the performers are feathers fluidly sliding across thin porcelain sheets. And that’s mostly true – piece after piece, PUB dancers floated en pointe on stage in a way that can only be described as painstakingly effortless (as an engineer, I still haven’t come to grips with the mechanics of it all!). Company members Maria Rafael, Sebastian Gold, Caroline Hearst, and Paige Hupy were especially notable in the grace they displayed throughout these sections. However, the most notable sequences all featured the same attribute: a remarkably fearless display of strength. Whether it was the male dancers lifting the women high in the air, a perfectly executed series of leaps across the stage, or those powerfully robust pirouettes, the entire show seemed to create a paradox unique to ballet; how do these dancers constantly balance poise and passion? How can they be so delicate and structured yet show such impressive brawn?
While PUB regularly puts on productions of The Nutcracker and performs selections from Tchaikovsky’s original score annually, the second half of Nutz was a contemporary student-choreographed portion where members could show their expertise in areas such as lyrical dance. There is no doubt in my mind that PUB is composed of incredibly talented performers skilled in numerous facets of dance; however, pieces heavily focused on contemporary lines seemed reminiscent of other performing groups such as Xpressions, and I found myself yearning to see those pirouettes and grand jetés that are purely, simply, and uniquely PUB. Thus when the company incorporated their classical gems into music such as “Out on the Town” by FUN, it felt as though they had struck the perfect balance between exiting their comfort zone while enticing the audience and highlighting what they do best.
At its best moments, perhaps the greatest triumph of Nutz is that it accomplishes what every performing group at Princeton ultimately wants to: taking the art that one eats, sleeps, and breathes and making it accessible to laypeople of the Orange Bubble. Beautiful, classically choreographed pieces such as “Flutes”, “Spanish” and “Waltz of the Flowers” were accompanied by interludes of Fuzzy Dice moonlighting as a cross-dressing Clara and heavily accented, stoic and very Soviet Nutcracker. Wildcats, one of Princeton’s many a capella groups, contributed significantly to the quirky atmosphere of holiday cheer by performing several Christmas carols during intermission.
All in all, watching Nutz was a positive experience that’s made me a fan of PUB and modern ballet performance. The tutu skirts and too-tight pants I’ve been trained to associate with ballet were there, of course – but so was music by everyone’s favorite Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. I found myself laughing during a classical dance performance, for reasons actually intended by the performing group. At the beginning of Nutz, our resident wooden Russian promises he will spend the day taking Clara (and the audience) to see “the land of sweet things.” For me, seeing the land of sweet things was akin to temporarily entering a world saturated with expression, structure, classical technique and creativity – a world that at the end of the day, I didn’t really want to leave.