Review: A Sugarplum Fairy Says Goodbye to a Sweet ‘Nutcracker’

NEW YORK — George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” ends with a big, collective wave of farewells. Every dancer on stage is waving – from the Sugarplum Fairy and her other inhabitants of Candy Land below to Marie and her Prince floating above in their wooden sledges.

How fitting, then, for a Sugarplum Fairy to say her own personal farewell at the New York City Ballet on Sunday night. It was the final NYCB performance for Sterling Hyltin, one of the company’s most acclaimed ballerinas. After retiring 20 years later, he’s been playing that role for 16 and is still at the top of his game – warm and wide in his demeanor, light and airy in his movements. He was also quite obviously having a blast.

Hyltin’s acclaimed performance on every occasion (including the standing ovation before the end of his pas de deux, which culminated with his partner Andrew Veyette) was set for a special evening of “The Nutcracker”, especially for audiences who have never seen a traditional ballet farewell. . At the curtain calls, current and former colleagues stood on stage as one by one a procession of flowers and hugs and golden glitters cascading from above stepped out. (Some of the young ballet students and her 2-year-old daughter were among the huggers).

This “Nutcracker,” with its famous Balanchine choreography and iconic Tchaikovsky music, has been a mainstay of holiday entertainment in New York since its premiere in 1954. The production, which was completely cast aside in 2020 due to the pandemic, returned last year but had to cancel a series of performances due to COVID-19 cases in the cast.

It feels very different this year. Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater was packed with a mostly unmasked audience, with powers lifted in October. And the youngest guys are back, both backstage and on stage. (Last year, vaccine restrictions limited audiences to those of age to be vaccinated or younger children with a negative PCR test.) The 2021 roster was 12 to 16-year-olds, much older than usual, again due to vaccination rules. This year, young performers are aged 8 to 13, and flashy new costumes (including party dresses to die for) made last year to fit older kids were swapped out for them.

10-year-old Caroline O’Hagan was a thoughtful Marie who fell asleep after her family’s Christmas Eve party and woke up in a changing world, helping the Nutcracker Prince strategically throw his slipper and kill the Rat King. 11-year-old Titus Landegger was a brave prince who vividly imitated the battle when the couple arrived in Sweetland.

Most of the key adult dances come in Act II, but Snowflakes closing Act I with a shower of confetti – how do they not slide? – it was especially sharp and in perfect harmony.

As the curtain rises in Scene II’s Sweet Land, the children in the audience are still holding their breath as the youngest actors – the angels – glide across the stage before the Sugar Plum Fairy enters. Perhaps Hyltin greeted the angels with an extra smile, as she taught juniors at the NYCB-affiliated School of American Ballet.

After her delicate solo, the Sugarplum Fairy takes the stage to Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, Sugar Canes, Marzipan Shepherds, vampire Ana Ginger and her Polychines and Flowers (here with Indiana Woodward as a sparkling Dewdrop). The piece also returns for the resistance – the pas de deux of the Sugarplum Fairy and Knight, with its dramatic soaring lifts and fish dives.

Then the real farewell began. During the on-screen interviews, Hyltin was greeted by seven of the cast students dressed in pink leotards and tights and carrying flowers. She also took a moment off stage to embrace Peter Martins, the former City Ballet conductor whom she believed defended herself as a young dancer (Martins retired in early 2018 under a cloud of sexual harassment and harassment accusations. She denied having committed the crime, and a two-month investigation followed by these allegations. not confirmed.)

Hyltin, 37, said that in addition to continuing to teach, she wants to focus her time on her young daughter.

But there was one last ballet trick in it. As the golden confetti fell, the dancers on stage delighted her friends, some bouncing up and down the stage as they made an impromptu series of fast-moving pike turns, punctuated by a big splash and a big laugh.



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