A Harder Nut

In 1991, choreographer Mark Morris shocked and delighted audiences with The Hard Nut, a witty, gritty, revisionist Nutcracker inspired by R. Crumb cartoons and 1960s kitsch. Now, director and choreographer Angela Harriell's The Nutcracker: Rated R, at Theatre for the New City through December 23rd, is a harder and nuttier interpretation than Morris's, and dynamically, engagingly danced as well. Performed by healthy, human-looking dancers of a variety of body types, The Nutcracker: Rated R fuses traditional pointe work with other dance styles, including an adeptly executed breakdance, comically faux-drunk ballroom, burlesque, hip-hop and modern. There is something for everyone in Harriell's work -- except traditional ballet purists. In this variation of Tchaikovsky's classic Christmas ballet, little Clara Stahlbaum (the sylphlike Juliana Smith) is grumpily attending her restauranteur parents' annual Christmas party, in the restaurant. She has upset her mother by wearing a goth sweatshirt. Her gay, shy, artistic brother Fritz (Adam Pellegrine) is equally out of place among their football-fan guests. When the children's hippie uncle, Drosselmeyer (David F. Slone Esq.) crashes the party with a messenger bag full of fantastic presents, Clara and Fritz both get the night of their dreams. That's right: in this version, Fritz gets to share Clara's adventure, and ultimately undergoes a transformation no less magical than that of the original Nutcracker Prince.

Smith has an amazing range as a dancer, stretching from graceful to edgy. She seems equally at home on pointe during the grande pas de deux near the end as she is with faux street dance and mime. As Fritz and the 1980s rockstar "Firecrotch," Pellegrine shows great versatility, blossoming from a gangly, awkward teenager into a campy, out-there star and finally a figure of more fragile grace.

Harriell's visual witticisms are wonderful, from her update of the Battle with the Rat King (now involving the not toy soldiers, but boiler-suited minions of the Health Department, and fought for dominion of the Stahlbaums' restaurant); to the towering Empire State Building that replaces the Christmas tree; to a sad, haunting pas-de-deux by a pair of half-sleeping homeless people.

Jean Luc van Damme's video images, shown on a screen at the top of Adam Pellegrine's minimalist set, are used sparingly and help to clarify the narrative. The video never steals attention from the dancers. Harriell's costumes are vivid, memorable, raunchy when appropriate, and help to define clear, strong characters. The "Queen of the Blow Fairies" is decked out in white sequins and platinum hair, and Times Square stripper Svetlana ("From Russia With Nuts") looks freezing in her ridiculous fur panties. The rats are adorable in hot pink wigs, ears, and tails. Harriell's The Nutcracker: Rated R might not be Tchaikovsky's vision of sugar plums, but it's certainly visionary. Running in the holiday season at Theatre for the New City, it ought to become a New York Christmas tradition.

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