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RETURN OF THE ’NUT’

for The Brooklyn Paper
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After an almost 10-year hiatus, Mark Morris’ "The Hard Nut" is back at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this holiday season. What’s more, the seven-performance engagement reunites the Mark Morris Dance Group with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the orchestra that performed at both the 1992 debut and the 1993 engagement at BAM.

"The Hard Nut" makes an irreverent nod to E.T.A. Hoffman’s classic book "The Nutcracker" and a non-traditional bow to legendary choreographers Lev Ivanov and George Ballanchine.

"The Hard Nut" made its world premiere in 1991 in Brussels, where the Mark Morris Dance Group was based at the Theatre de la Monnaie as the national dance company of Belgium, and the piece has become an annual holiday tradition in the San Francisco Bay area. This month, the group will forgo its Berkeley engagement to celebrate its 100th performance on its opening night at BAM.

"This year it worked out," Morris told GO Brooklyn. "I’d like to be here every year."

Morris’s relationship with BAM began in 1984, "very early in the Next Wave series," he said. "We were asked to perform. I was just starting out."

"The Hard Nut" takes place in the 1970s in a suburban setting that features whining children, an omnipresent television and enthusiastic guests who arrive bearing armloads of gifts. The cartoonish sets by Adrianne Lobel are based on the drawings of comic book artist Charles Burns.

"It’s exciting and fun and funny all at the same time," Morris said.

But Morris insists "The Hard Nut" is "totally classically structured." For one thing, his goal is not to overshadow but rather illuminate Tchaikovsky’s original score.

"I completely re-approached it from scratch," he said. "If you grow up as a dancer, you hear the music too much, and it loses its musical value. I wanted to revisit the music in its beauty."

Morris, whose company has performed to live music only since 1996, is particularly pleased that Robert Cole, who first brought "The Hard Nut" to Berkeley as director of Cal Productions, and also conducted the orchestra there for "The Hard Nut," will be the guest conductor for the BAM engagement.

So is Catherine Cahill, CEO of the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

"Robert Cole is extraordinarily familiar with Tchaikovsky’s ’Nutcracker Suite’ and with Mark Morris’s brilliant choreography," she told GO Brooklyn.

Ten years later, "The Hard Nut" hasn’t changed much.

"There are several original people - like me - and several new people," Morris said.

On the other hand, he noted that the production changes with virtually every performance.

"The whole first act is based on improvisat­ion," Morris said. "It’s a very open interrelationship with characters that change night by night. That keeps us on our toes."

For Brooklynites, however, the nicest part of the production’s return to Brooklyn is the collaboration and commitment of BAM, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the Mark Morris Dance Group.

"BAM is an important relationship for us, as is working with other artistic organizations ’on-campus’ in the Brooklyn cultural district," said Cahill. "We’re delighted that we will be performing during the holiday season, and we hope to become acquainted with new audiences and to introduce them to the Brooklyn Philharmonic."

In fact this is only the second of three Brooklyn Philharmonic co-productions with BAM this year; the other two are Osvaldo Golijov’s "La Pasion Segun San Marcos" and Mozart’s "Cosi Fan Tutte," which will be performed this spring.

On Dec. 17, BAM will celebrate 20 years of the Next Wave Festival with a reception preceding, and a gala dinner following, "The Hard Nut" performance.

Morris, 46, who was born in Seattle, Wash., and moved to New York City in 1976, considers BAM "pretty much our New York headquarters."

"My studio is here," he said. "We’re right across the street from BAM. Half my company lives in Brooklyn. We have a dance school that’s totally blossoming. We’ve got more than 300 kids from the neighborhood. We’re putting on the show for 70 kids."

When asked where he thinks he’ll be 10 years from now, Morris promptly responded, "Right here!"

"We have sky and air and sunlight," he said. "And we’re across the street from my favorite theater in town."

 

The Mark Morris Dance Group’s production of "The Hard Nut" will be performed Dec. 17 at 7 pm, Dec. 18-21 at 7:30 pm, Dec. 21 at 2 pm and Dec. 22 at 3 pm. Tickets are $25, $40 and $60. For tickets, call (718) 636-4100 or visit the Web site at www.BAM.org. The Howard Gilman Opera House is located at 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene. The Next Wave gala benefit will be held on Dec. 17. Call (718) 636-4182 for gala tickets.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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