The Hard Nut

Mark Morris cracks open his seasonal classic

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Did you have a say in the dancers' makeup?
Pakledinaz: Yes. I looked at the drawings and then I tried to include elements like strong eyebrows. We made sure that lips would be apparent. When you work under someone's style, you actually have to know so much about it that you ultimately go, Well, if I was Charles Burns, what would I do? And yet, for Mark, keeping it fluid. For instance [in the Waltz of the Flowers], the stamens, the leaves on them, the whole sort of zigzag thing comes directly from [Burns's] work. And the shapes of the heads actually came from the way that he would stylize people, whereas the [headpieces for the] snowflakes came from Dairy Queen.
Morris: And the tutus are snowflakes.
Pakledinaz: They're hard snowflakes. Because you said they should look hard.
Morris: Frozen.
Pakledinaz: I'd never done a tutu before, that's for sure.
Morris: But it's a snowflake. You went through a million snowflakes. And you know, they're all identical.
Pakledinaz: But you can see the black and white—the way we just represented it was always referring to his graphic qualities.

How did you design the costumes for Snow and Flowers, knowing that men and women would be wearing them? Did that come into play?
Pakledinaz: In that period of work, Mark was playing fast and loose with gender in his partnering, and he still does, but not as much. Whenever you're doing something with the two sexes, it's always that tricky thing of how do you take care of the physical business—i.e., the breasts and the crotch? In this one, it did come to this sort of pragmatic crop top. The midsection was neutral, so I could use their midsections, but I had to cover up the chest. At least they would have the same silhouette, as opposed to saying, "This is a male snowflake and this is a female." Mark made it clear he did not want that, which is where the headdresses help a lot, too, because they really do neutralize people: The strength of a woman's face shows up and the prettiness of a boy's face shows up. Then, the flowers I think were really just 19th-century romance. In fact the big compliment was when he said, "These look Russian." That was good. I hadn't thought that. I was like, Great. I'll take that. [To Morris] You say nice things once in awhile.
Morris: I know! I can't remember any of them. You remember them.
Pakledinaz: Well, this was the biggest show I'd ever done. I'd assisted on musicals, but I'd never designed my own, and I couldn't believe they were giving us as much money as they were giving. I have to admit, had I known, we would have understudy costumes. We don't have one extra costume.

There are so many little details, like Marie's bunny slippers, which I love.
Pakledinaz: I think we kept riffing off of each other.
Morris: It's funny, isn't it?
Pakledinaz: But so much of it was...
Morris: What if it's G.I. Joes? Of course! And Barbie.
Pakledinaz: It would always be the first, most obvious thing: What if [the Nutcracker Prince] looks like [Bob's] Big Boy? It was not trying to be convoluted at all. It was trying to be as apparent as it should be in anyone's dream of his or her own life.
Morris: Adrianne and I went to the newly created Toys "R" Us and just shopped for these horrifying toys that we give to the kids. The helicopter and the gun and these horrible violent toys, and then these nauseating things and the ugly sweater—[we used executive director] Nancy Umanoff's own sweater. That's the best joke in the world. The ugly-sweater joke is in the music! No one ever knew that. [Laughs]
Pakledinaz: Thank God it's there. And you would have thought it was such a flippant thing, but we saw the sets first, and they were black and white, and I think one of us said, "Well, it's Christmas, so I guess it's red and green and black and white," and we just went on from there.
Morris: It starts and ends in black and white. Nobody really notices that because it's so fast; and then the dancers come on immediately after in the same clothes, but they're colored. It's subliminal.
Morris: It was my idea to have a Mercado Projection Map of the world instead of a globe. In the story, when [Marie] climbs up the sleeve of her father's fur coat, following the Nutcracker? That is so fucking sick; that's when they come out into snow. It's like, Wow. So it's also that. Everything fits into the circle, and I thought this had to be like a gorgeous '60s map from a news show with that projection. That was my idea. One of my few ideas.

Is there still pointe work in Snow?
Morris: No.

When did that change?
Morris: When we realized we were going to do it until the end of time, and you just can't dance on pointe for three weeks a year when you're 32. Please. So France is still on pointe. Snow—it was a gorgeous idea. The steps are still the same, but it's not on pointe, and it was pretty dangerous with the confetti. It was just, No. It doesn't make much difference anymore. So the housekeeper is on pointe and France is still on pointe and that's it.

You know that there have been so many versions of the Nutcracker since The Hard Nut. Do you think this had anything to do with that?
Morris: Well, you know, Chris Wheeldon's doing one for the Joffrey Ballet. Hooray. We get another one.
Pakledinaz: I think this definitely broke down the borders of what you could do with a dance like this.
Morris: I guess it was 20-something years ago, so yeah.
Pakledinaz: Bourne's Swan Lake is fantastic, but it came after this, didn't it?
Morris: I see my influence on other people's work. That makes me very happy. Mr. Ratmansky has seen my work. And Mr. Balanchine's work and a whole bunch of other stuff, and hooray. It's great. I love that. [Ratmansky's] Namouna [a Grand Divertissement]—one of the great dances.
Pakledinaz: I think the tricky thing is that this dance is so big in its scope that the sad irony is that it doesn't fit in any Broadway house.
Morris: It also was never meant to tour.
Pakledinaz: The first year it happened, we had friends from Broadway going, "When's it coming in?"
Morris: It wasn't built to tour. They're huge, heavy pieces of scenery. It's intense. Most Nutcrackers have 100 people and it pays the rent for the rest of the year. We use a real chorus singing. We use a very good orchestra.

It's not a money-maker?
Morris: No, the opposite. And there are only 35 people in it. Backstage is five times more work than onstage. Everybody's changing wigs and clothes and costumes and it's wild. There are people in the show I don't even see because they're on a completely different schedule of makeup and performing. When I stopped doing Arabian, I could watch more of it, but I never saw the prince do anything. I barely make it in time to watch the Waltz of the Flowers. It's like that for everybody. You're in a makeup chair until the second you go onstage. My company's great. And it's no kids, which is nice. The other thing is there's exactly the same amount of Ivanov and Petipa [style] in my production as there is in anybody else's, just no one can see it. It's 12 people doing the coda, doing the piqu turns and the turns in second.
Pakledinaz: The coda always turns my heart inside out. I don't know—there's always a fear that it's going to go onstage and everything the designers drew will kill it or something, but I must admit, the way you figured out the coda and how all of a sudden against that black and white, the world starts coming in. I just got really weepy.
Morris: Well, the pas de deux into the coda, the whole thing—yeah. It's intense. And the apotheosis, it's just them—young people dancing together forever. Oh, and with the snow, I had already choreographed sparkly actions, and then we get to how many rails there are where you can hang shit—drops and lights and everything—and we were going to do a snow bag, like you do with snow. It was like, We can't. There's no room. It would be one pathetic snow bag. And, also, snow falls all year in a theater that does a snow scene.

I know that.
Morris: It's like, Oh, I love your new dance. [His gaze fixates on an imaginary piece of falling snow] Or the moth at Jacob's Pillow. It's insane. It's like the TVs in a sports bar. But we had the money and the crew, and we thought, We'll have fly crew sit upstairs and throw handfuls of snow. It's like, Well, you know it's going to look fucking pathetic. We need shitloads of snow. So it became confetti, and I didn't have to add anything. They were already doing this in the choreography—like these sort of flashes. And so we just added a fistful of confetti, and it made it the most beautiful thing in the world. We auditioned many different types of confetti. You had to learn how to do it. If you hold on too long, it clumps together, gets sweaty. It's in cardboard boxes in the wings.

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