The Hard Nut

Mark Morris cracks open his seasonal classic

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So they're running over to get more every time they exit?
Morris: Yeah. You have to enter the stage with your hands full and leave with them empty every time. And it's part of the choreography: They stop and grab a fistful of snow and run, run, run. It's intense. That's one reason why it's not on pointe anymore. I mean, it's still called the "pointe part"—but it's not on pointe. It's intense, and the whole intermission is vacuuming up snow.

And also, in terms of the confetti, you probably had to test out many kinds under the lights, too, right?
Morris: Yeah. What catches it—people think it's glitter. It's a particular shape that catches air and takes longer to fall. It's great. It's magic! What about the remote-control rats, which are favorites of young people? Those took so much work, and they failed all the time. They now work consistently. But there are three people in the show, and for some reason they're boys, who have remote controls, and they're in the wings driving the rats.

What did you figure out about Tchaikovsky's music by choreographing The Hard Nut?
That it's way better than anyone recognizes. And that most people do the tempi completely wrong. Tchaikovsky wrote very specific tempi and of course in the Russian tradition, you just speed up and slow down for whoever's doing it that night. For something like the Tarantella, which is written [Morris hums the upbeat melody] at that speed, it's usually done [the melody becomes slow and bombastic] for the big jump. It's not a big jump. It's a Tarantella. And something like Arabian, which is [usually] done slow-motion—it's a gorgeous barcarole, and it's done slow-motion so you can pull your foot over your head. It's insane. I think it's ghastly what's happened to the music, and the extrapolations and the edits are just idiotic for me. And the music from Act I, which everyone just sleeps through because it's the most boring fucking thing in the world—that music is incredible. And that's the hard music to play and to conduct. It changes tempo and meter constantly; it interrupts itself all the time. It's wonderful, wonderful music.

When you choreographed the party scene—since costumes are very important—were you in the room? Or did you watch, or come in after?
Pakledinaz: That was back and forth all of the way, because the dancers themselves offered ideas—[Morris glares] Oh, I've gotta go. Getting texted, gotta go. [Laughs] Like any director, he would say, "I need a hippie couple, I need the swinging couple, I need the stay-at-home-think-they're-interesting-but-they're-not couple. And then the one that just starts weeping wildly.
Morris: Yeah. Weeping, weeping.
Pakledinaz: That was a back-and-forth.
Morris: We spent months of the summer before [creating the party scene], and I would say, "Okay, you're a couple, you're a couple, you guys are together," and I knew a little bit: The door's here, and it's a party. And we really found it through improvising. And then I put in the bump and the stroll and the promenade and the hokey-pokey. People don't even know the fucking hokey-pokey anymore. And that came from improvising: Wouldn't that be funny if this happened? Or wouldn't it be sad or bizarre? At one point, I asked Penny Hutchinson, who was in the original cast, "Can you just make sure that this drink gets off the TV?" And she said, "No. I have an argument with her, I go over there. I lose an earring, I have to pull myself together, and then I run into her." It's like, "Okay. Anybody available?" [Laughs] But the rule is if you see something on the floor, you pick it up. It's like, "Your wig is falling off"—and then you go to the bathroom and freshen up, just like you would. When we made the TV show [for Dance in America], I disagreed with [edits], but I agreed because I had to for continuity. I saw no problem with somebody picking up a blue drink and putting down a red drink—I think that's funny and interesting. But it's a little more conservative at Dance in America, and this was 20 years ago. So the TV show's very good, but there are little bits missing. Musically it bothers me more than visually. The Arabian dance isn't in it [now it is included in the DVD], and the [moment with the] ugly sweater? I don't think it's in it.

No, it's not.
Morris: There are a few things where it's like, Oh, that's jarring.
Pakledinaz: When you're watching the stage, your eyes get to be everywhere.
Morris: You're making up your own damn show.
Pakledinaz: And the television screen is always going to tell you where to look.
Morris: And with something like The Hard Nut, which was choreographed for film, what you're not seeing isn't happening. You don't wish the camera were somewhere else. That's why you go to the fucking theater. I'm so dirty. Don't I say fuck all the time?
Pakledinaz: I know. You never have before. Where is it coming from?
Morris: I'm acting out.
Pakledinaz: It's always interesting to go back to that time, though. There was all of the drama of doing a show that was bigger than anybody had ever envisioned. It was like doing a new Broadway show for me. I thought, Just keep working, just keep going, going, going. At a certain point, I was [in Brussels] all the time.
Morris: There are a million really funny, funny tiny details—not just in behavior but in the costumes and the set. The piece of modern art on the wall. It's funny. People have earrings that are like little Christmas packages wrapped up. One year I brought mistletoe to the party and was making out with everybody. We can do that. It's very, very set, but it's also completely open.
Pakledinaz: Another whole segment that makes me weep again too is when the two Drosselmeiers are dancing. It's one of the great pieces of art. Actually, a very important thing happened. Clarice [Marshall as Marie] was going to do the entire piece in a nightgown. Then the week before the show, she and Mark said [about the final duet], "We realize we need a dress. We need to see that she's transformed into a woman." And I designed it overnight.

It's such a great dress—and so different from anything else in the show.
Pakledinaz: I wonder if it's partially because it's so specifically designed for Clarice.
Morris: She was something like 30 when we did it. She is 75 now.
Pakledinaz: And the piece is 80 years old. No, but actually, it was about making it slender. It followed some of the rules, but you're right. It's its own dress.

She's her own woman at that point.
Pakledinaz: Yeah. And I think that duet between the two of them is so human and so beautiful. At that point, the cartoon could go away.
Morris: That's the part that people have complained about—and they do—saying that it's underchoreographed. It's like, Boy, here's what I think: Almost everything I see is overchoreographed. It's like, I wish it were a little less innovative so I could just watch. I don't need to see her tied up in a new kind of knot I've never seen before. It's like, dance. Okay, dance. What's wrong with that? The original casting was as racially specific as I could do it. And I still do that. Let's see: I have a Mexican-American, he's in Spain—because he's as close as we can get. It's like, Okay, you're Korean? That's close enough—you're in Chinese. And that's funny and wrong. Or the fact that the Arabians are wearing two Rolex watches on each hand.
Pakledinaz: We had to get rid of that the second year. They're in their caftans and their Ray-Bans and Rolex watches, but the next year there was a bomb threat on the theater because of the Gulf War, and they said we couldn't put the wristwatches on them.
Morris: We didn't do the dance.
Pakledinaz: We didn't do the dance because of that?
Morris: And we moved the light on the map from Kuwait to somewhere else.

Why do you still perform in this show?
Morris: You bitch. That's not off the record. You bitch!

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