The Hard Nut: Barbies, GI Joes, and Remote-Controlled Rats

photo via BAM

Mark Morris Dance Group finished their run of The Hard Nut at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House last week, and as promised, the cheeky 70s-era take on The Nutcracker gave full grown adults the opportunity to indulge in the spectacle of dancing Barbies and GI Joes, fits of sparkles, and most importantly: remote-control rats. The massive mod-inspired set created a palate of black, white, and red in the opening party scene, with large scale set pieces and detailed costuming forming a cohesive swinging-disco fantasy. This is delicious enough. However, the senses are also treated to the 53 piece live orchestra (the MMDG Music Ensemble) which played the entirety of the traditional Tchaikovsky score.

While the clean, rounded choreography of the group dances satisfy the senses, it is the clever characterization of this particular retelling of this classic tale (and high production value) that is responsible for the work’s success. The deeply nuanced character-acting executed by the performers—in conjunction with the smart aesthetic—position the work as a sophisticated art-world comedy, with all the bells and whistles of a Broadway show. Mark Morris’s irreverent, wise-guy approach at times edges toward a spoof, especially in the first act. However much of the second act is sincerely committed to the narrative at hand—whether we really care about it at that point or not.

Oscillating from raunchy pelvic thrusts of drunk party guests in the opening scene, to the tenderest of kisses in the final pas de deux, The Hard Nut is the spectacle and sparkle one would hope for on a witty first date. With the traditional rendition of The Nutcracker being wrecked with a kind of warm wonder, and yet also, inspiring great annoyance (often from the same people), The Hard Nut continues to be a viable alternative.

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