Nuts For The Nutcracker: Dance Critic Criscrosses America

Alastair Macaulay, the head dance critic at The New York Times, is traveling coast to coast, watching productions of The Nutcracker. From a Rocky Horror-inspired version in Brooklyn to a classic production in Salt Lake City to a Las Vegas spectacular, Macaulay will see 28 productions.

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GUY RAZ, host:

New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay has an unusual assignment this holiday season. He's traveling coast to coast watching as many productions of "The Nutcracker" as he can in a single month. So far, he's seen 32 performances. And he joins me now on a rare break between shows. Alastair is in New York.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. ALASTAIR MACAULAY (Dance Critic, The New York Times): Hi.

RAZ: So, are you a bit of a masochist. I mean, wow, 32 productions of "The Nutcracker," most all of them in December, this month.

Mr. MACAULAY: I know it's really crazy and one has to use the term it's nutty.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACAULAY: It really is. But it's about the only ballet I could do this with. I mean, I think the difference about "The Nutcracker" is it is terribly adaptable. So, the stories are going to be slightly different in each production, you see. The music also is doing something new every minute, every two minutes. So, you don't - it doesn't get stuck in a rut. The story keeps moving on. The music keeps moving. It's diverse.

RAZ: So, before I ask you about specific shows that you've seen this season, explain why you're doing this.

Mr. MACAULAY: I'm an Englishman who moved to America in 2007, and straightaway I realized that "The Nutcracker" is a much bigger deal in America than anywhere else. And so why don't I, instead of doing the traditional thing, which is to groan, oh, "The Nutcracker" again, what a clich´┐Ż, why don't I embrace it and have discovered America and "The Nutcracker," both of them in greater depth by seeing as many as possible.

RAZ: Do you have an estimate of, you know, sort of like a ballpark figure for how many different "Nutcracker" productions will be staged this season across the country?

Mr. MACAULAY: I haven't tried counting how many "Nutcrackers" there are, but a friend told me that last year, somebody estimated that there are about 800 "Nutcracker" productions being done in the world and well over 300 of them are being done in America.

RAZ: Wow.

Mr. MACAULAY: I actually would suspect that's a conservative estimate, because the moment I announced in advance that I was going to do a "Nutcracker" marathon tour, I got invited to so many. And I thought if there are this many obscure "Nutcrackers," if I could find them all, I reckon it would total more than 300.

RAZ: So, what is the weirdest one that you've seen?

Mr. MACAULAY: The weirdest, maybe one of the worst, which is called "Nutcracker: Rated R," which was in New York. It tried to be wacky, alternative, very sexy, very naughty. Occasionally, we'd get more or less bare breasts than mice and other characters. Their snow scene becomes a cocaine party with a snow queen passing around a white substance. And on the whole, it's just a city concept with what you could do this to any music and they're just trying to be the "Rocky Horror Show."

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: What do you think it is about this ballet, about this piece of music that Tchaikovsky produced that is so enduring and durable?

Mr. MACAULAY: "The Nutcracker" is simply great theater music. I think if you don't find yourself very interested about the Spanish dance, for example, in one performance, it doesn't matter because two minutes later, you're getting the Arabian dance, which is a completely different kind of instrumentation. Then you're getting the Chinese dance, and then you're getting the Russian dance. Later on, you're getting the waltz of the flowers.

Just as you think this is one kind of atmosphere, the whole climate changes and you're getting the big, round tragic (unintelligible) for the sugar plum fairy.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Given that you've seen 32 productions this month, do you think that if you were at one production now and say, you know, a cast member got sick, you could be pulled from the audience and just fill in?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACAULAY: That is the saddest, unhappiest idea. No, I'd be terrible on stage and I'd get the giggles. I'd probably go into the wrong version.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's Alastair Macaulay. He is the chief dance critic for The New York Times. His special series chronicling 28 different "Nutcrackers" is called The Nutcracker Chronicles.

Alastair, thank you so much joining us and Merry Christmas to you.

Mr. MACAULAY: Merry Christmas.

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