If you're maxed out on politics for the moment, and hungering for holiday cultural adventure, check out the 2nd Annual "Battle of the Nutcrackers" on Ovation TV. It started Dec. 4th and continues for the next week, with a different performance each evening. The Battle features a "competition" among half a dozen productions of this beloved Christmas dance classic. Coming up are George Balanchine's, Matthew Bourne's and the Bolshoi's Nutcrackers, among others. MC is American choreographer Mark Morris.
Last night's opener was Maurice Béjart's "Nutcracker," one of the gayest creations of the openly gay French-born choreographer. First performed in 1998 by the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, it has been both panned and praised by reviewers across the Western hemisphere. Variations on sexual orientation have always been accepted behind the scenes in the ballet world, for both choreographers and dancers. But only now and then is a gay point of view so openly celebrated on the stage.
The traditional story line is kinda there, if you look for it, on a stripped-down stage dominated by a row of dance-studio mirrors and a giant torso of a naked pregnant woman sculpted in a Baroque style. So is the Tchaikovsky score, which is now and then playfully overlaid with French-style accordion playing.
But Béjart put an autobiographical twist on the old story, with a tribute to his mother, who died when he was a boy. Meanwhile he had fun stretching classical ballet steps into extreme athletic moves that are more typical of the Cirque du Soleil. As the dancers pair and re-pair, there are enough homo and bi shadings to suit the queerest balletomane -- not to mention lots of cross-dressing (bearded ballerinas, girls in men's apache and black tie, etc.)
Most of the principal dancers are wonderful, notably Gil Roman -- though the pair who performed the iconic Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux were not up to it technically.
But all in all, Béjart's Nutcracker joins the growing list of successfully-gayed-up versions of classical ballets, including Bourne's haunting "Swan Lake." Lots of clips can be found online, including Direct TV Lounge and YouTube. It's also available on DVD, if you search on Google.
Ovation TV is carried by Dish Network and Direct TV.