A "new" version of "The Nutcracker" was launched at Constitution Hall last night, something we needed about as much as another arrangement of "Jingle Bells."
The production is the work of the Preparatory Performing Workshop, a unit of Dance for Washington, the ballet school headed by Karoly Barta that for the past several years has occupied the Connecticut Avenue quarters vacated by the old National Ballet. The choreography, such as it is, is credited to Barta, a Hungarian-born former dancer of imposing background.
Let it be noted that aside from the basic plot and the Tchaikovsky score, heard here as a recording, this "Nutcracker" has next to nothing in common with the productions of professional ballet companies, or with the fine, school-based but professionally mounted Washington Ballet version. The Dance for Washington staging is more akin to the several community-oriented "Nutcrackers" and Nutcracker-substitutes that show up annually in the suburbs, except that it seems less endowed with flair than any of them known to me. No doubt it serves its primary functions -- raising some needed revenues for the school, and giving parents and relations a chance to see their youngsters on a stage.
In short, there's nothing about it that merits critical attention, and there'd be no reason to single it out but for a few special circumstances.
One is the curious appearance of Istvan Rabovsky as Drosselmeier, the magician. You may remember that Rabovsky, now 49, escaped with his dancer wife, Nora Kovach, from East Berlin in 1953, the pair thus becoming the first ballet defectors to the West.
Another circumstance is the following: in the smallest and faintest print in the program, mention is made that "some of the dancers" are senior students from the School of American Ballet, the training institution for the New York City Ballet. What the note neglects to point out is that these dancers perform every single dance role of any substance, from Sugar Plum and her Cavalier, to the Snowflakes, the Flowers and all the Act II divertissement solos. They do dance nicely, but even so, this is strictly a "Nutcracker" for partisans of Dance for Washington, whose enjoyment needn't depend on making allowances.