Everything Nutcracker

Costume Designers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung Rethink "The Nutcracker," One Gigantic Brioche at a Time

The candied fig and pear variation. Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Last May we covered the new swimwear line that costume designers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, otherwise known as Reid & Harriet Design, created based on Justin Peck costumes. The duo, known for their work with top companies including New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet, are just as skilled at creating whimsical yet streamlined costumes as they are at rethinking the role that design plays in dance. "Designers are often seen as filling a need verse creating art," says Bartelme, noting that he and Jung often feel that they're at the very bottom of the production totem pole. This fall, the twosome have taken matters into their own hands. As Resident Fellows at New York University's Center for Ballet and the Arts, Bartelme and Jung are taking a different approach to creating a ballet: starting with the designs.

Bartelme and Jung equate this to the early 20th century model used by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, where the composer, choreographer and designer had equal importance, contributing to the gesamtkunstwerk, or "total work of art." Productions by the Ballets Russes featured designs by Pablo Picasso, Coco Chanel and Henri Matisse.

Last week Bartelme and Jung presented their work in an informal seminar at CBA. They chose to work with The Nutcrackerseasonally appropriate, yes, but also the country's most-performed ballet. In addition to the role of designer and director, Jung and Bartelme acted as dramaturges for their production, delving deep into the storied ballet's history from page to stage. Rather than look at the way that companies interpret The Nutcracker today, they looked to the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann and the later interpretation by Alexandre Dumas for inspiration. The result? A Nutcracker unlike any we've ever seen.

Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Jung and Bartelme's Nutcracker is set in the 1950s. Why? It has a clear aesthetic as well as strong conservative conventions for Marie to rebel against in the second act. First off we see Marie's family at their Christmas gathering. Smaller than the conventional Nutcracker party scene, this intimate celebration aligns more closely to Hoffmann's tale. Marie is set downstage in a simple blue dress, which the designers compare to the blue dresses worn by Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz—two other young, storybook women who feel confined by their respective societies and so escape to magical lands.

Other details to note are the gilded owl clock on the wall, a detail included in Hoffmann's story, as well as the 1950s style cherry jello mold on the center of the table which will soon open up to expose a world within, Bartelme and Jung's replacement for the classic dollhouse.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.


Here we get a glimpse inside the cherry palace, which the designers modeled off the palace in Disney's Cinderella (released in 1950). Drosselmeier, in his yellow suit and glass wig (details from Hoffmann), stands out among the cherry people.

The mermaid and cabbage dolls in the center were inspired by the original stage notes. Bartelme and Jung's design for the mermaid doll came from the mermaid used in1950s advertisements for Chicken of the Sea tuna fish.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

The detailing on Bartelme and Jung's mouse costumes are based on Queen Elizabeth's mid-century regalia; they've even named their head mice Elizabeth and Philip.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

The Nutcracker himself is designed after one of the most popular toys in the 1950s: Mr. Potato Head. His violet suit and green miner's cap come from Hoffmann's descriptions.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Bartelme and Jung's Land of Sweets opens with a waltz of powdered sugar crystals instead of snow. Unlike traditional Nutcrackers, these costumes, like all to come in the land of sweets, are unisex. Reid and Bartelme see the magical land of the ballet's second act as a representation of freedom and creativity, where the restraints of societyincluding gender normsare done away with.



Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

This is seen most clearly with the Dragée Fairy. Rather than sugar plums, according to Bartelme and Jung, the candy that the Sugarplum Fairy is named for in the original story are dragées, a hard Jordan Almond-like delicacy. The designers took dragée to the next leveldrag. Their lead fairy can be danced on or off pointe by either a man or a woman.

Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Bartelme and Jung's versions of the divertissements come from Hoffmann and Dumas' original descriptions. Instead of Chocolate, they'll have "basins of whipped cream." Do we sense a little competition with Ratmansky?

Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Hoffmann's "silver swans with gold-banded necks" will replace what is usually known as Coffee or Arabian.

Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

According to Jung, in the Hoffmann story Marie is described as being served a meal on Japanese porcelain. So Jung found a porcelain pattern from the Edo period in Japan and recreated it on these costumes. "They're just tea cups, inanimate objects, instead of a caricature of a culture," she says.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Unlike most of their descriptions, the replacement for Russian or Trepak comes from a line by Dumas; "gigantic brioches."


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Bartelme and Jung felt that the Mother Ginger figure had become stale (no pun intended), and instead chose to use a type of gingerbread cookies that Hoffmann describes called springerle. Figures dressed in medieval garb will pop out of the cookies.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Here we have the finale of the Land of Sweets, which Bartelme and Jung call the Dragée Cave. Alongside Japanese Tea, Whipped Cream, Gigantic Brioches and others are Pearl Headed Emerald Pages (a replacement for Balanchine's child angels), a Candied Pear and a Poppy. Adjacent to the Dragée Fairy is Jung and Bartelme's replacement for the Dewdrop Fairythe Lily of the Valley Fairy.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

For Bartelme and Jung, the final pas de deux will become a pas de trois between Marie (we love her modern pant pajamas), the Dragée Fairy and the Nutcracker. In their version, Marie chooses to stay in the land of sweets and live an unconventional life.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas

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Summer Study Advice
Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.


Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

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Summer Study Advice
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As summer intensive audition season starts up, I've been reminiscing about my own experience as a young dancer—way back in 1993—and how challenging it was to navigate. In fact, I think it's safe to say that my first summer program audition was a complete disaster.

I was almost 16—a little late by some standards—and was still pretty clueless as to how I compared to others outside my hometown. That weighed heavily on my mind as my parents and I made the hour-long drive to Milwaukee. The audition was for a school in Pennsylvania, and as I scanned the big-city studio, my mind slipped into exaggerated teenage self-consciousness. Dancers lined the barres stretching, showing off their flexibility as if doing some sort of war ritual. Many were chatting in groups, wearing trendy warm-up jumpers and donning perfectly shellacked buns. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, but inside I was a wreck.

The teacher clapped his hands together to begin class. He was fast-paced, no-nonsense and not one for smiles. During pliés, he stopped in front of me with his clipboard as I emerged from a cambré back. He looked me up and down, frowned and kept going. I, of course, freaked out—what did that mean? I still had an entire hour and a half left of class to prove I was still capable, but instead I completely lost my concentration. I just couldn't shake that frown. I forgot combinations and even started with the wrong foot in front a few times in center. By jumps, the adjudicators had stopped watching me altogether. Needless to say, I spent the majority of the ride home trying not to cry.

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It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

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Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


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