On the Mark

The Hard Nut runs at various times on the weekends from Friday,Dec. 8 through Sunday, Dec. 17 at Zellerbach Hall. $26-$50. 50% discountfor students. Call (510) 642-9988 for more information.

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You know the holidays are here when the air becomes crisp, the shopping

malls crowd up and your head fills with the music of sugar plum fairies

from seemingly endless TV commercials. In the madness that is the American

Christmas season, nothing captures this flurry of feelings more perfectly

than Mark Morris's Nutcracker interpretation, The Hard Nut,

which comes back for its annual visit next week in Zellerbach Hall.

Illustration/Deana Sobel; Photo-Daily Cal Staff/Dan Ostmann

In what has become a Berkeley tradition, Morris brings his

company to the East Bay to celebrate - in its own modern, unique way - the

spirit of the holidays. Whether you've been dragged to your local

Nutcracker every year to watch your sister or brother progress from

mouse to snowflake, or have never seen this holiday staple, The Hard Nut

offers a fresh and exuberant take on the classic Tchaikovsky score.

In its modern, pop-art, '60s setting with visual design by

horror comics artist Charles Burns, Morris presents men on pointe, remote

control mice, a fabulous party scene in which guests throw back drinks

while scandalizing one another and a now-famous snow scene where nature

sees no genders. Best of all, Morris offers up some beautiful dancing in

the work. The Daily Californian recently had the chance to talk to the

world-renowned choreographer.

The Daily Californian: Why do you keep bringing The Hard

Nut back to Berkeley?

Mark Morris: Because people keep coming to see it. [Cal

Performances Director] Bob Cole and Cal Performances are fabulous and very

supportive, and people want to see us.

DC: Do you think people will appreciate The Hard Nut

more if they've already seen a traditional Nutcracker?

MM: What is a "traditional" Nutcracker? There are so

many different variations - Balanchine's, San Francisco Ballet's. There are

only little bits of the original left in any production.

DC: How did you collaborate with Charles Burns on the visual

design of the production? Did he come up with the ideas, or did you tell

him what you had in mind?

MM: I called him and we worked together. I decided how things

should look. I liked the look of his comic book art. There is real horror

in the original E.T.A. Hoffman story, and I wanted to capture that -

Burns's visual aesthetic is fabulous.

DC: Do you want to see The Hard Nut become a family

holiday tradition like the Nutcracker is, and do you think it is

geared more to adults or children?

MM: It's becoming a tradition - a human tradition, not

necessarily a family tradition. There is always more to see and find as

people keep coming back year after year. You see it differently each time.

Now, there are people who saw it as children and are now seeing it as

adults differently. Both can appreciate it.

DC: The dancing is beautiful throughout the work. How do you

create movement that is not contrived but humorous and beautiful at the

same time?

MM: I make it up - it is contrived. It is as much based

on the Petipa version as any other production. You just have to look

closer. In other productions, the party scene is boring - you're just

waiting for the dancing. I wanted it to start at the beginning. I wanted

the first act to be a party.

DC: There is a lot of pointe work and balletic movement. Do you

consider The Hard Nut more of a ballet than a modern dance piece? Do

you make a distinction?

MM: There are symptoms of ballet - it's a dance and a show.

DC: Does The Hard Nut have a moral or a message?

MM: Yes - love works.

DC: The Nutcracker is often a person's first

introduction to dance. Do think it is still relevant? Would you rather have

people experience something else?

MM: It's fine with me, whatever age you are. Though I would

hope your first experiences with dancing would be when you're five and just

playing with movement or waltzing with your grandma at a wedding.

DC: Were you ever in a Nutcracker growing up?

MM: A small, strange one when I was in Seattle growing up. It

was Disney's version in Fantasia; I was a mushroom, in the Chinese

music part. The Disney version is great - something people need to look at


DC: How do you think young people, like Berkeley students, can

be encouraged to support the arts, especially dance? How can it be made

relevant to their lives?

MM: The arts are what make civilization, not just dance - all

the arts. It's what brings people together and enables people to imagine

how people feel and think. Art does that, not war. It creates empathy

besides being a good date.

DC: What other artists influence you?

MM: Merce Cunningham, Bach and Handel. It's the music that

matters. That's why I did The Hard Nut, because of the score. To

dancers and Americans, the music has become so familiar, numbing. I wanted

to shake the dust off.

DC: Finally, what music are you listening to and what books are

you reading?

MM: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and my

company just returned from Hawaii, so I'm listening to some Hawaiian music.

It changes daily.


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