A mighty performance
Two African American dancers are earning their stripes at one of Boston Ballet’s most enduring institutions: Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’
Young performers come to dance and ballet in different ways.
Ten-year-old Tyson Ali Clark, for instance, followed the example of his mother and sisters in what he described as “a dancing family.” But Lawrence Rines found that gymnastics triggered his interest in dancing.
One thing that both African American dancers have in common is an agreement that the Boston Ballet is the perfect company for their training and early experience. Case in point: both of their variety of parts in Boston Ballet’s annual winter favorite “The Nutcracker.”
Now in his third year at Boston Ballet School, Clark is tackling the featured child role of Fritz, the temperamental son of the family hosting a Christmas party during the first act in the famous Tchaikovsky ballet. Clark attends the West Somerville Neighborhood School and is no stranger to demanding dance, having already earned such honors as “Little Mr. Petit Dancer” and the American Dance Academy Award for all around work.
Clark admitted that “my father wanted me to do sports,” but he is now very proud of his son’s dance achievements and Tyson does have some time for a little basketball every now and then.
Given this background, he welcomed the challenge of rehearsals that stretched to six weeks —“almost every day.” Last year, Tyson danced the role of a party child. For the part of Fritz, Boston Ballet artistic director and “Nutcracker 2010” choreographer Miko Nissinen advised “to act a lot” — and Clark followed suit.
“I act angry in some parts,” he observed. “I act naughty when I read the book (about history) and slam it.” Tyson also enjoyed expressing delight when mysterious sorcerer Dr. Drosselmeier gives him a watch, something the child always wanted. His favorite moments in the role are “when I ride the horse (toy horse) and when I break the Nutcracker (in a tug of war with sister Clara).” Of the role and the ballet, he declared, “It’s really fun and exciting.”
Looking to future editions of the ballet, Clark submitted ,”My favorite part of the ‘Nutcracker’ is the Russian.” If so, he would do well to talk about that part of the second act with Rines. During the first act, the roles of the Boston Ballet dancer range from Harlequin and Bear to Grandfather, Young Man (in the opening sequence) and party adult. The South End dancer first studied gymnastics at the age of seven and discovered that “in gymnastics, there are some ballet-like steps” and found that his training served him well in preparing for the physical demands.
Rines said that his challenge is to increase his range even further. Already trained in jazz and modern dance, he readily concedes that he doesn’t have much training in the way classical ballet.
Even so, he rose to the demands. “Miko (Nissinen) is a very tough director to please,” Rines said. “He’s constantly pushing. It was difficult for me to change at first but I learned to love it. Getting a job from Miko is like winning the lottery.”
Rines has also performed in the season-opening ballet classic “La Bayadere.”
As for his many roles in “Nutcracker 2010,” Rines called Harlequin, which he also danced last year, his favorite. “It’s very jumpy,” he explained. “It’s not just ballet. You have to be a doll (in the first act) and an evil doll, kind of creepy in the second act.”
Boston Ballet fans have favorite principal dancers and sequences, but the greatness of the company’s “Nutcracker” is the remarkable strength of its corps and the crispness of its over-all performance. “The Nutcracker 2010” is no exception. Artistic director Miko Nissinen has fired up principals, soloists and student dancers alike to reach the consistency, the exquisite form and the synchronization of a world-class company.
“Nutcracker 2010” soared with crack technique and memorable spirit at a recent performance. Lorin Mathis was a suave if not enigmatic Drosselmeier, and Fiona Wada-Gill his rightly enchanted favorite Clara. Max Pounonov proved a feisty Fritz, and Pavel Gurevich was a tall, dashing Nutcracker escort for Clara.
Gurevich returned later with strong turns as Cavalier to Rie Ichikawa’s very graceful Sugar Plum Fairy. Other standouts included Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga’s sensual Arabian sweet and Kathleen Breen Combes’s poetic Drew Drop Fairy.
Each year “The Nutcracker” stands as a kind of barometer for Boston Ballet’s artistic condition. The sharpness of the ensembles and the tightness of each scene in “The Nutcracker 2010” bodes well for the quality and the artistry of its upcoming more serious fare –beginning with Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Nights’s Dream” ballet ( April 7-17, 2011 ).
Next year, Rines will dance in “Tabula Rasa” by Helen Pickett as part of the Boston Ballet’s “Bella Figura” program (April 28-May 8, 2011) and in the second cast for George Balanchine’s “Symphony in 3 Movements” in the season’s closer “Balanchine/ Robbins” (May 12-22,2011) . He is the only BBII dancer learning and performing the Pickett piece. ‘I’m very thankful this year for dancing a lot. It’s helping me be a better dancer.” Some day he hopes to be a ballet master and a teacher as well.