The Hard Nut premiered toward the end of
your time in Brussels, as director of dance at
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie. Did you always
intend to keep it going somehow, to bring it
back with you to the United States?
First of all, it’s lasted for 25 years because it’s very,
very good. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t
dances which have lasted forever, which are terrible. But no. When I left Brussels I didn’t know I
would receive all of the physical properties for The
Hard Nut, but we got an incredible deal to keep
all those sets and costumes.
The Hard Nut conjures many distinctly
American pop-cultural images, like soft-serve
ice cream cones, Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes. Did
those visual ideas come primarily from Charles
Burns, the cartoonist, or from you, or…
It came from everyone. I sent everything—the
music, the wonderful E. T.A. Hoffmann book upon
which it’s based—to the whole team: costume
designer Marty Pakledinaz, set designer Adrianne
Lobel, lighting designer James F. Ingalls, and
Charles. All of us together created this world. I
can’t really say which ideas belonged to whom.
You’ve said the desire to choreograph The
Nutcracker goes back to when you were a
teenager. Is there a production which for you
was particularly inspiring?
Balanchine’s is very good, even though the first
act is kind of boring. People will kill me for say-
ing that. My favorite is probably The Nutcracker
Suite—it’s not the full Nutcracker—from Disney’s
Fantasia. It’s such incredible choreography, the
animation is unbelievable, I love the musicality
and just the imagination of it all. It’s miraculously
Many of the dramatic roles are closely tied to
specific artists, perhaps most of all Kraig
Patterson as the Housekeeper. Has it been
difficult to recast any roles, or to watch certain
artists retire them?
I’m not overly sentimental in that way. I don’t “see
the ghosts of Christmas past” when I watch the
piece. There’s a difference between history and
Children sing in the chorus for The Hard Nut,
but you don’t use them onstage. Did you get
any pushback on that decision?
No. I do what I want, and I did not want to work
You’ve performed so often in The Hard Nut
yourself. What’s that like?
Because I work with such extraordinary danc-
ers, and because the music is so wonderful and
so alive, it’s always very surprising and fun. I’m
all about living audiences paying attention and
watching living performers. That’s what I love. It’s
also exhausting, of course, especially since I’m so
old now. [Laughs]
It takes an extraordinary amount of cooperation between a lot of people, and a lot of
alignment of politics and forces, for a production like The Hard Nut to become a reality. Did
Right. It couldn’t be done today.
—did you have that sense in Brussels, of a
limited window of opportunity?
I always think that. I did a big production this fall
that opened at Cal Performances in Berkeley,
Layla and Majnun, and that requires an enormous
amount of trust in me, and responsibility on my
part. Once something’s opened and it’s been successful, everybody wants it, but the danger, the
gamble—and the interesting part—is supporting
something new. Speaking of which: I have to go
now, and I’m stopping my timer to let you know
that we spoke for 39 minutes and 16 seconds, not
just 10 minutes. Put that in. n
news | 10 MINUTES WITH...
Built to last, Mark Morris Dance Group’s The Hard
Nut returns December 10–18 for its 25th anniversary engagement, in the Howard Gilman Opera
House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As
gleefully irreverent as it is visually poetic and
musically sensitive, Morris’ interpretation of The
Nutcracker features, among its many memorable
moments, gender-queer snowflakes and a Christmas party with no food, only alcohol.
alternative holiday classic,
The Hard Nut, turns 25.
BY ZACHARY WHITTENBURG
Mark Morris and
Amber Star in a
The Hard Nut