New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker 2016

I’m gonna swoon here.  First, allow me to establish that I’m no ballet expert.  Though I’ve been to more than a few, and generally make a point to take in a performance or two each year, I could scarcely tell you what plie means.  But greatness is something I pride myself on recognizing on sight.  And this production is simply stunning!

The very idea that there were empty seats at the Tuesday night performance is a travesty.  My companion and I spent most of the time wowing, slapping each other’s legs in excitement, and generally (at least in my case) being transported back to those giddy days of Christmas past when my chest could scarcely keep my bursting heart caged.  No, really.  The stunning pageantry of the sets and costumes themselves are a sight to behold.  With gasps, of course.  The dancers’ execution is impeccable, right down to the children executing silent, elegantly playful moves perfectly in character.

A few words on the individual dancers from a neophyte.  The character Coffee that night was simply ravishing (either Megan LeCrone or Claire Kretzschmar, says the playbill).  Her every move an exquisitely sensual expression.  Lithe.  Indelible.  The power and grace of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Sterling Hyltin) and her Prince (Andrew Veyette) made of itself a whole other character – a ballet within a ballet.  Each time Veyette landed a jump, or Hyltin, one got the impression that he possesses the power to negate gravity:  not even the hint of a thump, landing like a feather each time.  In fact, I caught myself leaning forward as if in anticipation of a critical play in a sporting event – straining the ears and eyes in disbelief at the gentleness of each landing.  I could go on, at least if I knew what all the characters and movements were named.  Suffice to say that soon after the curtain rose an elegant older woman slipped into the seats to my right and spent the night whispering comments to herself with each difficult move, punctuated with physical spasms of delight.  I watched for her outbursts out of the corner of my eye and am quite convinced that she knew the dances, dancers, and ballet personally and expertly.  Suffice to say she exploded in emotion at the end.  So, you need not rely only simply on my thumbs up.

koch-theaterA couple of hacks.  The ground floor bars will always have a line.  Go up one flight of stairs where there are many more bars, much more space, and more than a few displays of costumes from performances past worth perusing.  You can ask for an intermission pre-order form at any of the bars and have your champagne and cookies waiting for you.  Sip your champagne, toss your head back in a haughty laugh, and wink at all the poor saps wasting their intermission waiting in line.  If, like they were for us, neither the weather nor clock are cooperating, hop across Columbia and pay Patrick a visit at PJ Clarke’s for a quick, but lovely, serving of prosecco and oysters and to swoon and chatter over the magnificent spectacle you were so lucky to have just attended.  You are welcome.

A small part of me was bummed that no photography of any type is allowed during the performance.  At least until I realized I could rely on the pre-installed recording equipment in the brain.  In our rush to constantly document everything, it was nice to recall that the explosive images the dancers and musicians created; the sense of excitement that made the air nearly vibrate; the lighting and stage-craft (Ronald Bates, Mark Stanley); and, of course, dashing brilliance of the conductor (Andrews Sill) and choreographer (George Balanchine) all married together in a perfect cocktail of memories that only my companion and I have the privilege of ever enjoying.  But you, dear reader, can take this much away:  if it’s remotely of interest, go.  Go and enjoy one of the most gorgeous of holiday celebration activities that money can buy in the finest place on earth to do so . . . New York City Ballet will never fail you.

The Nutcracker, New York City Ballet, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center Plaza, New York City

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La Boquilla, Cartagena, Colombia

Like many Latin American cities, Cartagena doesn’t have very nice city beaches. Blame it on the busy port or on poor sewage and waste management. In Boquilla you will find the nicest beaches available on the mainland near Cartagena. Locals compare it to Miami for the small strip of beachfront properties, relative security, and availability of water sports rentals and instruction. We rented a beachfront property here via AirBNB and it was an excellent decision. Beware the locals hanging around on the north end of the beach – the beach abuts against an old shanty town and not all of the locals get that stealing from beachgoers is less sustainable than selling them things of value. Not a good spot for night beach walks, but very secure during the day.

Address: La Boquilla, Highway 90A, Cartagena, Colombia

Chivas Party Tour, Cartagena, Colombia

I know it seems touristy and cheesy, but just do it. Do it, and do it early in your trip because IMG_0016you’re likely to make friends that will last longer than your time in Cartagena. For a set fee (I think it was about $20 per person, but not certain) you will ride around for a few hours with 50 or so of your best new friends from around the globe, drink the rough local aguardiente freely, and sing new songs at the top of your lungs. In fact, be smart and buy your own clave, guiro, or maracas from one of the hawkers plying the streets of el Centro before you board so that you can play along with the Vallenato band in the back. Buy your own bottle of Ron Medellin to take with you – you’ll make plenty of new friends by sharing shots with former strangers that can’t quite stomach the cheap local firewater the chiva provides. The chivas will tour around to pick up folks from various hotels that booked their activities in advance – welcome each group loudly with a smile and you will be their hero. Each bus has its own MC who will goad you into activities and contests, the most fun of which are against the other chivas at stoplights. Don’t be a wet blanket – throw yourself so far into it that other passengers think you’re part of the show and you will not be disappointed. Most chivas stop into several discotecas for a drink and a dance, then load up and you’re off! If you do nothing else touristy the whole time you are there, do this.

Address: Chivas Party Tour, various departing from La Torre del Reloj, intersection of Avenida Venezuela and Avenida Calle 24 Real, Cartagena, Colombia