Stalking Ásgeir Trausti

OI saw Ásgeir Trausti four times at Airwaves this year. Add the Reykjavík Calling show in Seattle, and I’ve seen him play five times. With the possible exception of my boyfriend’s band in college, I think that’s the most times I’ve seen any musician. Obviously, I really liked Ásgeir Trausti’s debut album Dýrð Í Dauðaþögn (Glory in Dead Silence). But it’s not like I set out to see as many Ásgeir Trausti sets as possible. It’s not like I was stalking Ásgeir Trausti.

I only saw, like, half of his Airwaves sets. At any given time during the festival, there was an Ásgeir Trausti set scheduled. By comparison, many bands only played one set. Percentage-wise, I saw more of Sólstafir’s and Agent Fresco’s sets – two each, and had to sacrifice other bands to do so. Ásgeir Trausti’s shows were convenient – after breakfast at my hostel on Sunday morning, last on the lightly programmed Wednesday night.


One benefit of seeing the same artist so many times in close succession was the opportunity to get deeper into the music, and because Ásgeir Trausti is so young and green, to actually watch him develop as a performer. For example, I’ve seen Korn probably four times. But those shows were separated by months or even years, and were in support of multiple albums. So it was hard to compare anything more detailed than the overall atmosphere (yep, still a giant love-in).


When shows are only separated by 12 hours, differences are more obvious – and in this case, intentional. In our interview, Ásgeir said he liked to make every show a little different. He proved it at Airwaves. Although Ásgeir Trausti is young enough to wear his influences sincerely on his sleeve (Bon Iver songwriting + Tallest Man on Earth guitar + James Blake electronics) the album Dýrð Í Dauðaþögn presents a solid songwriting resume. Each show at Airwaves was designed to highlight a different aspect of the music.

He stays in the background, but Julius is integral to Asgeir Trausti's music

He stays in the background, but Julius is integral to Asgeir Trausti’s music

Wednesday night at Deutsche Bar was an indie show, complete with band and drunken audience. Thursday afternoon at Nordic House was an acoustic duo with Julius, bathed in red lamps and natural sunlight. I wrote in my notes, “This is baby-making music.” Saturday night at Harpa highlighted the electronic elements. “Leyndarmál,” which seemed out of place on the album, made sense amidst the smoke and lights at this big pop show. Sunday morning at KEX featured the band again, but the focus was once again on the classical guitar and the folk influences.


Asgeir Trausti, rock star

Ásgeir Trausti has been in bands before, but not (I think) fronting his own project, and certainly not with so many people watching. He seems less than comfortable with all the attention, which is endearing, but makes for a show that’s not very interactive. Aside from announcing the occasional song title and a “Takk,” at the end of the songs, he rarely addresses the audience. At Reykjavík Calling, Julius actually talked to the audience more than Ásgeir, but in Iceland he stayed in the background.


He’s cute. But I wish the boy would pull up his pants.

At the big Harpa show, the audience started to clap along, and a smile flashed across Ásgeir’s face – the only time I ever saw him smile outright. You could almost see the light bulb go on in his head, “I’m the guy on the stage; I can direct the audience.” He paused and raised his arms to clap above his head for just a second before appearing self-conscious again.


Vocally, Ásgeir Trausti spends a lot of time at the top of his range. He’s got a very nice voice, but he hasn’t really grown into it yet, and there are scattered places where it sounds like his voice is about to crack or give out as he just barely hits the note he’s written for himself. When I played the album for my mom, she said that was part of the appeal; it gave the songs just enough rough edge to keep the human texture and avoid the too-slick polish of manufactured pop star. But at the Harpa show (I think it was during “Nyfallid regn,” but the details are already beginning to fade) the song built to one of those points and this time Ásgeir just sang it. His voice didn’t strain or thin; he just hit the notes with strength and resonance and it sounded really good. I was close enough to the stage to see Julius and the bass player exchange a smiling glance that said, “Look what little brother just did.”


I remember from my martial arts days the kind of improvement you can make during intensive training. The Harpa show was something like Ásgeir Trausti’s sixth performance in three days, and that moment was like suddenly finding the pressure point or landing your first high fall. Regardless of the art form, it is always a source of joy to witness someone taking such a leap in skill. It was one of the high points of my festival.


In Iceland there are mutterings about Ásgeir Trausti’s overnight success and his connections. He does draw heavily from acknowledged sources in his songwriting; talented lyricists (his father and Julius) write his poetry; his backup band is borrowed from his brother, whose project Hjálmar introduced reggae to Iceland. In contrast to the DIY approach taken by the majority of Icelandic acts, Ásgeir Trausti walked into success.

But the truly self-made star is a myth, and Ásgeir Trausti is no Justin Beiber. Dýrð Í Dauðaþögn is a collection of great songs that don’t sound like a first attempt. Although based on Bon Iver, Tallest Man on Earth, and James Blake, I would rather listen to these songs than any by those three artists.


Ásgeir Trausti’s talent is undeniable, he has good people behind him, he’s willing to work hard, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s cute. If I may be so bold as to make a prediction, I can see Ásgeir Trausti developing into one of those artists that everyone respects, even if they don’t like the style of music he works in. In a couple of decades, if he doesn’t get tired of being managed too soon or get on drugs; if he gets more comfortable speaking English; if he keeps trusting the right people, Ásgeir Trausti could be the Peter Gabriel of  – oh god, what comes after Generation Y? Generation Zed?


My Head in the Amazon Cloud

Tomten_WedChildren_frontCover (2)Our household has recently bought in to the Amazon cloud music library storage model. I’m not the primary account holder, and I don’t understand how it works very well, but it’s a nice way to get music that I actually own downloaded to my phone.  We’ve begun the long, slow process of ripping our CD collection (somewhere around 500 CDs at last count, which was years ago) and uploading it to the cloud.

I love that when I buy a digital copy of an album or upload a newly purchased CD from an American band, all of the song titles and album art go with the sound files. When I download it to my phone, it’s all there. Sometimes with imports like Momentum’s Fixation, at Rest, or albums off of smaller labels like Tomten’s Wednesday’s Children, Amazon doesn’t recognize the album and instead of album art just uses a generic equalizer graphic on my phone, or an Amazon logo on the laptop. I can live with that.

But what I can’t live with is when Amazon makes a best guess. Take for example, the independent release from Lemolo, Kaleidoscope. When I bring it up on my phone, the icon for the album is the cover of Radiohead’s Amnesiac. Ha ha, Amazon.

Equally preposterous is the fate of black-death metal band Gone Postal‘s live 4-track demo Unortheta. I wouldn’t expect Amazon to have it on file -it’s not even available for sale. And given the recording quality, I would be surprised if the CD included a jpeg file for the black and white photocopied cover. But after I uploaded the disk to the cloud, it took me a while to find it. My eye just refused to focus on this artwork while looking for Gone Postal:

This is not the Gone Postal cover you're looking for. No, really.

This is not the Gone Postal cover you’re looking for. No, really.

I can’t really see what album this is the cover for, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the one that came with my Ahn Trio Piano Trios CD.

Ahn Trio


The Peanuts Album Art

Very funny. When the cover of my Blue Hearts album that my husband scoured Japanese record stores for after I loved the movie Linda Linda Linda is replaced by The Peanuts it’s a little more annoying. And I get really steamed when I pull up Circle of Suffering by death metal band Angist and find the artwork from Creed’s Full Circle.



The worst though, is what Amazon did to ambient industrial black metal band Kontinuum’s debut album Earth Blood Magic – witness, Gypsy Blood.

Amazon's Kontinuum image

Amazon’s Kontinuum image

I got a preview copy of Earth Blood Magic back in August or September, and it took me weeks to listen to it because every time I pulled it up I had to look at 80’s ponytail earring man. Even knowing it was wrong the cover, that picture tainted my first couple dozen listens to the album. Even worse, the actual album art is a striking piece of art by Sólstafir drummer, Guðmundur Óli Pálmason.

The real cover of Earth Blood Magic

Kontinuum’s actual cover

I’m not just whining here, though. I’m begging for help. Somebody out there has to know how to manually replace cover art images on the Amazon cloud. I know I’m being incredibly uptight about this, but it really bothers me. Someone, help me please!

Got Itchy Feet? Put Iceland On Them

For those unfamiliar with the expression, itchy feet is a traveler’s disease. Like other viruses, once contracted, it remains in the body forever, flaring up at the most inconvenient times. The only treatment is hair of the dog. You’ve got to get the hell out of Dodge to find any relief. For me, treatment is only effective when airplanes and passport stamps are involved – long weekends and camping trips rarely make a difference – and generally, the destination must be someplace new.


Scotland, Macau, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Costa Rica – all of these places have at one time or another cured what ailed me, and become, for a little while, my favorite spots on earth. When I left each destination, my find was filled with the joy of scheming my return. But except for Japan, I’ve never returned to any of them. There are so many places I haven’t been yet, and life is so short. How can I return to Sri Lanka when I still haven’t seen the Maldives? However much I might love Glasgow, if I’m going that far, why not keep going and find out if Trondheim is as cool as it sounds? The tragedy of itchy feet is that no matter what wonders it drives you to discover, the drive for novelty pushes you on before you’re done.

The sky is crying.

The sky is crying.

Confession: On the bus to Keflavik, I cried. I wasn’t filled with schemes for return. I was well aware of my own travel history and the likelihood of return. With Korea and Egypt and New Zealand yet to explore, what were the odds I’d really make it back to Iceland? Instead of the happy and satisfied feeling of returning from an itchy-feet spa treatment. It was a perfect scene from a Hollywood rom-com: riding to the airport through a desolate landscape of lava fields under leaden skies, raindrops rolling down the window silently echoed by the tears on my face. Soundtrack: Stevie Ray Vaughan, obviously. Even though I missed my family and knew it was time to go home, leaving Reykjavik felt like a break up.


And here I am, over a month later, still thinking of things I need to do in Iceland. I haven’t moved on to the next destination obsession. Usually, once I’ve been someplace and downloaded my photos, I start to think about all the wonderful places fellow travelers told me about. I’ll read a book or see a picture, and a new obsession will be born. Instead of obsessively reading books about Egypt, I’m going back over notes on Iceland. How much would an apartment cost in the 101 if I brought the family and couldn’t stay in a dorm? When do the countryside excursions start up again in the spring? Do I really need that coffee or can I put the five bucks in savings for airfare? I’m starting to think that Iceland may be an itch I just can’t scratch.


Pollyblog: Sudden Weather Change

Pollyblog: 1. When you don’t want to say too much, but 140 characters just won’t cover it. 2. Good ideas that haven’t got their legs yet.

My first experience with Sudden Weather Change was at the Reykjavík Calling show that KEXP put on at Neumo’s in October. The show featured Ásgeir Trausti, Sudden Weather Change, and Apparat Organ Quartet from Iceland; and Redwood Plan from Seattle. There was also this cool thing where the Icelandic bands worked with local writers and the Seattle band worked with an Icelandic writer to create new music for the show, but describing that would turn this into a proper post instead of a pollyblog.

I use this picture a lot.

I use this picture a lot.

Sudden Weather Change lived up to their name with a music that shifted from abrasive punk to melodic indie so suddenly that sometimes they were actually doing both at once. It was angular and unexpected and awesome and I couldn’t wait to see them again at Airwaves a couple weeks later. Except somehow, I didn’t, and Sudden Weather Change became one of the ones who got away.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>


Recently, I discovered this gem on KEXP, and got a Eureka! moment  when I heard that the band’s first album was straight up garage rock. They weren’t satisfied with it, so they started working to develop a new sound with a producer – Ben Frost at Greenhouse Studios.

Greenhouse Studios

Greenhouse Studios

I had visited Greenhouse Studios to interview Bedroom Community co-founder Valgeir Sigurðsson when I was in Reykjavík. Preparing for the interview, I had listened to music from each of the label’s major members, which is how I became acquainted with Ben Frost. All of the Bedroom Community folks do experimental, primarily electronic music, but each has a different take on the fundamental concept. Frost has a more industrial aesthetic, which makes him more accessible to me than some of the other members of the community.

E = mc2

Garage band + Ben Frost = Sudden Weather Change

Simple equations that tell great stories.

Blessed Be the Lamb of God

Lamb of God

Lamb of God

I was starting to think it was a curse. To use Randy Blythe’s own words, “I guess some of you have heard that I had an interesting summer.” The show we originally bought tickets for was cancelled. When the tour was rescheduled, Seattle came at the end instead of the beginning. Our regular babysitter was out of town. So was our backup, and the highly recommended friend of a friend. Finally, two days before the show, we confirmed with a sitter from an online referral service. The plan was to leave early and have dinner at the Elysian and get to Showbox Sodo as the doors opened at 6:00. We are not those Seattle people who skip the openers. In fact, we’re usually more excited about the opening band than the headliner. For this lineup of four bands, the two I cared most about were Lamb of God and Sylosis.

Then the sitter called. She was running late. We ate dinner at home and finally headed south on Aurora, which went down to one lane, and our exit was closed. By the time we got back to downtown, the parking lot behind Showbox was half full. The other half was flooded. We drove around for another 15 minutes before finding street parking two blocks south of the venue. It was after 7:00 when we finally got to the Showbox, but the line to get in still stretched past the neighboring building and a parking lot. Waiting in line was a bit of a culture shock; this was not the metal crowd we were used to. It felt like I was trying to get in to a football game. When we finally got to the front of the line, only one of the people working the door was a woman.

Note to venues: I appreciate your having a woman on security to do pat downs for the women. But please make it optional. I am so much less concerned that your security guards might cop a feel than I am about missing the fucking opening band while I stand in the rain waiting to get my pockets checked.

Which is exactly what happened. By the time I got inside, Sylosis was long gone and HellYeah had already taken the stage. We checked our coats and headed for the bar – about as close to the stage as we were likely to get anyway, since the place was packed. It’s a big secret that most metalheads are actually nerds. It’s complicated, brainy music that just happens to be intense – like Bach.



But the Neanderthal headbanger stereotype didn’t condense out of thin air, and it only takes one hit of HellYeah to get stoopid. They played tight, chunky, heavy, fist in the air, neck-breaking music with an irresistible groove – when they played. I mean, I get the Southern predilection for long-windedness, but homeboy needed to shorten the speechifying and get on with the music.

In Flames

In Flames

In Flames was a little chatty, too, so maybe it had something to do with being the last show of the tour – you know how everyone is suddenly best friends on the last day of school. I wasn’t listening to metal during In Flames’ heyday, but when I started listening again, I spent a couple weeks gorging on the Gothenburg sound to find out what I missed, and I was interested in hearing their set, if only for historical purposes. So it was a little bit of a shock when they opened with a song that was – danceable. Actually, I didn’t hear anything in the set that sounded like classic Gothenburg, so maybe they didn’t dig that far back in their catalogue. But after the first song they did bring the heavy; it’s always a good sign when you can feel a concrete floor shake. And there was some excellent guitar noodling. All in all, their set was a lot more interesting and the music felt much fresher than I expected. Apparently their bass player was home having a baby, so Sylosis’ bass player was filling in. Anders Friden looked the part of a logging truck driver (I wonder if that was to put the HellYeah/LoG demographic at ease, or if he normally looks like that?) but the sound was still a distinctly European contrast to the two Southern bands.


And oh my [Lamb of] God! What pros! Where to even begin? These guys put on a show; tight and loud with clean sound. The pit spread all the way back to the bar, and never stopped. I know this for certain because Blythe even commented when the crowdsurfing continued in between songs. Blythe was just the epitome of a front man. I never did get a clear photo. Blythe would jump so high I could see his feet; he’d land on the far end of the stage. He never slowed down, never stopped moving, and somehow kept an eye on everything going on in the pit. The only time he paused during the whole show was to make sure a guy was okay before dedicating the next song to him; the “crazy motherfucker in a wheelchair who just went over the rail.” There was just enough banter to keep the audience engaged without breaking the energy or flow of the music, and the stuff he said was actually funny and interesting. And of course they had smoke machines erupting like geysers, videos, lasers and strobe lights – but these were all completely extraneous. I’ve always been intrigued by the line between brainy music and redneck aesthetic that LoG walk, and this show proved what a brilliant thing that is.


You know, there are all these stock phrases that people use, and then sometimes you have an experience that reminds you where the cliché came from. When that happens, you kind of hate to use the cliché because you know it sounds silly, but at the same time no other words will do. So I’m left no choice but to say, when they came back out for the encore, they turned it up to 11.


With ears bleeding, frontal lobe and lizard brain both exploding, I did my best remember Randy’s words:

I know not everybody here is from Seattle. Probably a few of you are from Tacoma. I lived with a meth-head from Bainbridge once. True story – you can ask him. Bellingham. I have an ex-wife from Bellingham, I’m kinda sensitive about that but I love you guys anyway. It doesn’t matter where you’re from though, even if it’s inbred fucking Aberdeen. It doesn’t matter what your politics are, how crunchy a hippie you are or how much of a metrosexual. When you’re at a Lamb of God show, you’re all just a bunch of motherfucking rednecks.”

And I say, “Hell yeah.”



I just found this in a review on CultureMob:

And it was a good thing I managed not to get tossed out. Otherwise I’d have missed the band’s road crew taking over the instruments to finish the song.

Really? I had no idea that happened! This is why it sucks to be short. It’s like the old “If you’re not the lead dog,” cliche – if you’re short, and you’re not up against the rail, the scenery never changes.

Unraveling The Great Weaver From Kashmir

Great Weaver coverAs my trip to Iceland Airwaves grew imminent in October, I rushed to the library and asked what they had on the shelf by Halldór Laxness. After first telling me there was nothing, they tried again and found The Great Weaver from Kashmir (it was filed under Halldór).

Well. What an introduction to the author. I may have been as frustrated by some medieval Catholic saint-philosophers back in college as I was by The Great Weaver, but I doubt it. Those authors were easy to write off entirely as tedious, dogmatic, and ignorant. They were simply wrong. But Laxness was so obviously, undeniably brilliant. His words were stark and modern as Hemingway but with an elegance that would make your heart ache. As much as you might want to scream in frustration and throw the book down, you also wanted to turn the page to find the next poetic jewel of philosophic wisdom or penetrating observation.

Aside: I know Icelanders get tired of having all their art related to their landscape. But isn’t it inevitable when the same words suit both so well? Stark, minimal, grand, imposing, austere, explosive, frozen. I think we never realize how much the environment we take for granted affects us, even when it’s obvious to those on the outside.

I have never detested anyone in fiction or real life like this protagonist, Stein Elliði. In the early chapters, we see how highly Steinn Elliði is viewed by others, but he is drawn so distastefully from the very beginning that I could hardly believe he was the main character. After he declares his intention to become perfect – to become the great weaver from Kashmir – I suspected that in the end, the down-to-earth love interest Diljá would prove to be the real weaver. Alas, my 21st-century feminist aesthetics were denied by Laxness 90 years ago, and poor Diljá, who started out so three-dimensionally, rotted into one of those cardboard-cutout women of 1920’s fiction who sob, “Oh, how you hate me,” before throwing themselves at men’s feet. (Seriously, women can be as stupid in love as the next guy, but has a woman ever lived who would actually do that?)

How many thousands of words would it take to convey how despicable Steinn Elliði really is – how tedious, self-righteous, self-absorbed, and annoying? If his tendency to discount the worth of those around him, to overestimate his own intelligence while blindly adopting one philosophy after another, never generating any new ideas of his own, and never sticking with anything for long are all characteristics I reluctantly recognize in myself, doesn’t that just make him more unbearable?

Throughout the book, I never knew when Steinn spoke for Laxness, and when the author found him as unbearable as I did. It seemed as if Laxness gave so very few of those beautiful pearls to Steinn. Certainly, the common sense proclamations of his earthy grandmother and the pure Diljá spoke to me the best. But Father Alban’s Catholicism was both beautiful and benign. It was hard to reconcile the stories I had heard of Halldór Laxness with the Catholic philosophy that he seemed to profess in Great Weaver. Some of the other ideas Steinn passed through seemed more likely, but they were described with such disdain, I couldn’t resolve the mosaic of philosophies into a picture.

When Steinn returned to Iceland and fell from grace, I thought the point was clear. Socialism and Catholicism be damned. Perfection lies in being a good Icelander; living a normal life in a beautiful place with a good woman. I liked that moral. It read pure and solid and wholesome and true.

But there were chapters left and at the end Steinn Elliði rejects Diljá, whom he has completely destroyed, with a trite admonition to seek God, and “his face was so radiant that she had never seen anything more beautiful in her life.” It read twisted and perverted and bleak and wrong.

Pages and pages of chauvinistic bile brought out a visceral reaction in me that made it sometimes challenging not to deface the book. I was perplexed that Laxness, through Steinn Elliði, could spew such debased gender philosophies while the women in the book were so realistic and believable (at least for the first two thirds of the book). How could he describe such specific characters and paint “women” in such broad, artificial strokes sometimes on the same page? Why did he give the steadfast Diljá so much reason to suffer, with no hope at all, when Steinn Elliði has nothing to complain about? He is offered the world, and chooses misery, only to apparently be rewarded with an epiphany at the end. As pointless as his suffering seems, I was glad to know he wasn’t happy for most of the book.

I was completely at a loss to know what to make of this book. I felt like I needed Icelandic Literature 305: Halldór Laxness’ The Great Weaver from Kashmir to understand it. Maybe, with a professor and 30 other people to discuss it for a quarter, I could unravel the philosophical threads of this Kashmiri carpet. But actually, it only took the Laxness in Translation blog to make my peace with the book.

Halldor Laxness

Halldor Laxness

The Great Weaver was Laxness first book. [Correction: It was an early work, but actually his third novel] Like his detestable protagonist, the author was a seeker, who having explored many philosophies, was, in fact, living as a monk in a Catholic abbey when he wrote the book. He left the monastic life shortly afterwards, so the ambiguity in the story that I couldn’t resolve was real. Laxness himself was feeling a different answer to the question, “So is it good that he’s a Catholic, or not?” than he let himself write.

Laxness, in his spiritual confusion, was as repelled by his autobiographical main character as the rest of us. Steinn’s obnoxious lecturing was a masterful re-enactment of Laxness’ own philosophical development, related with the unforgiving harshness of an ex-smoker explaining the typical excuses for addiction.

Struggling with the chaste life of a monk, Laxness’ stereotyping and generalizations conflating women in general with sin battled against his sharp writer’s mind that wanted to build rich, nuanced characters.

Reading the reviews on Laxness in Translation, it became obvious that I had chosen a very difficult entry point into the Laxness canon. There are flashes of insight in The Great Weaver which are apparently far more developed in his later works. This one only begins to hint at the rich portrayals of Icelandic people and places that Independent People and Iceland’s Bell are known for.

Best of all, everyone on Laxness in Translation agreed that the biggest flaw in The Great Weaver was that Laxness had not yet developed the humor that laces his other books.

Even when I hated it, I couldn’t deny that The Great Weaver from Kashmir was the work of a great artist, and I knew I would have to read more of his books to try to understand it. Now that I can look forward to the same beautiful prose and flashes of insight combined with dry humor and a greater appreciation for the human experience, I can’t wait to crack open the copy of Independent People I bought in Reykjavík. As soon as I finish this Neil Gaiman I’m working on…

A New View of Nutcracker

Nutcracker1Well it was indeed a weekend to remember. Kicked off with a well-matched lineup of three awesome bands on Friday night, parts of my family braved the crowds at Steven’s Pass for four feet of fresh pow while those of us who prefer not to sink to our necks in the soft stuff stayed in town for PNB’s Nutcracker. For my four-year old, it was the first time participating in the Christmas tradition. (Actually, I think she went once before when we had family in town. I’m not sure because my memories of those days are fuzzy. But if she did, she nursed through the whole thing, so this was definitely the first time she watched it.)

We made a day of it and had lunch at Savor and ballerina cupcakes at intermission. When the cannons fired in the battle against the Mouse King, my daughter jumped in surprise. (Okay, so did I. I always do.) I am certain that the caged peacock has made a permanent impression on her little brain. For the rest of her life, “exotic beauty” will be unconsciously defined by that dance.

But enough about her, let’s talk about me for a while. Once upon a time, I never missed a rep and was familiar with the individual dancers. I knew who danced which kinds of roles. But Peter Boal took over PNB right around the same time we started family-building, and even though I love love love what he’s done with the place, I haven’t been able to get out and support PNB these past few years like I used to.

So in my head, the peacock in Act Two is still the sensuous PG-13 bird that Ariana Lallone used to dance. It was remarkable to see the same dance and feel the bitter resentment of a caged animal instead of the barely suppressed sensuality of a wild thing.

To me, ballet is synonymous with PNB, so in my mind, all lead roles belong to the statuesque Patricia Barker, who retired from PNB years ago. But this weekend, Kylee Kitchen’s performance of Clara gave me a completely different experience of the character. Very early in the performance, there was a moment when Kitchens looked like a younger version of the prima ballerina, but she was wrapped in the gossamer covering of the ingénue. Paired with Andrew Bartee, the couple gave off a feeling of youth discovering first love. Where Barker was the young Clara’s fantasy of herself as a fully developed adult, (with Nutcracker Princes the shadowy figures of imagination, fading into the background) Kitchens and Andrew Bartee were images from Clara’s near future.

The Prince made a couple fumbles, as young lovers often do, yet there was a sweetness to the final pas de deux that I had missed in a dozen or more previous, more polished performances. I was charmed by this youthful new Nutcracker.


But when the nutcracker’s giant jaws slammed shut over the final scene in Clara’s bedroom, I got the shivers. Exactly like the last dozen times.