Winter Weather Review
January 3, 2021 | Digital
Don’t get me wrong—I love The Nutcracker. Nothing hearkens the arrival of winter more than a ubiquitous Bavarian Christmas party, mice, soldiers, and a parade of sweets and confections, and the icing on top in 2020 was the ability to watch performances of this holiday favorite from all over the world online.
A highlight this year was being urged by my daughter Caroline to experience The Nutcracker, as recorded by New York City Ballet in 1993 and featuring Macaulay Culkin as the Nutcracker, still basking in the success of his recent Home Alone blockbuster.
In the midst of this veritable smorgasbord of Tchaikovsky and Balanchine, however, I began to see teasers on Instagram for the forthcoming release of American Ballet Theater principal dancers Devon Teuscher and Cory Stearns in Winter Weather. From the first black and white glimpses of Teuscher and Stearns gliding across a gymnasium floor in rehearsals, I could predict that we would be in for a treat.
Directed by James Casey, Winter Weather is set to the Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee and Art Lund soundtrack of the same name, features the choreography of Gemma Bond and costuming by Zang Toi, and takes place amongst the stained glass windows, stone hearths, and hardwood panels of The Explorers Club in Manhattan.
James Casey's Winter Weather
The title sequence immediately sets the playful intentions of the production—Ms. Teuscher, expertly coiffed and gently dabbing her ruby red lipstick, is elegantly introduced as “The Woman,” while Mr. Stearns, white tie askew, is simply identified to us as “Late”.
What follows is an effervescent trip back in time, a juxtaposition of the Gilded Age opulence of The Explorers Club with the Golden Age of Hollywood glamor and grace of Teuscher and Stearns – Downton Abbey meets Gene Kelly and Vera Ellen.
The opening scene depicts the relatable image of Stearns, handsome and fully dressed in evening white tie, entering an empty room accompanied by the big band’s opening notes to find Teuscher, classically beautiful in a feminine lilac a-line dress, sitting alone, patiently waiting for her tardy suitor, on a window seat bathed in the natural sunlight streaming through the leaded glass windows.
Just as you think they are about to depart for whatever holiday party awaits them, Teuscher and Stearns clasp hands as the brass of the Benny Goodman Orchestra fires into life and begin their dance through the empty chambers of the club, which bear the festive evidence of past revelers or possibly those yet to arrive.
Winter Weather is so enjoyable because it is so relatable. Although nobody has ever mistaken most of us for Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire, we can relate to these two New Year’s Eve partygoers. Rather than depict the couple, however, at the crescendo of a crowded holiday celebration, Casey and Bond chose to invite us to share this intimate moment in the otherwise abandoned rooms of The Explorers Club.
It is not clear from the scene whether Teuscher and Stearns are expecting others to arrive, are preparing to leave for a bustling soiree elsewhere, or whether this was only ever meant to be a party for two, which is also relatable as all of us navigated the changed 2020 holiday landscape necessitated by COVID-19 health and safety considerations.
The couple’s dance is energetic, joyful, and authentic. Bond’s choreography blends seamlessly with Toi’s costuming and styling. Teuscher and Stearns, a couple in real life, breathe life into the piece; partnering effortlessly while also showcasing each other’s individual strengths. Each twirl of Teuscher’s gown, each touch, each leap, and each smile captured by the camera enhance the viewer’s experience.
I particularly liked the moment in front of the fireplace of a ballroom littered with balloons as if frozen in time and place following a raucous midnight countdown in which the camera invites us to enjoy a close-up moment of the couple, their happiness evident as they stare into each other’s twinkling eyes.
Winter Weather is shy of four minutes in length, but, in that short time, it weaves the fabric of a rich story that timelessly fuses the fanfare of the big band score with the quiet intimacy of this couple as they share a moment that I like to interpret as hopeful exuberance for what will come next.