Without a doubt, Artistic Director and choreographer, Devon Carney understands the audiences of today, and jumps right in to the story, omitting the instrumental prologue, and taking us right to Herr Drosselmeiers’ workshop. Keeping the age range of the audience in mind, Drosselmeier’s scene appeals to the child in all of us. Children will be intrigued with the dancing toys, and even more so with the prat falls, and accidents Drosselmeier, played expertly by Charles Martin, gets himself into.
Continuing the brisk pace, the Party Scene follows with families arriving at the Silberhaus residence, gifts in hand, children in tow. And fun ensues. The well-designed set, by Alain Vaes, establishes the warm Christmas mood in the home. The rich Victorian costumes, designed by Holly Hynes, lend an air of wealth, privilege, and the Western European ideal of the perfect old-fashioned Christmas.
There is mulled wine and period dancing (with a ballet touch) and of course, a dancing doll played by Taryn Mejia, a harlequin played by Dillon Malinski, and a bear, played by Austin Meiteen, all magically brought to life by Herr Drosselmeier himself. They all performed beautifully, mechanically, twirling and jumping, and the audiences’ favorite, blowing kisses to each other. As you might imagine, the children’ favorite was the bear – both snarling and swiping at the guests, and then rolling on the floor like a baby.
The Silberhaus’ daughter Clara, played by Poppy Trettel, and her friends danced well, and stayed together despite Clara’s brother Fritz, played by Malik Neal, and his partners in crime causing all kinds of mischief. As the guests leave and the children are ushered off to bed (even Fritz, who needs a good ear boxing), Herr Drosselmeier sets the scene for the extravaganza to come. Clara comes back to the family room to find the Nutcracker Herr Drosselmeier gave her, and falls asleep near the Christmas tree. And this is what we love:
The Growing Christmas Tree!
As a child, I remember this part as being a huge draw for everyone. Parents told their wide-eyed children, “Wait ‘til you see the Christmas tree grow”! As a dancer in the Sacramento Ballet’s Nutcracker, way back before the dawn of time, I remember feeling the audience’s anticipation and hearing them cheer when the tree reached the ceiling. Maybe it’s harder to impress audiences today with just a giant tree, but it didn’t feel the same to me. While the bells and the flutes in the music reached exciting heights, the tree somehow fell “short”. It could be a matter of perspective, ratios really do matter in these things. Still, it is a vast improvement over the old tree used in the Bolender Nutcracker.
The Epic Battle
This is where the costumes, designed by Holly Hynes, play a pivotal role. The gray, chubby mice and the well pressed British soldiers duke it out over the living room with giant forks and spoons, swords and cannons. I could not think of a way to improve on this at all. Mr. Carney uses humor in all the right moments and the props, such as the sardine can the Mouse King rides off in, seal the deal in fantasy and imagination. When the Nutcracker, played by Kevin Wilson, turns into a man, and leads Clara into the Kingdom of the Snow, we know we’re in for something special.
Kingdom of the Snow
From the battlefield to the forest, the illusion continues with frosty, bare branches and towering pines. The dancers as snowflakes are brisk and sharp and never miss a beat. However, while Tchaikovsky’s music builds to an almost frantic snowstorm, the dance remains much the same as it has been, with no real difference between the beginning and end. Similarly, I missed the giant snowflake circle as they burree around the Snow King and Queen in the center. That’s just classic Nutcracker.
The Land of the Sweets
The Land of the Sweets does not disappoint! The dancing is nearly flawless, the choreography fitting to each characterization, treats us to one beautiful and lively dance after another. I have just a few notes.
The Spanish dancers strikingly played by Kaleena Burks, Danielle Bausinger, and partnered by James Kirby Rogers, and Christopher Costantini need costumes befitting the proud, fiery dancers and toreadors they are. Bolder, brighter costumes with black lace and proper toreador hats would match the style of the dance better, chocolate or no chocolate. Also, the toreadors’ capes should fly over the Senioritas’ heads, as if they were bulls. Slightly heavier capes, weighted at the ends, would make maneuverability easier.
The Arabian, Molly Wagner performed with sinuy fluidity, and was well received by the audience. But I missed the version where she hides behind the large veils and disappears in the end. Otherwise what exactly is the dance about? Flexibility? The tone of the music demands mystery and magic.
I have only one complaint about the French Marzipan Shepherdess dance. The little lambs have attendants to look after them but, the attendants looked as if they were afraid the lambs would run off at any minute, and the lambs seemed confused. If they were just a bit older, and followed behind the Shepherdess in a line while she danced, there would be no need for the attendants. Cuteness would still abound.
And now for the Russians! When I think of them as they were portrayed when I was dancing, I think of bold, dramatic, fun, furry booted men in black pants, long jackets and wide, black belts. They must be the Russians of our imaginations – Vodka drinking, boot slapping, high jumping acrobats. Not polite folk dancers. The audience wants someone to cheer for. Let the Russians fill that void.
Similarly, the Waltz of the Flowers, while beautifully performed, and technically strong, lacked the complex choreography, and colorful costumes of other versions. The Rose however, played by Amaya Rodriguez, stood out as one of the strongest, and most technically perfect dancers in the production. She was a treat to watch, and the audience showed their appreciation.
Finally, the royal couple of the evening, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier: They are classic and sweet and Nutcracker perfection, as well as confection! Tempe Ostergren and Michael Davis make a handsome couple, well matched in technique and style. Both performed well and deserve high praise as ambassadors of that magical kingdom.
And so, as Clara and her Nutcracker ride off into the sky in their hot air balloon, we wave them goodbye, and dream of sugar plums dancing, and Christmas trees growing, and of Fritz finally getting what he deserves, whatever that may be. Until next Christmas…