There is finally something happening on Pennsylvania Avenue to bring Washington some bipartisan joy. No, not there. A couple blocks away, at the Warner Theatre, where Clara and her prince vanquish an army of rats and celebrate with plum fairies.
The Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker returns in all its fun, festive glory. Beautiful and whimsical, the company’s capital-centric version of the holiday classic, choreographed by the wildly imaginative former Artistic Director Septime Webre, nods to tradition but definitively asserts its Yankee independence from the Petipa-Ivanov staging of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story.
A fabulous spectacle, it is also emotionally stirring in the way it incorporates Washington Ballet students, some very young, and inducts them—in a wonderful annual ritual of artistic renewal—into not just a dance heritage but a worldview that celebrates grace, athleticism, self-discipline, jollity, music, narrative, and, perhaps above all, teamwork.
Consider that Artistic Director Julie Kent and her cadre of colleagues and carpooling parents are, with rotating casts, managing some 500 kids over the next month of performances. You can call that a production—or a yearly leap of faith. An artful one, though, as Webre highlights young dancers’ talents without patronizing or overtaxing them. I can only dimly imagine what this season is like for stage managers Edward R. Cucurello and Karen Storms, but I hope there’s a beach and a rum drink at the end of it.
closes December 24, 2017
Details and tickets
Webre’s version, which premiered in 2004, places Clara and her family in a Georgetown mansion in 1882. There’s still a nutcracker doll, the gift of her mysterious godfather, Mr. Drosselmeyer, broken by a jealous brother, Fritz. And there are still Spanish and Chinese dancers and other familiar elements. But the battle scene pits the George Washington-esque living doll and his American patriots against belligerent rat soldiers in British redcoats. The Arabian “Coffee” dance becomes a duet by an Anacostian brave and his maiden. The Kingdom of Sweets becomes a cherry-blossomed spring reverie. Mother Ginger and her charges become a carousel-perched Mother Barnum and her bevy of clowns. And so on. The American riffs on the Russian original are intended to make the crowd-pleasing production tempting to tourists as well—and why the heck not? It’s a Nutcracker like no other, but familiar enough not to be too jarring to traditionalists. Mr. Webre’s a smart (Christmas) cookie, and the company is wise to keep his version in play.
On Friday, opening night, Brooklyn Mack did double-duty as vigorous Snow King to EunWon Lee’s graceful Snow Queen, and as the high-flying Frontiersman in Act II. Ayano Kimura and Jonathan Jordan, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced with strength and unhurried, sinuous musicality. Tamas Krizsa and Sona Kharatian brought vigor and poise to their roles as the Anacostian Indian couple. And Alexa Torres and Lope Lim as Clara and her Nutcracker Prince were a sweet and dashing duo. But it is the corps and student dancers, as snowflakes and snow angels, butterflies and blossoms, mushrooms, bees, cardinals, dew drops, and the like that keep the swift two-hour performance so buoyantly, busily transfixing.
Peter Horne’s regal, shimmering scenery works in splendid concert with Tony Tucci’s vivid lighting. And Judanna Lynn’s costume designs are bold and ravishing: swank period dresses and suits; enchanting, blossom tutus; bunting-like patriotic doll suits; crazy-colored clown outfits; cartoonishly feral rodent and tomcat heads.
Whether it’s a yearly tradition or an impulse treat, whether you’re local or just passing through, and even if you’re more Scrooge than Santa in your daily temperament this time of year, Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker will get you and yours in the holiday mood.