What’s more seasonally entertaining than the country’s oldest continuing production of The Nutcracker? Sprucing it up with new finery that enhances the company’s fabulous performances.
That’s what Ballet West did last year under Adam Sklute’s artistic direction. What’s marvelous is that the $3 million update was channeled not toward an overdose of digital dazzle but toward reinvigorating a lovingly traditional Nutcracker—sweet, sly, and sumptuous.
There are, for instance, projections by Mike Tutaj, but they are understated, offering little anticipatory shivers of light for iconic silhouettes on a trompe-l’oeuile opening “curtain” and on the Christmas tree, and providing a northern-lights glow to the snow kingdom. They complement but don’t substitute for the 24 sets by John Wayne Cook; the 180 costumes by David Heuvel, some with Swarovski crystals sewn in; the 200 props; and even a dash of Peter Pan flight. Topping off the treat is the all-too-rare live orchestral accompaniment under the lively baton of Jared Oaks, complete with two harps and celeste, knitting Tchaikovsky’s orchestral wonder from the delicate overture to the regal pas de deux sections at the end of each act.
Choreographer and company cofounder Willam Christensen was an exacting ballet taskmaster, no doubt, but he and his brothers had spent time in vaudeville, too, and comically colliding footmen, roughhousing children, a dexterous, huggable oversize bear (Vinicius Lima), dancing monkeys, and melodramatic mice infuse the proceedings with a general sense of riotous fun. Tyler Gum’s hilarious Mouse King will give any dying swan a run for her money in the oh-but-I-perish sweepstakes.
closes December 9, 2018
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Coveys of talented kids from the company’s Salt Lake home as well as D.C. dance the parts of partygoers, butlers, mouse minions, nutcracker regiments, pages, ladies in waiting, servants, buffoons, and so on. Among them, Makenzie Hymes’s Clara Wednesday night (there are some cast rotations during the production’s five-day Washington run) was a graceful dancer, a skilled pantomimist, and a radiant actor, beaming delight at her gallant Nutcracker Prince (Alexander MacFarlan). The adorable bumble-bee-ish buffoons included a particularly flighty flitting tumbler, Annabelle Jackman.
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Not every Nutcracker features the same actor in the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer and the Mother Buffoon, but the versatile Beau Pearson handled them both with lively character presence. He made even an apparent stumble over his long Drosselmeyer cape look so natural it seemed a dramatic choreographic flair. Sayaka Ohtaki’s doll was sensationally spooky, the animated-inanimate effect reinforced by the clever markings on her tights suggestive of mechanically jointed knees.
The entire divertissement section was absorbing. “Delicate snowflakes” have come under harsh judgement in our divisive era, but I’m here to tell you that Snow Queen Emily Adams, Cavalier Adrian Fry, and their flurry of snowflakes were elegant and delightful, as were the lovely, lanky Beckanne Sisk and Chase O’Connell in the Grand Pas de Deux. Tyler Gum’s Chinese Warrior was acrobatic, and Christopher Sellars and his fellow Russian Dancers also enthralled. Katherine Lawrence, Christopher Ruud and their waltzing flowers were subtle and lissome in their ensemble.
What’s more, at a taut two hours, including a 20-minute intermission, the brisk evening wraps up by 9:30, before your little buffoons, snowflakes, and flowers get too cranky and exhausted.
Ballet West in Willam Christensen’s The Nutcracker . Choreography by William F. Christensen. Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Scenic design: John Wayne Cook, with Dick and Belinda Bird. Costume design: David Heuvel. Costume dyer and painter: Lisa Waering Sacaris. Masks: Robert Allsop. Lighting design: Kevin Dreyer. Projection design: Mike Tutaj. Project Mangement: Michael Andrew Currey. Conductor: Jared Oaks. Reviewed by Alexander C. Kafka.