NBT’S NEW “NUTCRACKER”: GOOD DANCING, GREAT COSTUMES, BUT…...

 

By: Hal de Becker

 

Nevada Ballet Theatre’s new multi-million-dollar version of“The Nutcracker” choreographed by James Canfield, didn’t follow the path of other recent ballet make-overs such as the “Giselle” set in an insane asylum, the all-male “Swan Lake” or the Nutcracker take-off loaded with drugs, booze and sex.

Happily, NBT’s version was still suitable for children with its fairy tale story essentially unchanged: Little Clara, after a family Christmas party, dreams of being guided to an enchanted kingdom by the Nutcracker Prince.We adults are no longer able to enter that kingdom but through the eyes and imaginations of children we can still approach its frontier thanks to ballets like ‘The Nutcracker”.

This new production offered adults and children much to enjoy including glorious costumes by Sandra Woodall, at least two dazzling and inventive scenic designs by Patricia Ruel and a golden airborne horse and other special effects by Flying by Foy.

Of course, there was lots of dancing, too.

Choreography was pleasing though somewhat routine and ‘different’ only in the sense that it differed from other versions including the traditional.

The production might be described as a Nutcracker ‘Las Vegas style’. Spectacle, sometimes for its own sake, is not new to the Entertainment Capital of the World where we have our own pyramid and an Empire State Building and where the mantra ‘Bigger is Better’ has been known to influence better judgment.

Not surprising then, that towering over the opening Act I party scene and rising high above The Smith Center stage was a prodigious full-sized, five story home dwarfing everything beneath it including the performers.

An outer wall of this colossus was eliminated to expose to view the interiors of its rooms where nothing interesting seemed to be happening. If this gargantuan piece of scenery had any function or purpose or in any way advanced the story, I failed to perceive it.Bigger was definitely not better.

The party’s casting list included Clara, ideally portrayed by Leigh Hartley, her parents, grandparents, sister, brother, nephew, cousins, nanny and a host of others few of whom were identifiable from the action.The battle between Rats and Toy Soldiers was ho hum and oodles of adults and children to-ing and fro-ing from side to side grew tedious.The scene’s overall staging had little charm, warmth or sense of family togetherness and the dreary lighting didn’t help.

But beginning with the Act’s final segment the Snow Scene, the ballet began providing pretty dances and fabulous costume and scenic visuals. The curtain opened on a breathtaking blue backdrop on which a huge moon, its surface detailed, was suspended amidst glowing, larger-than-life snowflakes. One had the feeling of being in outer space and Mathieu Larivee’s sensitive lighting contributed to that experience.

For whatever reason, be it Tchaikovsky’s melodic score or the appealing fantasy of snowflakes dancing through the air, this scene is frequently the loveliest section of any Nutcracker production and NBT’s was no exception.

Beneath a gentle flurry of falling snow, the exquisite creations of Ms. Woodall and Ms. Ruel provided an ideal ambience for the lyrical choreography. It was beautifully danced by Demetria Schioldager, Grigori Arakelyan , Braeden Barnes, Ms. Hartley and 14 ladies of the corps de ballet adorned in silvery-blue diaphanous skirts.

Act II opened to a garden where gnarled tree trunks and branches were dramatically replicated with thick intertwined ropes.Beneath them, fairies with antennae and gossamer wings lounged languidly.The setting might have taken its inspiration from any number of paintings and story book illustrations by Victorian artists.It was another tour de force for the dynamic costume and scenic designing duo.

Four solos representing the seasons were impressively performed by Hannah Muis, Kaliegh Schock, Samantha Chang and Ms. Schioldager.Ten ladies of the corps de ballet glided gracefully through the lilting Waltz of the Flowers in which Mary La Croix, Amy Von Handorf and Sarah Fuhrman were standouts.

Alissa Dale danced especially well, but in the musically accented Sugar Plum Fairy solo she seemed to be ‘off’ the music.She wasn’t.The choreography rather than engaging the musical accents seemed to avoid them.

The Peacock duet wasn’t distinctive in itself, but the male peacock’s costume and his descent in a cage from on high were. Extending downwards from his back was a train resembling the greenish blue feathers belonging to the tails of those exotic creatures’.

At the end of the number the train sprang up to frame the dancer in a vivid Peacock Blue background.The effect elicited an enthusiastic ovation.It was danced by Danielle Dyson and Barrington Lohr.

The adagio duet from the grand pas de deux was romantic and received a good performance from Ms Hartley and Mr. Barnes.But Tchaikovsky, for obvious choreographic purposes, included in the music three incremental crescendos progressing powerfully to climatic peaks.These are usually and logically matched with thrilling lifts, turns or other strong dance moves. At those monumental musical moments the choreography was inexplicably subdued and unexciting.Bigger would have been better.

The national dances were stylishly executed and at times refreshingly unfamiliar as in the Russian with its double front and back face masks designed to delightfully confuse and the Spanish with a dancer in a ‘cabeza del toro’ headpiece.

The finale’s staging was tame but the curtain calls were exciting with the dancers still in costume looking happy and satisfied, as well they should.Their performances were excellent and I can’t imagine a better cast than the one I saw.

Whatever shortcomings the production may presently possess they are sure to be ironed out over time. With a price-tag in the millions and sets and costumes worthy of the Bolshoi or the Paris Opera, this Nutcracker is certain to be providing Las Vegas with holiday cheer for many seasons to come.

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