A TASTY NUT
By: Hal de Becker
The Nutcracker ballet choreographed by Lev Ivanov premiered in Russia in 1892. Its story, dances and Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music account for much of its worldwide appeal.
But its popularity in the USA over the last 65 years or so derives from the special affinity it has developed with the holiday season. This has assured it of annual performances that consistently attract and delight children and adults alike.
While some 19th century classical ballets can be seen today in fairly original versions ‘Nutcracker’ is not one of them.
So many different versions of The Nutcracker are performed now-a-days that the closest one can get to the ‘original’ are renditions that follow the traditional story, retain the usual dances, capture the yuletide and fairytale themes and, especially, evoke the warm feeling of a loving family gathering.
Las Vegas Ballet Company’s new full length production at Summerlin Library Theater did all that.
LVBC is a well-established youth company consisting of 21 teenaged members supplemented, for large productions like The Nutcracker, with additional adults and youngsters of all ages.
Equally as impressive as the excellent choreography and beautiful costumes, was the dedicated, uplifting dancing of the young performers. Did their dancing attain a professional level? Sometimes, but not always: they are not after all the experienced adult dancers they will soon become.
But even now their abundant talent, good training and love of the art of ballet that their mentors have inspired in them shone through the performance from beginning to end.
The company’s principal dancers and choreographers are its co-founders and directors, Yoomi Lee and Kyudong Kwak. Most of LVBC’s dancers receive their training at the couple’s Kwak Ballet Academy.
Prior to their ten years as principal dancers for Nevada Ballet Theatre the husband and wife team had already received international acclaim. They founded LVBC in 2009 and have performed regularly with it ever since. Their balletic partnership as dancers, choreographers, teachers and directors has made them a Las Vegas artistic legend.
Both of the performances I attended this season were sold out as were, according to an usher, all the others.
Ms. Lee’s and Mr. Kwak’s performance of the grand pas de deux was impeccable. The version they delivered was the complete one with adagio, solos and coda and, as originally intended, it moved the performance to an exciting peak.
In the ‘grand pas’ and Sugar Plum solo Ms. Lee turned with breathtaking speed; her lines were elegant, her balances effortlessly sustained and her footwork precise. But it was her warmth and graciousness that especially distinguished her unique artistry.
Mr. Kwak’s elevation gets higher each year as do his perfect ‘fifth to fifth’ positioned double tours and entrechat six (aerial leg crossings). As always, his secure partnering was smooth and unobtrusive.
He is that rare combination of a danseur noble who can also act and project humor. His flair for the latter was evident when in mime and with amusing braggadocio, he described his victory over the Mouse King as a marvelous heroic conquest.
The couple’s performance left nothing to be desired except perhaps an encore, but that would have been too much to expect.
Talented teenager, Monika Haczkiewicz, also performed Sugar Plum and the ‘grand pas’ with Mr. Kwak. Her gifts include ideal proportions, long slender lines, classical bearing and clean technique. Her dancing was outstanding although academic and, as she matures, will no doubt gain in warmth, depth and animation.
The young ladies of the company were all on pointe and displayed good technique and professional aplomb. Not on pointe of course were the tiny tots, but even they executed single pirouette turns and echappe’ jumps. The occasional little goof from one or another of them just added to their charm.
Following the traditional approach, the ballet built from the Act I party scene with children dancing and opening presents, to the comical battle between ten little mice and toy soldiers armed with muskets, and ending with the romantic Snow Scene.
In Act II groups of soloists in their national costumes were briefly introduced by Sugar Plum to whet the audiences’ appetite for their full dances yet to come. In the rousing finale those dancers returned to reprise some of their steps as the audience applauded its favorites.
Everyone in the cast deserves mention but there isn’t space. A few names that spring to mind are: Casey Vanden Berghe as Clara; Lindy Kelley and Sydney Lee as Dew Drop Fairy; Hina Agins the Snow Queen; Antonia Neal’s Harlequin; Flora Mangio in the Arabian; Joseph Nguyen’s Russian solo; and Voytek Ogloza in his various roles.
On March 29th at 7:00 pm the company will present a full length production of the beloved classic Sleeping Beauty at Starbright Theater. Ticket information is available at www.lasvegasballet.org.