NBT’S NUTCRACKER: IT’S BEEN BETTER
By: Hal de Becker
Photos: Virginia Trudeau
Tchaikovsky’s music was beautiful, the sets and costumes outstanding and the dancing good. But Nevada Ballet Theatre’s recent presentation of James Canfield’s The Nutcracker at The Smith Center lacked the pace, clarity and holiday spirit that distinguished it last season.
On opening night the dancing looked under rehearsed which may have accounted in part for the lackluster impression.
But where was the story?
It was in lengthy detailed texts projected onto a screen, between episodes, to be read by children as well as adults. But surely no one came to the ballet to read the story, they came to see it. The extensive texts seemed to confirm the choreography’s failure to communicate the lighthearted fairy tale.
The Act I curtain rose on a dimly lit stage with two men meandering tentatively in front of a tall house. It was not the kind of beginning that grabbed one’s attention or aroused anticipation.
The ambience improved when the building’s façade separated to reveal the interior of the house and a holiday party with children and grownups gaily skipping and marching, walking and gesturing.
Clara, the hosts’ daughter, receives a magical wooden nutcracker from a guest named Drosselmeyer who also provides two life-sized mechanical dolls to entertain the gathering.
Clara was portrayed by Betsy Lucas who looked the part but failed to capture the role’s child-like quality as she did last year. Steven Goforth as Drosselmeyer was wooden but the choreography didn’t help him establish the character’s customary aura of mystery. Enrico DeMarco and Madison Coppock were convincing as the dolls.
The choreography for the dream battle between the Nutcracker’s soldiers and the Rat Queen’s army of rodents was more confusion than combat. The soldiers were portrayed, perhaps in a gesture of ‘political correctness’, by ladies wearing long white skirts and the adult rodents may have been too scary for some youngsters. Talented Christina Ghiardi was wasted in the role of Rat Queen.
Missing from the scene was humor. One example was the grandparents who had formerly been endearingly amusing in their attempts to keep up with the vigorous dancing. This time they were merely portrayed as decrepit. The innocent, playful mischief of children was another missed opportunity for humor as was the often aimless unimaginative interplay of guests.
Thus far the ballet had proceeded in a tedious straight line with no significant highlights. However, that changed with the Snow Scene that closed Act I and Waltz of the Flowers that opened Act II.
In ‘Snow’, beneath a starry sky and flurries of gently falling snow, the ladies corps de ballet gave a splendid performance of the enchanting lyrical choreography. Their musical sensitivity and technical assurance were outstanding.
They were joined by Alissa Dale and Benjamin Tucker in a flowing classical duet that wove in and out of the ensemble. Dale, the company’s de facto principal dancer, was in top form and especially elegant. She was securely partnered by Tucker and, although not ideally matched in looks, they moved with graceful harmony.
The corps again shone in in the beloved Waltz of the Flowers. Their free, joyous, movements were captivating and the crisscrossing patterns and group placements delightful and inventive.
Of the dance’s four soloists Christina Ghiardi as Spring Fairy and Kaleigh Schock as Summer Fairy were particularly impressive with their fluid classical purity.
The national character dances that followed were entertaining but standard. The exception was the particularly effective Chinese featuring Caroline MacDonald, Michelle Meltzer and Joshua Kekoa.
Carly Hambridge, Katherine Zimmerman, Morgan Stillman and Tucker were fine in the Spanish as were DeMarco and David Hochberg in the Russian.
Last season’s delightful device of having children pick a flower out of Mother Ginger’s huge floral skirt and converting it into a parasol was cut this year leaving the number meaningless.
In a duet entitled Arabian, a golden cage was lowered to the stage carrying a male dancer adorned in a cape of brilliantly colored peacock feathers. A woman awaited him and they engaged in a seductive dance.
In the past this exotic duet has been one of the ballet’s high points. But this time neither Sergio Alvarez nor the juvenile looking Leigh Collins possessed the mature panache to do justice to this truly unique number and it fell flat (fortunately the cage did not).
Similarly, in the ballet’s final duet, which is customarily a majestic pas de deux, neither Lucas nor Stephan Azulay as Nutcracker had the imposing presence for such a lofty assignment.
The choreography called for high lifts to match the musical climaxes but Azulay was unable to raise his petit partner overhead. His military outfit and her long, little-girl dress gave the dance a demi-caractere look rather than a classical one. (The Snow Scene duet and cast would have been better suited to this important position.)
A rousing finale filled the stage with the entire cast in their colorful costumes exuding holiday cheer.
Conductor Jack Gaughan and members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra delivered good accompaniment. Patricia Ruel’s sets and Sandra Woodall’s costumes were again a feast for the eyes.