NBT’S FESTIVE NUTCRACKER
By: Hal de Becker
Photo By Alicia Lee
Nevada Ballet Theatre’s multi-million dollar production of James Canfield’s Nutcracker ballet set Tchaikovsky’s exquisite music is currently in its sixth season at The Smith Center.
After six years it is looking a bit time worn and not always as good as it might. But nothing is perfect and it still possesses enough story to hold the attention of children and enough fine dancing to entertain adults.
Each season has brought changes and sometimes improvements. This year is no exception. The most conspicuous and welcome ones are in the opening Act I party scene.
That scene had had a problem with spacing; establishing and sustaining a party atmosphere; lacking polish and a feeling of being finished; and, of course, dealing with the interior and exterior of the large, four story house.
It may now be one of the best scenes in the production.
After two exterior walls of the house opened to reveal the interior, they were moved to the sides of the stage and partially surrounded the dance area as walls. With fireplace, book shelves and more a warm homey ambience was thus created.
The choreography and staging have additional clarity, humor and believable holiday spirit. Gone are the empty spaces that needed filling and the frequently unsymmetrical, cluttered groupings of child and adult dancers.
The children were as delightful as ever. But this time their dancing and acting was more interesting and structured and didn’t depend on just being cute.
Emma McGirr as the teenage Clara and Benjamin Tucker as her Nutcracker Prince danced well and made an attractive couple. Steven Goforth had a commanding presence as Drosselmeyer and his acting was, as usual, persuasive.
Enrico DeMarco brought tasteful humor to the expanded role of Grandfather trying to keep up with the dancing of the younger adults.
Kaori Fukui and David Hochberg were the mechanical dolls. Fukui’s impersonation was amazingly convincing and reminiscent of real robots often seen demonstrated on TV. As Dancing Bear Ruben Medina failed to produce any animal characteristics and resembled nothing more than a human wearing a furry costume.
The battle between Toy Soldiers, portrayed by children and the rats danced by adults still lacked coherent structure as well as humor. It would be more appealing and appropriate in these times to use children in the rat roles instead of full sized menacing adults.
The Act closed with the ever lovely Snow Scene.Bathed in rich blue lighting, the16 dancers performed amidst flurries of snow beneath a luminous moon and stars shaped like oversized snowflakes.
Mirella Costa Neto and Sergio Alvarez danced a flowing duet often weaving through the groups. Their dancing and that of the entire cast glowed with classical purity, lyricism and musical sensitivity.
In the Act II Fairyland scene 16 ladies danced beneath three gnarled, twisted trees which, although ingeniously created from thick intertwining ropes, tended to look menacing.
A dozen ladies, including nine apprentices, danced the Waltz of the Flowers with sweeping musicality. They were technically assured and faithful to the choreography’s often interesting combinations and patterns.
Their costumes of scalloped, multi colored petals overlaying violet skirts seemed to illuminate the stage and added to the visual delight of their performance.
Three solo fairies in blue, green and ochre representing Spring, Summer and Autumn. were portrayed by Krista Baker, Alissa Dale and Rachel Thomsen. Particularly impressive was the graceful, effortless dancing of Dale and Thomsen.
The choreography’s fluttering movements evoked flying forest creatures such as dragonflies, which, together with costumes including gossamer wings, long antennae and tiny tutus, gave the trio a unique fairy tale look.
Jaime Derocker in a pink classical tutu made a pretty Sugar Plum Fairy but her performance was undistinguished. The frequently unmusical choreography for her solo didn’t help.
Unfortunately, on opening night, the scene concluded abruptly and indecisively, which prevented the audience from giving it the ovation it deserved and would otherwise have received.
The highlight of the six dances comprising the Act’s closing Divertissement was Jun Tanabe’s solo in the Russian.
He drew gasps and applause with feats that included wide open double cabrioles (two beatings of the legs with the body suspended horizontally in the air) and pirouettes a la seconde (one leg extended to the side) which are hard enough, but in addition he changed his body direction a quarter of a turn with each revolution.
Although a relative newcomer to NBT, Tanabe’s technique and panache have already made him an audience favorite. He seemed to spend more time in the air than on the ground and the public loved it.
The lively Spanish was performed with élan by Betsy Lucas, Caroline Macdonald, Enrico Demarco and David Hochberg. The Chinese was also danced with flair, as well as a charming suggestion of spoof, by Emily Lovdahl, Ryan Mchall and Isabella Kowalski. Both numbers possessed delightful choreography and sparkling costuming.
Seventeen talented youngsters from NBT’s academy were irresistible in the Mother Ginger segment. Four of them, youthful acrobats, provided Olympic style tumbling thrills. Tara Foy is credited with the choreography.
Alvarez, in the Arabian, and wearing a colorfully feathered peacock costume, made an effective entrance descending to the stage in a cage where he danced with Christina Ghiardi. Her simple costume of pants, midriff top and head scarf was ambiguous but may have been intended to suggest a slave girl.
The choreography involved a lot of intertwining body transitions. It appeared awkward and was not always executed smoothly. Neither it nor the dancers’ passionless and nondescript interpretation projected the exotic setting or the sensuous quality of the music.
McGirr and Tucker closed the divertissement with an adagio duet. The choreography was routine and lacked the stature and complexity called for by its climatic position on the program. However, the duo performed well, often rising above the material, and received appreciative audience response.
The ballet closed with a rousing finale in which each of the soloists reprised their dances and garnered an additional round of applause from the elated audience.
But in the scene’s final moments the lighting was severely reduced and, in the darkness, the effect of Clara’s flight above the stage on her rocking horse was greatly diminished.
Excellent scenic designs and costumes were credited, respectively to Patricia Ruel, Sandra Woodall and Christopher Larson. Outstanding musical accompaniment was provided by 40 members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic directed by Jack Gaughan.
NBT’s Nutcracker makes a wonderful family gift and runs through the 24th with matinee and evening performances. For ticket info call 702-749-2000, and just between us, if you give the code NBT15 you’ll get a 15% discount.