By Hal de Becker
Santa Claus hasn’t been replaced by the Nutcracker Prince or the Sugar Plum Fairy – at least not yet. But the “Nutcracker Ballet” season” and the “Holiday Season” seem to be increasingly synonymous every year.Aside from the fact that the Nutcracker provides dependable financial injections for many troupes, it also seems to be the perfect theatrical event for this festive time of the year.
Two local hotels recently presented ‘Nutcracker’ productions from California while a third, Paris Las Vegas, hosted Nevada Ballet Theatre’s version choreographed by Peter Anastos.It was a repeat of last year’s presentation at the same superb venue and the one I attended. Opening night played to a full house but audience response was cool and the performance not so hot.This time, however, there was plenty of enthusiasm from the 150 performers who ranged from tiny tots and teens to NBT’s 20 member professional troupe.
Though it was again visually impressive with colorful costumes and sets, the choreography only occasionally rose above the ordinary. The famous Waltz of the Flowers had more bourrees (small traveling steps) than waltzing and sometimes seemed anti-musical. The Russian dance, usually composed of moves drawn from that country’s rich national dance heritage, was in large part a conventional ballet solo.
Other dances, such as the Act I Ballerina and Nutcracker dolls, were bland yet some, like the Mouse Doll and the joyous Garland may-pole, were innovative and engaging. The Spanish quartet in Act II lacked piquancy, but the Chinese dance had charm and the Arabian was appealingly exotic. Some of the best ensemble choreography went to the four couples in the Kingdom of the Snow scene and the ballet’s finale with weaving patterns and circles within circles.
Clara, a little girl transported to a magical kingdom, was well danced by Leigh Hartley. Marcus Bugler, as her mysterious guide, filled the stage even when alone on it with his commanding presence and musicality.As Clara’s father, Grigori Arakelyan’s skillful acting was convincing.Clara’s grandmother was portrayed by Tara Foy whose raven hair and glamour-girl make up made her look young enough to play Clara herself.Directorial indifference to such a contradictory countenance was surprising.
Sarah Fuhrman, as the Snow Queen, proved worthy of her elevation to a major role. But her partner, Jeremy Bannon-Neches, a fine demi-character dancer, lacked classical purity as the Snow King.Mr. Arakelyan and Alissa Dale performed an abridged version of the Act II grand pas de deux. His once soaring grand jetes (open-legged forward leaps) were earthbound and his stamina and partnering shaky – the latter applied to all the men. Ms. Dale, a compelling dancer in contemporary works, seemed ill at ease in the pure classical role of Sugar Plum Fairy.She lacked graciousness and was tentative and unexpressive. Preston Swovelin was a standout in the Chinese dance; as was Janel Meindersee in the Arabian; Kalin Morrow in Marzipan; Emily Tedesco in Angels; and Cameron Findley with explosive jumps in the Russian.
Children, just by being children, are adorable and possess natural charm.Had Mr. Anastos fully utilized those qualities, particularly in Act I, he might have brought more warmth and a sense of intimacy to it. However, he did give the youngsters much real dancing to do and they executed it like pro’s in the party scene and later in the Sailor number and other dances.
Many of the members of NBT’s professional company showed diminished technique and looked unseasoned.Some of the ladies favored bent knees over straight, and others, Krista Baker for example, parallel feet over correct turnout. Among the men, one and a half air turns often substituted for doubles, and basic level entrechats (aerial leg crossings) for more advanced ‘beats’. Yes, it’s difficult to train seriously and rehearse and perform at the same time, but if NBT is to retain its position as Nevada’s premier dance company it needs to do better in its classical repertoire.