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Ballet West's Gingerbread Nutcracker

Artists of Ballet West in Willam Christensen's The Nutcracker (photo by Luke Isley)

Somehow the timing did not work out for me to take Miss Ionarts to see a production of The Nutcracker last year. So we were glad to see that the visiting production hosted by the Kennedy Center was scheduled for this week, when we are in town, and that it was Utah's Ballet West returning with the same production it presented in the Opera House in 2012. Willam F. Christensen was the first choreographer to present a complete production of this ballet in the United States, when he created this production for San Francisco Ballet in 1944. Lovingly restored by Ballet West's artistic director Adam Sklute, it is steeped in nostalgia, which might strike you differently depending on your mood. Two years ago, it made me all gooey and sentimental, but the second time around, on Wednesday night, it might have been nice to have a little vinegar to cut through all the sugar.

The pantomime parts were fun, including a host of adorable local children, and the real dancing was generally fine, solid and traditional in line. The snow pairing of Christiana Bennett and Beau Pearson was graceful in a classic way, matched by the energetic corp of snowflakes. Rising dancer Beskanne Sisk, currently billed as a soloist, had a star turn as the Sugar Plum Fairy, although there was a scary moment in the pas de deux when her partner, Christopher Ruud, seemed to have a leg buckle slightly during a lift, happily recovering without anyone getting hurt. Among the dancers of the divertissment, another rising soloist, Sayaka Ohtaki, was a pert dynamo as the lead Mirliton.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, Ballet West ‘Nutcracker’ at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, December 11)

Thomas Burr, Ballet West awes Kennedy Center crowd with Nutcracker (Salt Lake Tribune, December 11)

Heather Hayes, Ballet West's 'Nutcracker' bursts with holiday cheer (Deseret News, December 8)

Kathy Adams, New sparks keep Ballet West’s ‘Nutcracker’ special (Salt Lake Tribune, December 8)
Some details of the original show have obviously been updated, like the opening scenes, which use video projections to show city backdrops amid falling snow. There are a few bright and loud explosions, for the appearance of the dancer-nutcracker and also fired from the toy soldiers' cannon in the battle against the mice. These bits of theatrical glitz stand out in what is mostly an old-fashioned, low-tech sort of production. Christensen hewed close to Tchaikovsky's score, in which the composer carefully matched music to stage action. For example, Adrian Fry's slightly menacing Drosselmeyer even climbs into the grandfather clock, sticking his head through the clock's face to signal the start of Clara's dream sequence. Drosselmeyer's little nephew, with matching purple top hat, shadows him throughout the ballet, softening his uncle's menacing character.

The most magical moment of the score is the transition into the dream world, a long crescendo over a rather simple set of harmonic progressions (seventh chords resolving to minor triads) that bursts into B-flat major on its way to A major, the latter with that mysterious mediant shift to F major and back. Drosselmeyer presides over it in this version, swirling about in a mostly empty and semi-darkened stage after the Grossvater Tanz marks the end of the Christmas party. Drosselmeyer's hands sweep away the furniture and command the Christmas tree and presents to grow in size. As if in her dream, Clara is threatened by things she seems to remember uneasily from the party: the mechanical dancing bear, her bratty brother and his trumpet-blowing posse, even her kindly godfather.

This production continues through December 14, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.

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