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Kansas City Ballet's Renovated 'Nutcracker' at the Kennedy Center

The Nutcracker (Act I, Kingdom of the Snow), Kansas City Ballet (photo by Brett Pruitt and East Market Studios)

Washington is possibly the only city in the world that sees a different production of The Nutcracker almost every year. Most companies, including our own Washington Ballet, tend to stick by their Nutcracker choreography year to year, trusting in the devotion of their audience to the familiar over the new. The Kennedy Center continued its tradition of hosting a visiting ballet company for a Thanksgiving weekend of Nutcracker performances, with the refurbished choreography inaugurated in 2015 at Kansas City Ballet.

Devon Carney created this version shortly after his appointment as the company's artistic director, and it goes for maximum laughs and enchantment. Drosselmeier becomes a presiding demiurge in this version, which opens with a new scene in the inventor's workshop. Guest character artist Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye's pratfalls and magic tricks soften the character's potential menace. With the help of flying effects, provided ably by Flying by Foy, he soared into the air, guiding the floating balloon that carried Clara (a sweet Maggie Crist) and the Nutcracker Prince to the Land of the Sweets.

Other Reviews:

Robert Trussel, Kansas City Ballet’s reimagined ‘Nutcracker’ is elegant, fun and a bit chaotic (Kansas City Star, December 6, 2015)

C. J. Janovy, Kansas City Ballet Takes Its 'Nutcracker' To The Kennedy Center In Washington, D.C. (KCUR, November 22, 2017)
Jokes outweigh sentiment at every turn, including the antics of Tempe Ostergren's Grandfather, animated by Drosselmeier's magic in the Großvater Tanz. Child dancers fill nearly every scene, adorable but reaching a critical mass of cuteness perhaps too early into the evening. The rats enter with disco moves, and baby mice shake their tails; pawing reindeer pull the sleigh of the snow queen, and tiny lambs obediently follow the shepherdesses in the entrée of the Mirlitons, again shaking their rear ends to get a laugh. The children, over a hundred of them, are all from the Washington area, trained specifically for these performances by Kimberly Cowen and Racheal Nye.

It is a choreography for short attention spans, as the pacing can be hectic. The only place that the action expanded slightly, allowing room for a reflective dance tableau, was not coincidentally the best part of the evening, the Kingdom of the Snow. The candy-sweet, rainbow-varied production (sets by Alain Vaës, costumes by Holly Hynes) became a more attractive crystalline blue and silver. The unified corps of twelve women, led by the graceful lead pairing of Danielle Bausinger and James Kirby Rogers, filled the smaller stage space created by the more detailed set, to some of the score's most charming music, featuring the piped-in voices of the Arlington Children's Chorus.

As usual the choreography bogs down in the saccharine variations of the second act, as some of the toys stolen by the mice at the end of the first act returned in the Land of the Sweets. Highlights included the Arabian dancer of Molly Wagner, lithe and flung through the air by her two partners, and the pert Rose of Taryn Mejia in the Waltz of the Flowers. The Sugar Plum Fairy (striking Amaya Rodriguez) and her Cavalier (Lamin Pereira dos Santos) had the most classical set of dances, a momentary concession to ballet tradition in this mostly pantomimed affair.

Among Nutcracker performances in the Washington area, this is the one to see, because the music is performed live and complete, that is, with the part for children's chorus and with some often-cut music restored. Ramona Pansegrau, who conducts the Kansas City Symphony for the company's home performances, led a mildly chaotic rendition from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. Sections of the orchestra sometimes did not line up with each other, apparently confused by some sudden shifts of tempo, but these minor drawbacks should even out as the run continues.

The Nutcracker runs through November 26 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

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