It’s been eight years since my one viewing of Carolina Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, so there is much that I’d forgotten about Robert Weiss’ version of the holiday classic, which resembles the George Balanchine/New York City Ballet version more than the classic Ivanov/Petipa version with which I and many ballet goers are familiar. Although I missed some of the elements of the more traditional versions, there is much to recommend Carolina Ballet‘s Nutcracker; and I enjoyed it very much.
One of the first changes is the opening of the ballet, which includes a brief scene in Herr Drosselmeyer’s workshop, where he is preparing the gifts and magic tricks that he will present to Clara and Fritz at their parents’ party that evening. I like that this scene both introduces and gives the character of Drosselmeyer more depth and weight.
Weiss’ party scene is both familiar and different. There is still the lovely room with a lovely tree, the parents and children dressed in party finery, the dancing dolls (a Toy Sugar Plum replaces the Harlequin and Columbine dolls), the receiving of presents (dolls for the girls, bugles and drums for the boys), and of course the gift from Drosselmeyer to Clara of the Nutcracker.
However, in addition to the life-sized dancing dolls, Weiss has added an angel who levitates. The angel sits cross-legged on a platform; and, with the aid of some sort of mechanical device, she is lifted a couple of feet above the platform and then lowered again. I’m a huge kid at heart, and I love any sort of magic that can be incorporated into a performance such as The Nutcracker, but I think this was one of those ideas that was better in theory than in application. Everyone, even the angel herself, seemed to be holding their breath during the trick — not in the way one would hope (in awe/amazement) but rather in the sense of “Oh, dear … is this going to work?” It broke the flow of the action for me, and I don’t think it really adds anything to the scene.
The tree-growing scene was appropriately awe-inspiring; and although the fight scene between the Rat King and his mice and the Nutcracker and his soldiers lacked focus in places, the Rat King’s comically dramatic death provided a perfect payoff to the scene.
In the Land of Snow, I loved the idea of the Northwind (expansively danced by Richard Krusch in a lusciously liquid cape by costumer designer Judanna Lynn), but I missed the traditional pas de deux between the Snow Queen and King, which is a highlight of the more traditional Nutcracker productions.
At the beginning of Act II, Weiss replaces Angels with Truffles. They are joined by the Sugar Plum Fairy, who dances the Sugar Plum Fairy variation (traditionally performed at the end of the act as part of the Grand Pas de Deux), prior to the entrance of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. Although others have also made this choice (including George Balanchine), I’m personally not fond of this placement; I enjoy the anticipation that comes with the variation’s traditional placement at the end of the act.
Otherwise, Weiss’ Act II follows tradition for the most part, with one exception. After the Nutcracker Prince’s pantomime of his battle with the Rat King and his rescue by Clara, he exits the stage and doesn’t return until the end of the act. In every other Nutcracker version I’ve seen, both Clara and the Prince are given seats of honor following the pantomime, after which they are presented with gifts of treats and then entertained with the dances by the different sweets. I’ve never seen a version in which only Clara remains for the festivities, and I’m curious about the reasoning behind this choice.
Both the Carolina Ballet company members and the children in the production gave polished, impressive performances. The Clara I saw, Andrea Hunyh, is a lovely dancer with a beautiful port de bras and an expressiveness that is just right. Gage Gordon’s Nutcracker Prince is not yet as strong a dancer as Miss Hunyh, but he is an excellent young actor. Marin Boieru’s Drosselmeyer is magical and mysterious without being creepy (as Drosselmeyers can sometimes be).
All of the Act II divertissements were ably executed, though the Candy Canes (Russian variation) lost synchronicity on their à la seconde turns. Margaret Severin-Hansen’s Butterfly shone in the Waltz of the Flowers. Lara O’Brien’s Sugar Plum Fairy was lovely and delicate, and Marcelo Martinez made a handsome cavalier (his turns and jumps were flawless).
For those used to more traditional productions of The Nutcracker, Carolina Ballet‘s presentation may hold some surprises. However, the Carolina Ballet production of The Nutcracker exudes great warmth and effectively captures the magic and delight of the season. This is due in no small part to their partnership with the North Carolina Symphony (masterfully directed by conductor Alfred E. Sturgis), which provides live accompaniment of the beloved Tchaikovsky score.
The sets and scenery by Jeff A.R. Jones are stunning; and Judanna Lynn’s costumes are rich, colorful, and elegant (I especially appreciated her designs for the parents in the party scene — the combinations of colors and fabrics are exquisite). Ross Kolman’s masterful lighting adds to the warmth and magic of the production as well. Finally, without spoiling it for those new to the production, I love the way that Robert Weiss chooses to end his Nutcracker. It caps the production perfectly and leaves us smiling, which is exactly what The Nutcracker should do.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 24th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Denise Cerniglia: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/12/carolina-ballets-nutcracker-a-little-magic-a-little-tradition-a-lot-of-awe/; Dec. 22nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by T. Keung Hui: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/12/22/2561737/the-nutcracker-draws-large-audiences.html; Dec. 19th Chapel Hill, NC UNC-TV video preview by Deborah Holt Noel for “North Carolina Weekend”: http://video.unctv.org/video/2365142425/; Dec. 18th Burlington, NC Times-News “Teens & Twenties” review by Kendall Wiggins: teensandtwenties.com/carolina-ballets-nutcracker-is-impressive/; and Dec. 8th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by April Dudash: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/localnews/x1848916200/Behind-the-scenes-at-the-Carolina-Ballet (Note: You must register to read this article).
The Carolina Ballet presents THE NUTCRACKER at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 26-28 and 2 p.m. Dec. 29 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $34.50-$110.00 (including fees), except $15 for college students with ID, purchased by phone at 919-719-0900 up to the day of the performance or at the box office, starting one hour before curtain.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, and https://twitter.com/CarolinaBallet.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816 story): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nutcracker_and_the_Mouse_King (Wikipedia).
The Complete Story (English translation): http://www.springhole.net/writing/the_nutcracker_and_the_mouse_king/index.html (Springhole.net).
E.T.A. Hoffmann (German author, 1776-1822): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._T._A._Hoffmann (Wikipedia).
The Nutcracker (1892 two-act ballet): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nutcracker (Wikipedia).
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian composer, 1840-93): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyotr_Ilyich_Tchaikovsky (Wikipedia).
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet‘s artistic director): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
North Carolina Symphony: http://www.ncsymphony.org/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Symphony (Wikipedia).
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/viki-atkinson/.