In the ballet world, the Christmas season doesn’t begin until the first performance of The Nutcracker, so let the reveling begin, because the Carolina Ballet’s performance of the traditional holiday ballet delighted the full house last weekend at the Durham Performing Arts Center and started the season in great style.
With sumptuously gorgeous sets, a new grand illusion funded by WRAL-TV, and the cutest cast of any event this season, The Nutcracker is truly the jewel in the crown of the Carolina Ballet. The story written as The Nutcracker and the King of Mice by E.T.A. Hoffman was revised by author Alexandre Dumas into the version we now know.
Originally premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, the ballet was not as popular as the Tchaikovsky opera with which it was paired. However, the ballet found its place in the holiday tradition centuries later; and since the 1960s, the ballet and its partnered Tchaikovsky score has become popular with ballet companies throughout the world.
The choreography for the Carolina Ballet’s version was created by Robert Weiss’, with costumes by Judanna Lynn and gingerbread costumes by Kerri Martinsen, scenic designs by Jeff A.R. Jones, lighting by Ross Kolman, and illusions by Rick Thomas. The orchestra was conducted by Alfred E. Sturgis.
The story begins on Christmas Eve at the shop of toymaker Herr Drosselmeyer (Marin Boieru), who is creating the toys for the Stahlbaum children. Christmas at the Stahlbaum home means guests and delighted girls with beribboned curls and boys in their best sights, all of whom thrill at the sight of the resplendent Christmas tree set in the atrium of a gorgeously appointed Victorian room. Drosselmeyer attends, bringing with him his nephew (Gage Gordon), whom he introduces to young Clara (Rachel Robinson). The adolescents are smitten by each other.
Drosselmeyer presents his grand illusion to the guests at the party, and at the end of the show, presents gifts to the children: a beautiful pink-tutu’d ballerina who comes alive and hops out of her music box, and another magic box that produces a special guest — Santa Claus — but the most special gift of all is the beautiful Nutcracker Drosselmeyer gives to Clara. Ecstatic with her gift, Clara/Robinson dances with her Nutcracker; but little brother Fritz (Jonathan Krauss) steals it out of Clara’s hands and breaks it.
Though consoled by Drosselmeyer, Clara is heartbroken until Drosselmeyer’s nephew brings her a bed for the Nutcracker. Clara tucks the toy into the bed and puts it under the tree.
After midnight, the magic begins. The Nutcracker turns into a handsome prince as snow falls, the Snowflakes dance, and everything is tossed and turned by the Northwind. Suddenly, the world is changed and fantasy becomes reality.
The Rat King (danced by Sean Armstrong) commands the stage, tall and strong, as he leads his mice into battle against the Calico Cat (danced by Sarah Newton). An army of soldiers danced by one of the groups of younger dancers who brighten the production with their enthusiasm and dedication save the day.
In the land of snow, the Northwind is a strong and passionate dance, full of leaps and expansive movements, expertly danced by Pablo Javier Perez against an equally strong performance of the snowflakes, led by Jan Burkhard. The snowstorm, a realistic special effect, sweeps in other snowflakes, lovely dancers who embody the grace and fragility of blue icy snow. The ice blue tulle costumes created for this scene are exceptionally dainty and dazzling.
One of the best loved dances in all of ballet is that of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Margaret Severin-Hansen) and the Truffles. Though Severin-Hansen is an extraordinary dancer, she was upstaged by the adorable Truffles who floated across stage, twirling and smiling and appearing good enough to eat. The young dancers who held this role evoked audible “oohs” and “aahs” from the packed theater and brought smiles to everyone’s faces.
The Land of Sweets is inhabited by a quartet of Hot Chocolate dancers, a solo by Coffee (Lara O’Brien), who steams up from the cup to deliver an Arabic flavored dance attended by her two little attendants. The acrobatic Tea duo is a Chinese influenced piece danced by Sokvannara Sar and Rammaru Shindo. With leaps and flips, the duo thrills the youngest in the audience. More whistles and bravos punctuate the performance of the Candy Canes trio (Oliver Beres, Marcelo Martinez, and Yevgeny Shlapko), a Russian spiced dance full of kicks and spins and leaps.
The Ribbon Candy trio (Alicia Fabry, Elice McKinley, and Lindsay Turkel) features dancers in tutus that mimic that candy that ripples in a myriad of colors. Their dance, full of pirouettes and arabesques, is as pretty as the candy itself. And then Mother Ginger (Davy Nethercutt) and her Gingerbread Cookies arrive, and the audience is once again enthralled with the younger members of this production. The “Waltz of the Flowers,” featuring Jan Burkhard as the Butterfly, and a group of corps dancers as the flowers, is the last of the celebration of dances from the Land of Sweets.
The finale of this festivity is the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier (Richard Krusch). Margaret Severin-Hansen’s complete control over her role brings a magic to the stage in a marvelous pas de deux that dramatically closes the fantasy of the story before Clara is rescued by Drosselmeyer, who dances her back to the reality of her bed where she awakes with the Nutcracker safely in her arms.
The ballet, one of the best versions this reviewer has seen in many years, is a feast for the eyes and for the imagination that lives in every child’s soul. It’s the fantasy of Christmas Eve, as well as of the inner life of toys and candy that delights and dazzles and makes us all believe in the magic of Santa Claus, fairies, and nutcrackers.
This jewel in the crown of the Carolina Ballet’s season also will be performed on Dec. 6th and 7th in Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as part of the Carolina Performing Arts series and on Dec. 19-23 and 26-28 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 22nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Cindy Schaefer: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/11/22/4341345/the-nutcracker-is-a-big-break.html.
The Carolina Ballet presents THE NUTCRACKER at 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 6 and 2 p.m. Dec. 7 — presented by Carolina Performing Arts — in Memorial Hall, 114 E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus; and at 7 p.m. Dec. 19; 11 a.m. and 3 and 7 p.m. Dec. 20; 12:30 and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 21; 2 p.m. Dec. 22; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 23, 26, and 27; and 2 p.m. Dec. 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.
Chapel Hill: $49 and up ($10 and up student tickets).
Raleigh: $34.97-$123.04 (including fees), except $21.35 for college students with ID, purchased by phone at 919-719-0900 up to the day of the performance or at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium box office, starting one hour before curtain.
Chapel Hill: 919-843-3333 or https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/ros_perf_series/the-nutcracker-carolina-ballet-2/.
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):
Chapel Hill: 919-843-3333 or CPAGroupSales@unc.edu.
Raleigh: 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
Chapel Hill: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/the-nutcracker14, https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/ros_perf_series/the-nutcracker-carolina-ballet-2/, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1491357881147804/.
Raleigh: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/the-nutcracker14, http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/nutcracker-3796, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1456419524602996/
2014-15 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2014-2015-season.
Carolina Ballet: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Carolina Performing Arts: http://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Carolina-Performing-Arts/9560250967, and https://twitter.com/uncperformarts.
Memorial Hall: https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/ros_venue/memorial-hall/ (directions: https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/visit/getting-here/ and parking: https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/visit/parking/).
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/memorial-auditorium (directions: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/directions and parking: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/parking.
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).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.