One of the tried and true holiday spectacles that has lasted for years is the ballet The Nutcracker, and few productions compare to the one directed by Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss. The show, which features amazing illusions and the gorgeous Tchaikovsky score, is a special treat for Carolina Ballet regulars, who see the ballet every year, as well as those new to the experience.
After running on Dec. 5th and 6th in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall, as part of the Carolina Performing Arts series, and on Dec. 12th and 13th at the Durham Performing Arts Center, The Nutcracker opens this Friday night at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, where it will run Dec. 18-23, 26, and 27.
Originally written in 1892, the ballet was not set to Tchaikovsky’s music until the composer was commissioned to write the ballet, along with an opera, after the success of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890. The first performance was not deemed a success, though the ballerina who danced the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy received five curtain calls. Several other versions of the libretto and ballet were performed in Russia before England saw the performance in 1934 and The_Nutcracker premiered in New York City in 1940.
The tale about a toy nutcracker coming to life after a spectacular holiday party is an enchanting one that still enthralls children more than a hundred years after its Russian debut. With more than 30 musicians, 40 dancers, and lots of children, the story begins on Christmas Eve at a toy store where toymaker Herr Drosselmeyer, played by ballet master Marin Boieru, is working on toys for the children who will attend the Stahlbaum’s annual Christmas party. He is mysterious and magical, with a grace of movement that provides a softness to his visage.
At the party, Stahlbaum children, Clara (Megan Duerr) and Fritz (Teddy Barzyk), fuss at each other, as siblings tend to do; but when the party begins, the children begin playing with the other boys and girls. Duerr’s Clara is an adolescent, a beautiful girl on the precipice of becoming a woman. She dances beautifully and is sure to have a long career as a ballerina. She is a child, enamored by the tree and giggling with her girlfriends; but it is obvious by her moments of maturity that she is one of the older girls in the group. She can be arguing with her brother one moment and dancing charmingly with her dad in the next. During this particular Christmas, Clara has one last magical moment with toys after receiving a nutcracker from Drosselmeyer.
The party scene introduces one of the many groups of dancers that populate the stage. The Stahlbaum parents (Adam Schiffer and Elizabeth Ousley) are a younger middle-aged couple who obviously face their share of challenges with their children but maintain a sweet love for each other. Their gala Christmas party is attended by four other families, a set of grandparents, and, of course, Drosselmeyer.
As kids do all over the world, once the Christmas Eve festivities are over and everyone leaves, the young Clara sleeps close the tree, her beloved nutcracker in her arms. As the curtain comes down for intermission, the Nutcracker, played by Grant Kennedy, becomes a prince whisked away by the Northwind. Kennedy, a slim, tall blonde boy, is the perfect choice for the role. His princely appearance mimics that of the nutcracker with his perfect posture and elegant arm placement. He, too, is on the precipice of becoming a young man. Depending on how the ballet is directed, the prince can either be as young and mesmerized by what’s going on around him as Clara is; or he can be a bit standoffish, regally charming the more innocent Clara. Kennedy’s appearance lends a sweet innocence to the role.
In Clara’s dream world are battles led by a Rat King (Sean Armstrong) and a Calico Cat (Amanda Gerhardt) and fought by the cutest mice (arranged by height). The Northwind (Richard Krusch) leaps and twirls majestically, blowing around a bevy of beautiful snowflakes led by Lindsay Purrington. After intermission, Clara is entertained by some adorable truffles that trundle across the stage, practically floating. The children playing the snowflakes and truffles are a diverse group of kids ranging in age from the still toddling to high school age, and their appearance onstage evokes smiles and delighted ah’s from the audience. Clara watches Coffee (danced sensuously by Elizabeth Ousley) dance with her attendants; she smiles at the two high-kicking Asian Tea dancers (Reigner Bethune and Maxmilian Isaacson); she loves the Candy Canes (Sokvannara Sar, Rammaru Shindo, and Nikolai Smirnow), the incredible spinning Ribbon Candy dancers (Alicia Fabry, Amanda Babayan, and Haley Jennings); and she laughs aloud at the outrageous Mother Ginger (Davy Nethercutt), with her adorable Gingerbread Cookies, played by the children of the company. The dream also includes a beautiful Butterfly (Alyssa Pilger) and some colorful Flowers, before the Fairy and the Cavalier bring the dream to an end.
The undisputed star of the second act is Lara O’Brien as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her delicate frame resembles a sugary, hand-blown piece of artwork as she executes some incredible toework throughout her two appearances in the act. Her Cavalier, danced by Marcelo Martinez, strongly partners the Fairy and his jetés are some of the best in the company. Their pas de deux is one that is a perfect match. Martinez implements the lifts with an ease that makes it appear as though O’Brien is floating above him.
As their dance draws to a close, the mysterious toymaker, Drosselmeyer, appears again, bringing Clara back to the sofa, where she falls asleep with the Nutcracker. We are led to suspect that when she wakes up, she won’t remember anything.
Thankfully, that won’t be the case for audiences treated to the Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker. They most assuredly will have fond memories of the performance, a true treat for the holiday season.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 9th Raleigh, NC ArtsNow guest blog by Carolina ballet ballet master Dameon Nagel: http://artsnownc.com/2015/12/09/8346/; and Dec. 7th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Andrea McKerlie Luke: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7733; Dec. 2nd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Brian Howe: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-nutcracker-vs-nuncrackers/Event?oid=4875211.
The Carolina Ballet presents THE NUTCRACKER at 7 p.m. Dec. 18, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 19, 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 20, 2 p.m. Dec. 21, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23, and 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 26 and 27 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $23.00-$125.14, except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/the-nutcracker15 and https://www.facebook.com/events/136871666674776/.
2015-16 Season: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/a-season-of-drama1.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
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 artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://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, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. 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.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.