When you enter Raleigh Memorial Auditorium for a performance of The Nutcracker by the Carolina Ballet, you are immediately surrounded by giggling children, dressed in their holiday finest, wide-eyed and excited. Each year, Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer Robert Weiss and his company deliver a delightful version of the magical story, highlighted by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s well-known score. It’s a treasure for the season, and none do it better than the Carolina Ballet and the many young dancers who join the company for this special performance.
The story is a well-known one that begins in the toyshop of Herr Drosselmeyer, played by Carolina Ballet founding member Dameon Nagel. Drosselmeyer is an inventor and toymaker who brings his nephew (John Fontanini) to a Christmas party at the Stahlbaum family’s home. Nagel’s flourishes and magic bring oohs and aahs from those festively dressed children in the audience who are more impressed by Drosselmeyer’s ability to bring Santa to the stage than they are when he makes his own nephew disappear and reappear. Fontanini, a lithe and energetic young dancer, practically flies through the air during some of the lifts and appears to be a perfect partner for Clara (Sadie Grider) later in the performance.
The magic continues during the Christmas party as the Stahlbaums welcome friends and family to share gifts and celebrate the tree lighting. Sarah Ayers (Maid) and Rob Schantz (Butler) create a humorous backdrop for the hectic festivities that swirl around them, sneaking drinks and dances while the parents attempt to restrain the over-excited children. And those children are not only adorable but slip right into their characters: Noah Peeters-Dufour (Fritz) is appropriately bratty, particularly when his father (Raum-Aron Gens-Ostrowski) throws the boy over his shoulder and escorts him out of the party. The grandparents (Bilal Smith and Jenny Palmer) provide another moment of humor when they valiantly attempt to dance and enjoy the holiday party.
It’s the type of party that any child would want to attend. Lovely toys, such as the Sugar Plum (Carmen Felder), an Angel (McKenzie Van Oss), and a Soldier (Nikolai Smirnov), spring to life, aided by Drosselmeyer’s magic. Drosselmeyer’s talent appears to have made Smirnov’s leaps so high and energetic that the audience gasped, Felder’s toy Sugar Plum is appropriately stiff yet prettily danced, and Van Oss’ Angel is both delicate and cherubic.
After the party, Clara sneaks back into the living room to rescue the Nutcracker that her brother has tried to destroy, and then the magic truly begins. The tree grows to majestic proportions, giant mice invade the room, and the Nutcracker becomes life-sized.
A horrendous battle ensues during which a band of child-sized soldiers join the Nutcracker to fight off the Rat King (Sam Ainley) and his minions. Jacqueline Schiller’s Calico Cat is purr-fectly sinister feline who becomes embroiled in the fight. The Nutcracker declares victory after he stabs the Rat King, and Clara falls asleep in the Nutcracker’s bed.
Thus begins the dream sequence, and the Nutcracker’s transformation into the handsome prince. The Northwind (Yevgeny Shlapko) sweeps onstage to whip up a group of beautiful Snowflakes, led by the elegant Lindsay Purrington, into a coordinated frenzy that is icily charming. The pairing of Purrington and Shlapko is a good one, made strong by Shlapko’s ability to be strong for Purrington’s light and airy arabesques and lifts.
After intermission, some of the littlest audience members are starting to fade, but their eyes light up with entrance into the Land of the Sweets, led by Alyssa Pilger’s Sugar Plum Fairy. Pilger’s toe work is fast and accurate, and her spins across the stage almost blur. But the precision of a soloist is no match for the adorable-ness of 12 Truffles, which float across the stage with the impish pleasure of sprites. It never fails: the Truffles always evoke the biggest applause of the evening.
As Clara watches, the rest of the Sweets arrive to dance for her pleasure. The Hot Chocolate pairs (Sophie Nelson, Lauren Wolfram, Raum-Aron Gens-Ostrowksi, and Ike Hawkersmith) leap and spin through a Boléro-type dance, while Coffee (Randi Osetek) slithers across the stage like something born in Egypt.
The duo of Rammaru Shindo and Nikolai Smirnov infuses “Tea” with off-the-charts energy (that could, honestly be reined in a little, so they could be more in sync), while the Candy Canes (Sam Ainley, Kiefer Curtis, and Christian Gutierrez) create knife-sharp kicks, emulating a Russian soldier’s dance.
The always refreshing Alicia Fabry leads Carmen Felder and Courtney Schenberger in a pretty pastel Ribbon Candy dance; and, of course, Mother Ginger (Davy Nethercutt) always gets the biggest laughs of the evening — followed by the greatest aah’s when the Gingerbread Cookies emerge from beneath her skirt. Jan Burkhard’s Butterfly is engaging and perfect, a crowd-pleaser for sure; and the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, the immensely talented Marcelo Martinez, wrap up Clara’s evening of dreams.
The evening ends with a reprise of the sweets, all taking their moment onstage, before Clara comes back to reality, her arms wrapped around her nutcracker.
The audience leaves, little fluffy red dresses and serious suits still intact, sleepy and smiling faces already starting to dream of their own miracles. Once again, Carolina Ballet has brought the magic of The Nutcracker to a new generation. Performances will continue through Sunday, Dec. 24th.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 5th Chapel Hill, NC UNC TV video preview by Deborah Holt Noel: http://www.pbs.org/video/nc-weekend-carolina-ballet-nutcracker/.
The Carolina Ballet presents THE NUTCRACKER: 16th Anniversary Edition, with illusions by Rick Thomas, at 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 16, 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 17, 7 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 21-23, and 2 p.m. Dec. 24 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $47.15-$152.15, except $20 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.
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/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lmJMgvnpCA.
2017-18 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2017-2018-season.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet, and https://www.youtube.com/user/CBcarolinaballet.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816 story): https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Nutcracker#ref1198397 (Encyclopædia Britannica) and 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): https://www.britannica.com/biography/E-T-A-Hoffmann (Encyclopædia Britannica) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._T._A._Hoffmann (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 the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.