The Nutcracker is a magical ballet about a little girl, Clara, whose family hosts a Christmas party. Throughout the ballet, toys, snowflakes, sweets and flowers come to life. Clara receives princess treatment as they guide her out of her 1800’s home somewhere in Europe and through enchanted lands.
The ballet begins with the Party, during which children and their parents gather, and during which in the recently revised Carolina Ballet version, Herr Drosselmeyer (Marin Boieru) performs magic. Prior to the revision, Drosselmeyer was already a magical sort of guy who brought outrageous gifts and entertainment for the children. Originally though, his attention was directed toward the children, so we could see the reactions of awe when he made a life-size doll dance by itself. In the updated Carolina Ballet version, the mediocre and sometimes awkward magic tricks seem directed toward the theater audience rather than the costumed party-goers. The tricks left me wondering “why” more than “how.”
The dancing and acting during this scene, a large part of which was performed by local children, was well done, light and festive. The multicolored dresses were given to motion with ruffled petticoats as the children galloped among the adults. There were more remarkable children in the Scene that followed, where the Nutcracker Prince battles the Rat King along with armies of toy soldiers and mice.
After the battle scene is one of the most beautiful and climactic pieces of music in the ballet. Instead of the pas de deux that most often accompanies this music, the Northwind (Richard Krusch) blows into Clara’s room and takes her to the Land of Snow. Krusch danced briefly and intermittently but mostly whipped his cape while Clara’s bed moved about the stage in a very anti-climactic way.
Once in the Land of Snow, the Snowflakes danced in beautiful icy colored tutus against a breathtaking snowy landscape. Artistic director and choreographer Robert Weiss’s Snow is some of his best work, and another example of his ability to create changing complex designs that unfold simply. Individual dancers moved as softly as a snow flake, but as a group they gained the intensity of a snow storm. The Snowflakes weren’t in perfect unison on opening night. The music is fast, maybe too fast for some. Richard Krusch as the Northwind joined the them and gave a sensational performance. His leaping turns were like second nature and his jumps captured what must be some concept of physics that allowed him to hang in the air for a moment before returning to the ground.
The Land of the Sweets was bursting with excitement and character. The short dances are like sprints, packed with non-stop, seemingly impossible jumps. As Tea, Sokvannara Sar and Nikolai Smirnov leap frogged over each other; as Candy Canes, Eugene C. Barnes, Oliver Beres and Richard Krusch performed high Russian jumps with legs stretched beyond 180 degrees. Cecilia Iliesiu’s Coffee dance was a demonstration of what makes ballet unique as an athletic activity. Her balance of strength and suppleness allowed her confident grace that enthralled throughout the slightly longer than most Sweets dance.
Flowers were breezy and light in their beautifully sweeping traveling waltz. The eight dancers were truly a corps, a single unit operating with common direction, like I’ve rarely seen. The same dancers captured the unity of movement and style that was absent in parts of the Land of the Snow. A beautiful complement to their corps was fairy-like Butterfly Marageret Severin-Hansen.
The Sugar Plum Fairy, Lara O’Brien and her Cavalier, Marcelo Martinez rose to the passion and fantasy of the music in their pas de deux. They made a stunning and radiant pair.
The Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker continues to run after Christmas through the holidays, and if you haven’t already seen it, I recommend that you do. This music is so familiar that it may be easy to take for granted, but give it another listen and watch how the dance represents the music (they were, after all, originally created together). Listen again for the sound of fantasy with strings and piccolos during the growling intensity low brass. Suspense builds in the music and action in every scene.
The Nutcracker is part of my family’s holiday every year, and every year I come away with a unique perspective.
by Denise Cerniglia
A little note before you go:
This is my favorite music, and I can’t help but share why. Listen all the way through. Listen to the fantasy provided by the harp. Listen to the repeating melodic theme that gains intensity. Around 2:11 the music becomes suspenseful with a trombone climax around 2:40, but still building suspense, until another climax around 3:25. Continue to listen closely and you’ll hear a tiny little fairy piccolo during this deep emotional music, that gives it an enchanted quality. In the ballet this music is reflected in the dancers, and this full-sensory experience is well worth anyone’s time.
Ticket info: http://www.carolinaballet.com/program/nutcracker-2013