Everyone who makes Carolina Ballet’s annual presentation of The Nutcracker a staple of their holiday festivities comes to the ballet with visions of cupcakes and candy canes dancing in their heads. They were not disappointed by the Carolina Ballet’s 15th anniversary production of their delectable version of the Christmas delight last week at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
A healthy crowd enjoyed the delightful spectacle peopled by beautiful fairies and animals that come to life when the lights go out, and welcomed the holiday season with frigid weather typical of the season. With an extra bit of magic tricks (sponsored by WRAL-TV) created especially for the Carolina Ballet by one of the best-known magicians in the world, Rick Thomas, a glorious live performance of the well-loved Tchaikovsky score conducted by Alfred E. Sturgis, and choreography by the ballet’s artistic director Robert Weiss, The Nutcracker is once again this year’s must see of the holiday season.
The ballet, though written in 1892, really did not become a global success until the dance was performed in England in 1932, then in New York City in 1940. Since that time, it’s easy to say that 99 percent of the children who come through dance academies have performed a role in the family classic at one point in their careers.
One performer who has shared the stage with the Carolina Ballet for The Nutcracker in the past is the Nutcracker Prince himself, Grant Kennedy. Although he is Herr Drosselmeyer’s nephew, the boy becomes the Nutcracker Prince in the dream sequence and guides Clara (Eleanor Sanderson) through the fairy-tale world that comes to life on Christmas Eve. Kennedy has played the role before, and has grown quite tall since his performance in last year’s version of the ballet. His tall and slim figure, pale blonde hair, and regal demeanor is perfect for this role. He’s quite an accomplished dancer who has competed in national dance competitions. It would not be a surprise if he returns to this production in the future in one of the principal roles.
Eleanor Sanderson’s Clara is a bright and inquisitive little girl. Her face lights up when she cradles her nutcracker, and we can believe her delight when the Sugar Plum Fairy (played by the incomparable Margaret Severin-Hansen) leads the dances in the Land of the Sweets.
Everyone in this year’s production of the Carolina Ballet‘s Nutcracker is a treat in their roles. Ballet master Dameon Nagel, who starts the ballet as Herr Drosselmeyer, is a founding member of the ballet, and always a delight to see on stage. His Drosselmeyer is a winking jokester who gets as much fun out of his tricks as the children do.
And the children! This year’s crop of young dancers starts in Act I, with the family scenes. The parents, played by soloist Oliver Béres and company member Elizabeth Ousley, welcome other families to the Stahlbaum home for the festivities, and the children (who arrive with their expectations for the evening’s magic making them too excited to sit still) are absolutely adorable. Each one met their cues, performed their roles with appropriate comedic timing, and elicited the timely “aw” from the audience.
The grandparents (Elizabeth Parker and Bilal Smith) stole their bit of the spotlight with some grand gestures and almost-pratfalls, as did Fritz (Ben Jones), the Maid (Sami Lane) and the Butler (Rob Schantz).
Once the party festivities are over, and the children trundled off to their beds, their new dolls or toy bugles tucked under their arms, the tree grows and the war is on between the Toy Soldiers and the Rat King (Ike Hawkersmith), Mice, Calico Cat (Talya Krumholz), and Bunnies. Chaos ensues, and the Nutcracker (who’s grown to life size, as the tree has) leads his Toy Soldiers in battle against the Rat King. Together, Clara and the Nutcracker defeat the Rat King; and Clara falls asleep on the Nutcracker’s bed, not seeing him turn into a handsome prince as the Snowflakes (Lily Wills, with Krumholz and Ousley) and Northwind (Miles Sollars-White) dance around him. Sollars-White works a magnificent cape that embodies his role as the Northwind, creating a mesmerizing dance to close Act I.
Act II: The Land of the Sweets begins with the music Tchaikovsky wrote for the Sugar Plum Fairy, a tune that people all over the world associate with the sweets children dream of getting in their Christmas stockings. It’s a role that should be danced brilliantly, as lightly and gay as possible; and if there’s one dancer who can look as if she’s floating when her partner lifts her, it’s Severin-Hansen. Her Sugar Plum Fairy is pink and white, ethereal and etched in magic. Her performance puts her on the short list for the best Sugar Plum Fairies ever danced.
But when the Truffles come onstage, all memory of that stellar dance fades; and the audience whispers and giggles about the children/cupcakes floating around the stage in complicated circles. Their faces beam with happiness. It is crystal clear that they’re having the time of their lives.
Each dance in the Land of the Sweets depicts a different taste. Trainees Lauren Wolfram and Sophia Nelson and company members Kiefer Curtis and Raum-Aron Gens-Ostrowski warm up the stage with their Hot Chocolate routine. Soloist Randi Osetek makes her Coffee dance absolutely steamy; and company members Reigner Bethune and Rubén Suárez leap through their roles as the duo: Tea. The Candy Canes (Beres, soloist Adam Crawford Chavis, and Sollars-White) are like acrobatic Russians, while the Ribbon Candy dancers (company members Courtney Schenberger, Kathleen Black, and Amanda Gerhardt) are crisp and pretty, as is the candy that they represent.
The appearance of Mother Ginger (Davy Nethercutt) tickles the children in the audience; and when her Gingerbread Cookies tumble out to dance across the stage, applause erupts. The final dance before the Sugar Plum Fairy returns with her Cavalier (principal Richard Krusch) is that of the Butterfly (soloist Alyssa Pilger) and her Flowers (Krumholz and Ousley lead a troupe of six). Pilger is a commanding dancer whose lovely toe work is sharp and precise. When she’s onstage, you can’t help but watch her.
Then the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier return for the pas de deux. Krusch is the perfect partner for Severin-Hansen. He’s just as accurate and flawless as she is. His lifts are stunning; and during his solo, his leaps and turns are phenomenal. Severin-Hansen’s response to his solo is an equally immaculate set of arabesques.
Once again, the Carolina Ballet has performed a delightful, beautifully set, and perfectly choreographed Nutcracker. Let the holiday festivities begin! (If you have not yet had the chance to enjoy this ballet, it will continue at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium from Dec. 16th through Dec. 24th.)
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 3rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by David Menconi: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article118691473.html, Dec. 3rd video interview Carolina ballet artistic director Robert Weiss, conducted by Robert Willett: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article118728883.html, and Dec. 3rd preview by Mary Cornatzer: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article118420428.html.
The Carolina Ballet presents THE NUTCRACKER: 15th Anniversary Edition, with illusions by Rick Thomas at 7 p.m. Dec. 16, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 17, 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 18, 7 p.m. Dec. 20, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 21-23, and 10 a.m. 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: $25.14-$152.14, 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/.
2016-17 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2016-2017-season.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet. VENUE: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/memorial-auditorium.
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/.