Festival Ballet’s newest version of “The Nutcracker” premiered to much fanfare last year after a long tradition of annual performances when the creative team of Director Kathleen Breen Combes and Artistic Curator Yury Yanowsky reimagined the classic production and launched a new tradition. This year the company is sticking with that new production and continuing to delight their audiences.
The December 16th production reviewed featured Kobe Atwood Courtney returning as the prince. Their athletic prowess makes the battle scenes dramatic and exciting; their acting abilities make the pantomime replay of the scene in the Land of Fairies funny and cute. Festival can’t resist showcasing their talented prince and Courtney joins in with the Trepak Russian dance in act two, allowing viewers to see even more of their dancing and leaping ability.
Festival deploys its children’s cast to great effect. The little ones enchant the viewer as snowflakes with their lighted embers and as the smallest party guests mimicking their tween cousins and friends in the party scenes. The reindeer moved with studied precision as they pulled guests on their sleigh. The young Polichinelles spring forth from the ample capacity of Mother Ginger and frolic on the stage with acrobatics. Young dancers attending the performances will be captivated to see their peers able to keep up with the professional cast.
The Land of Sweets presents dances inspired by world cultures and captivates the audience with displays of ability, Heather Nicoles and Azmat Asangul were particularly charismatic with their Arabian-inspired “Coffee” dance. Kirsten Evans as the Sugar Plum Fairy was paired with Lusi Ocaranza as her Cavalier and each of them drew spontaneous applause from the audience for their impressive work.
Festival knows that this is a complete theatrical experience and they do not spare the smallest of details. The snowscape sets in the fairy land makes the audience want to zip up their coats. The ballroom would not look amiss in one of Queen Victoria’s palaces. The dancers never forget they are actors as well, and even the small parts take care to develop their characters. The enigmatic Drosslmeyer is a typical rogue as he flirts with the maid. The party guests each hand over their cloaks to the staff with personality, some contemptuously, some excitedly, and some politely. Herr Sillberhaus and his wife convey all the elegance and manners of “Downton Abbey” without saying a word. The party dances have so much going on it’s impossible to take it all in, meaning families coming year after year will still find something new to see.
Last year, Festival premiered their new production and this year they proved it will have staying power. This is a stunning show that dance fans and holiday fans alike will want to see again and again.
“The Nutcracker” was written for the Russian stage over 100 years ago and languished after poor reviews to its Russian premiere. In 1954 George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet produced a new version of this old ballet and an overnight success was born. The plot is taken from a German story and centers on a girl named Clara who attends her family’s Christmas party where she plays with her friends, fights with her brother, and is gifted a toy nutcracker by her mysterious but loving godfather, Herr Drosslmeyer. After the party, young Clara sneaks down to the ballroom to see her gift again and is suddenly shrunken down to the size of her toy. Soon she and the nutcracker doll become embroiled in a battle between the Nutcracker and an army of rats. When the Nutcracker is facing defeat, Clara intervenes in the battle and turns the tide. After the rodents are vanquished the Nutcracker turns into a handsome prince and whisks Clara off to a fairy land where they are greeted as heroes. In the second act, Clara and her prince (formerly known as Nutcracker) are given a display of dances from the residents of the Land of Sweets. In the end, Godfather Drosslemeyer returns his charges to their home and Clara is left to wonder if it was all a dream or not.