★★★★★ - Irresistible
Chatty little voices filled the Smith Center on Sunday afternoon as children waited excitedly for Nevada Ballet Theatre's presentation of holiday favorite "The Nutcracker" to begin. As the boys peered curiously down into the orchestra pit, the girls, many wearing velvety princess dresses, lovingly examined newly bought nutcracker dolls.
Which is apropos, since this intricately detailed 'Nutcracker' gives us the feeling of watching the story unfold through the eyes of a young girl. Artistic Director and Choreographer James Canfield reimagines the 1892 ballet, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to the score of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, by going to the original, strange 1816 story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffman for inspiration. He blends old with new by retaining nostalgic scenes while adding his own interpretation to others, and expands on the written story by making heroine Clara an active part of her own adventure.
Thus the stunning sets by Patricia Ruel, the Art Nouveau inspired costumes by Sandra Woodall (with additional pieces by Christopher Larson), and the moody lights of Peter Jakubowski are heightened and surreal, creating an otherworldly place that might exist in the imagination of a Victorian girl. And through the harmonious, 39 piece orchestra conducted by Jack Gaughan, Tchaikovsky's familiar notes float atmospherically around us, taking us on a mesmerizing ride.
What little girl wouldn't want to live in the fabulous, four story dollhouse that Clara, danced with wide-eyed wonder by the radiant Emma McGirr, and her family call home? With cool effect doll like dancers move in slow motion throughout the towering house that frames the familiar Christmas Eve celebration, viewed at first like a distant memory through a hazy scrim. It's a festive party, and the cast creates vivid characterizations and vignettes of the visiting friends with their children, played by students from the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre. The girls waltz, the boys march, and the adults dance, though the comical Grandfather (David Hochberg) and Grandmother (Charis Dexter) can barely keep up.
Clara's Godfather, the mysterious clockmaker Drosselmeyer (Steven GoForth) brings gifts, with mechanical dolls Harlequin (Jun Tanabe) and Columbine (Kaori Fukui), and the chubby Dancing Bear (Oslaniel Castillo) stealing the show with their acrobatic moves. When Drosselmeyer's handsome Nephew (Morgan Stillman) delivers the nutcracker, Clara is smitten.
Clara dreams the Nutcracker (Stillman) battles a Rat Queen (Christina Ghiardi), starkly dramatized from the book. Tall grandfather clocks strike twelve times, and the Rat army moves in stealthily, posing on each chime. A gigantic Christmas tree suddenly appears and the now miniature Clara, the Nutcracker, tin soldiers, and porcelain dolls balletically battle the Rats under dimly gaslit, sepulchral lights. Drosselmeyer does his magic, and the Nutcracker is transformed into a dashing prince.
Clara and her Prince journey to a breathtaking winter wonderland that brilliantly captures the serene sense of snow. Under the glow of a full moon, giant snowflakes, and softly descending flurries, the gorgeous corps de ballet as Snow Maidens glide in aesthetic formations and wavelike canons of sweeping arms that evoke a gentle blizzard. The Winter Fairy, danced by Alissa Dale, and her Snow Prince, danced by Sergio Alvarez, are a beautiful gift with their lucidly dreamy, fluid pas de deux. Their technical purity and elegant expression inspire awe, both individually and in tandem.
The second act continues the idea of harmony with nature as Clara and her Prince dance in a land of magical fairies, set amongst rope trees and sunlight streaming through the leaves, with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Krista Baker) as their guide. The corps waltz and jeté in watercolored tutus, with the Spring Fairy (Ghiardi), Summer Fairy (Michelle Meltzer), and Autumn Fairy (Katherine Zimmerman) flitting in whimsical costumes with fluttering wings. The luminous Ghiardi enchants with her lithe lines, lovely fouettés, and warm expression, drawing us in with her smile. And though Baker dances the Sugar Plum Fairy's clipped, intricate pointe work and signature piqués with precision and grace, it would be nice if she were allowed to open up more to connect in the same way.
The Divertissement is a crowd pleaser that whizzes by too quickly. There's the spicy Spanish, with two pairs of dancers in Toreador style costumes and crisp, Flamenco moves; the simmering Arabian, with regal peacock Stephan Azulay descending in a
gilded cage for an acrobatic duet with the sensuous Leigh Collins, opening his spectacular fan of plumage in an iridescent display; the whimsical Chinese, a ribbon dance full of funny pas de chats featuring the humorous Hochberg in a leaping walk; the boisterous Russian, with showstopper Tanabe performing powerful straddle jumps and tours a lá seconde; and the flamboyant Mother Ginger (Dexter) with her tremendous patchwork dress and 18 waltzing children.
The clock chimes to signal that time has come full circle, and Clara and her handsome Prince perform their romantic Grand Pas de Deux. The exuberant McGirr and sublime Stillman move with great feeling, and are intuitively in sync. She leaps into his arms with a difficult lateral twist, and he lifts her higher and higher with each swell of the music, so that it seems like she is floating on air. And she is floating, because she has fallen blissfully in love.
NBT's whimsical, enthralling 'Nutcracker' delights the child in us all.