EMAV Review: NBT's pristine 'Nutcracker' is one of their best yet ★★★★★

Snow featuring Jaime DeRocker as The Winter Fairy.

★★★★★ - Irresistible

There was a clarity of artistic vision this year to Nevada Ballet Theatre's holiday presentation of "The Nutcracker" at the Smith Center. Guided by choreographer James Canfield with répétiteur Tara Foy, the company hit the sweet spot in its seventh year of staging Canfield's own unique version of the 1892 ballet, set to the original score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and based on E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1816 novella "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." The collaborative elements inherent to the always beautiful, art-nouveau-look show--including sets by Patricia Ruel, costumes by Sandra Woodall and Christopher Larson, and lights by Peter Jakubowski--coalesced seamlessly and overflowed with a generous spirit and a remarkable sense of immediacy. The mood was one of carefree exuberance both onstage and off during the second Friday performance. The Christmas Eve 'Party' scene with its soft lighting and splendid Victorian dollhouse feels like it is filtered through the memory of young heroine Clara, danced by Emma Mcgirr with head-to-toe, adolescent awakening. The vignettes featuring parents and children are focused and festive, and include social dances and boys and girls doing boyish and girlish things. Even the bewildered grandfather, played by Enrico DeMarco, hams it up with his "flossing" moves. Caroline MacDonald as Clara's jealous sister Louise flirts with Clara's love interest the Nephew, played with amusing befuddlement by Benjamin Tucker (who later dances the Nutcracker and the Prince). His uncle and Clara's godfather is the clockmaker Drosselmeyer, and Steven Goforth reprises the role with a distinguished and tenderhearted presence. Drosselmeyer brings gifts to wow the crowd, like the stuffed bear danced by Oslaniel Castillo with acrobatic glee, and mechanical dolls Harlequin and Columbine, danced by Michael Caye and Betsy Lucas. The clock peals and Clara dreams she is miniature like her nutcracker, brought to life by Drosselmeyer. With her porcelain dolls and toy soldiers escaped from their cabinet, she and the Nutcracker battle the Rat Queen, danced with panache by Christina Ghiardi, and her Rat army underneath the towering Christmas tree. The scene feels abbreviated, but remains eerie as McGirr moves with frightened stiffness and duets with Goforth in hypnotic slow-motion under stark streams of light.

Mirella Costa Neto as Winter Fairy and Sergio Alvarez as The Snow Prince.

The most awe-inspiring moment occurs when the curtain abruptly drops to reveal a wondrous, wintery land with snowflake stars and full moon floating in an inky sky. Under blue moonlight and gently falling snow that builds to a flurry, the corps de ballet in translucent tutus swirl like snowflakes with sweeping, sequential movements and pretty patterns. Mirella Costa Neto is a luminous yet feisty Winter Fairy, and her clean lines and sassy style add warmth to the chill. She and the tranquil Sergio Alvarez as the Snow Prince make a complementary pair, and he does elegant grand jetés and multiple tours en l'air in his solo work. The "Enchanted Fairyland" features gnarled ropes for trees with lights that beam like sunlight through leaves. Cheerful sprites and the corps as watercolored, dragonfly flowers waltz about, and each fairy has her own distinct personality and bug-like movement. Ghiardi is joyful with her fluid fouettés as the Spring Fairy, MacDonald is bright and fluttery as the Summer Fairy, and Lucas is earthy and energetic as the Autumn Fairy. As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Jaime DeRocker exudes kindness and grace and plays up the fairy movements with clipped pointe work and crisp piqués. Having Clara and the Prince present the "Divertissement" reinforces the idea that these dances are gifts. The "Spanish" pops with Rachel Thomson, Katherine Zimmerman, Caye, and Robert Mulvey as spicy Toreadors. The "Arabian" features an assertive Brooke Lyness with Alvarez as the peacock who descends in his cage for a duet of gliding splits and sensuous lifts. He opens his dazzling plume, and the audience swoons. In the "Chinese," gone are the stereotypical movements, but it's an endearing piece featuring Krista Baker, Isabella Kowalski, and Ryan McNally. The charismatic Jun Tanabe is a showstopper in the "Russian" with his virtuoso leaps and multiple tours, along with Rachel Ackerman, Jordan Mcintosh, and Danielle Maas. And David Hochberg as the flamboyant "Mother Ginger" with dancers from NBT's Academy as her children bring down the house with their acrobatics and high-caliber dance technique.

Students of Nevada Ballet's school put their training to work.

The "Grand Pas de Deux" puts focus back on Clara and her handsome Prince. McGirr and Tucker enjoy each other and their mutual affinity is palpable. They embrace each pretty lift and difficult lateral twist as a moment that marks a growing emotional intensity, and when McGirr does an arabesque penché into a kiss from her kneeling Prince, their devotion feels complete. The grand "Finale" and "Apotheosis" feature bits from each dance with performers in curtain call and brings the show full circle. With Christmas only days away, the children in the audience filled the air with "Oohs" and "Aahs" and a collective feeling of anticipation. That's what it's all about.

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