Featuring classical choreography by William F. Christensen, the production of Ballet West by Tchaikovsky Nutcracker, which opened this weekend, is full of imaginative extravagance. With large, bold sets, a rainbow of costumes, and a flashy take on the dance performance, BW’s Nutcracker maximizes the potential of ballet for holiday magic and joy.
The scenic design by John Wayne Cook (with additions by Dick and Belinda Bird) for this Nutcracker immediately immerses the audience in winter memories. In the ballet’s first act, the shifting walls and projections portrayed an immersive holiday world – the clamor of your parents’ day, the restless sleep of Christmas Eve, a winter storm blanketing your city in a white expanse. Through fireworks and changing staging, Ballet West brought back to the cheerfulness and bustle of childhood Christmases, to the sense of wonder and magic that the holidays had and can still have.
While Act One tapped into nostalgic memories, Ballet West evoked a contrasting fantasy land in Act Two’s tour through 19e exotic fantasies of the century from Asia and Eastern Europe. Against the fluid backdrop of Act 1, Act 2 offers a more static and literal backdrop of collapsed Japanese pagodas, Russian onion domes, and more, painting Clara’s night visions of these worlds.
The young Saturday night cast added another layer of fun, with Gabriel Brown bringing a welcome playfulness to his role as Fritz that countered Annabelle Jackman’s dreamy looks from Clara.
The second act brought out some of the brightest aspects of Christensen’s choreography using the playful brevity of the score as the basis for the athletic staging. In “Chinese Dance”, Tyler Gum was dazzled by flashy stick turns. The short and spirited “Russian Dance”, starring David Huffmire and the members of the ensemble, almost resembled break dance in its flurry of jumps and limbs, delivering one of the most rewarding comedic delights of the night.
The real peaks of dance have arrived in the end-of-act spotlight. In “Snowflake Waltz,” Beckanne Sisk and Hadriel Diniz reflected the velvety grace of the wintry setting as the Snow Queen and Snow Rider, gliding across the stage in a graceful way that almost made them float.
The famous “Grand Pas de Deux” of Act II opposes the ephemeral grace of the “Snowflake Waltz” to a more physical spectacle. Emily Adams and Adrian Fry milk the duo for every acrobatic lift and frozen fall offered, demonstrating remarkable strength and movement control.
The evening’s unspecified conductor took a measured approach to the ballet’s ubiquitous score, toning down the fervent hoarse (the Russian dance in particular felt noticeably slower than what you’re likely to hear in most recordings) and gradually melting behind the rhythms of the dancers. There were intermittent balancing issues with percussion occasionally flooding the rest of the excellent Ballet West Orchestra ensemble for the most part.
But overall, Ballet West Nutcracker has lived up to its well-deserved reputation as a sophisticated dance performance and holiday dishes suitable for the whole family.
Western ballet Nutcracker runs until December 26. balletwest.org