You know it is the holidays when Nutcracker season starts. This week, Ballet West brings their version of the holiday classic to the Kennedy Center. You may be familiar with Ballet West from Breaking Pointe, their short lived documentary series on the CW. Some of the dancers featured in that show are performing in this production of the Nutcracker.
Ballet West presents a fun, modern take on The Nutcracker. The Victorian set design is amazing. Multiple layers are used to convey movement through Clara’s house. The children are delightful during the holiday party. Kya Eman Uzzle steals the first half of the first act as the Party Princess. She bubbly and emotional, providing some comedy to the act. Additionally, the Grandfather, portrayed by Tyler Gum, was funny, especially has he tried to dance with Clara’s mother. Dr. Drosselmeyer, played by Adrian Fry, is portrayed as your weird uncle who brings life-sized dancing bears to your holiday party.
The mice are goofy rather than scary. Their costumes are huge, so ballet moves look more funny than elegant. They are cowardly, freaking out as children dressed up as soldiers appear on stage. Tyler Gum is hilarious as the Mouse King, breaking out some Gangnam Style dance moves in the middle of battle. The whole fight becomes comedic, that is until a cannon goes off. The cannon is terrifying. It made my friend and I jump in our seats. There was some cursing.
Another pyrotechnic was used for the Nutcracker’s entrance. It is a blinding entrance. I could not see anything for a few seconds after the entrance. When the Nutcracker took off his mask, my first thought was “Stranger danger”. Ballet West tried its best to cast a dancer that didn’t look too old, but Alexander MacFarlan looked old and creepy next to the girl that played Clara. Picture a living Ken Doll and a little girl.
Principle dancer Christiana Bennett is amazing as the Snow Queen. She dances with grace and power, conveying the essence of a snowflake. The children’s choir during the Waltz of the Snow is pre-recorded. The transition between live music and the recording is very jarring. The fog during the beginning of this portion is very mesmerizing. It was thick, going up to the dancers’ calves, and rolling off the stage. It is so mesmerizing that I was more focused on the fog than the Snow Queen. The Snowflakes were great. They danced lightly, and matched well, creating a sense of chaos.
As for the Land of Sweets, the Russian Dance and the child Buffoons are the highlights. The five men of the Russian Dance, lead by Tyler Gum, reignited the crowd and elicited applause almost every time they jumped. The child Buffoons are adorable, while the Mother Buffoon is funny, especially when she danced with her surprisingly long legs. There is also some incredible gymnastics in that dance.
The Chinese Warrior is the weakest aspect. Ballet West’s interpretation of this character made me realize how much cultural appropriation is in the ballet. Apart from that, the Chinese Warrior does not really do much. He appears on stage with a dragon, reminiscent of the dragons used in Chinese dragon dances, runs around, does a cool move with his pole, and exits.
The Waltz of the Flowers has the best costumes of the show. The skirts look like flower petals and flowed well as the dancers danced together. Rex Tilton and Emily Adams are a good pair, and do some of the more impressive lifts in the show.
Beckanne Sisk is gorgeous as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her fouettes are impressive, as are Christopher Ruud’s. You will get dizzy watching them spin.
As for the nitty gritty stuff, the choreography is fairly simple and repetitive. Most of the lifts are standard, with the more impressive lifts save for the finale. During some dances, the timing of the Corps is a bit off at certain points. Additionally, the choreography does not match the music at various points, such as during some parts in the Sugar Plum solo. However, when the choreography matches the music, it is magical.
The Nutcracker is first and foremost about dancing. And Ballet West did an excellent job with that. The set is great and the show is fun. If you can only choose one version of The Nutcracker to see this month, consider seeing this one.
All photographs courtesy of the Kennedy Center. Ballet West: The Nutcracker runs through December 14th. Tickets can be purchased on the Kennedy Center site.