BWW Reviews: Festival Ballet Delights with Splendid NUTCRACKER

Festival Ballet Providence has an undisputed reputation for excellence in the dance world. Every season, the company brings classic ballets to life at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium and premieres cutting edge works "Up Close" for audiences in its Hope Street studios. One of Festival's long-established and most-cherished traditions is its annual production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, a Christmas fantasy of dancing sugarplums and childhood toys magically coming to life.

This season, FBP brings their highly-anticipated Nutcracker to the Providence Performing Arts Center for one weekend only. Though the look of the show has changed little over the past several years, Mihailo "Misha" Djuric's sharp direction and his subtle adjustments to choreography and staging keep each Christmastime performance fresh and engaging.

As always, beloved company canine Archie opens the show by racing across the stage - to the delight of audience members young and old - to be the first guest at the door of the Silberhaus' Christmas Eve party. Costume designs by Djuric, Freda Bromberg, and Ann Morsilli impress right from the start with the Silberhaus family and their visitors attired in bejeweled gowns and sharp, tailored suits befitting the tale's Victorian-era setting.

During the Christmas Eve festivities, Clara Silberhaus receives a unique and wonderful Christmas present from her godfather: a wooden nutcracker doll. Godfather Drosselmeyer uses this seemingly simple gift to usher Clara into a wondrous dream world where her Nutcracker leads wooden soldiers into battle against an invading army of mice. After the defeat of the mice and their queen, the Nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince and invites Clara to a victory celebration in his magical kingdom.

The first act of The Nutcracker is largely given over to establishing the narrative - the Christmas party, the invasion of the mice and the ensuing skirmish, Clara and the Prince's snow-filled journey to the Kingdom of Sweets - and the company excels at storytelling through strong ensemble numbers featuring a variety of moods and tones. The colorful ball gowns and carefree games of the Silberhaus' party counterbalance the frenzied combat between the wooden soldiers and the mice, and the tale transitions toward more dance-centered performances with the elegant pirouetting snowflakes that arrive soon after the Nutcracker's transformation.

Jane Schiavone plays Clara during evening performances, and she brings excellent personality to her role. Schiavone is engaged with the storyline at every moment, from her turns dancing in the spotlight to scenes where her character is passively observing other performers. She convincingly presents Clara's innocence, enthusiasm, and childlike wonder throughout the production.

Dylan Giles takes a less mysterious approach to his portrayal of Herr Drosselmeyer. While still every inch the inventor and magician, Giles' Drosselmeyer is much more lighthearted and mischievous. He has a companionable rapport with all of the children, especially Clara, and he appears genuinely delighted at each of his own marvelous tricks and illusions.

The mouse army - humorous and threatening, by turns - is led by Emily Loscocco's glamorous, alluring Mouse Queen. Loscocco dances the role well, bringing plenty of swagger to her confrontation with the Nutcracker. The battle itself is well staged, and the choreography keeps up the intensity of the skirmish while incorporating creative and playful elements throughout.

Festival's principal dancers shine brightly in the second act of the production, where more straightforward dance performances take center stage. The highlight of act two is Jennifer Ricci's exquisite and mesmerizing presentation of the Arabian/Coffee number. Coffee, which is packed tightly with complexity and contortion, has become a signature piece for Ricci over the years, and she dances it with perfect poise, conviction, and unfaltering control. Alan Alberto partners well with Ricci, providing a solid strength that completes and complements the intricacies of the dance.

The other inhabitants of the Kingdom of Sweets fill the stage with life and color, from the high energy of Toleu Mukanov and Harunaga Yamakawa in Trepak to the spirited aerobatics of Vincent Brewer and Tegan Rich in the Chinese Tea. Vilia Putrius presents beautiful, elegant pointe work as the Sugarplum Fairy, and Mindaugas Bauzys floats effortlessly over the boards with powerful leaps and graceful spins as her Cavalier.

The combination of Festival's talented dancers and the company's special attention to characterization throughout The Nutcracker makes this production a wonderful Christmastime tradition for theatergoers of all ages. Nutcracker's festive storyline accessibly opens the ballet to a wider audience, providing parents and children, dance aficionados and causal viewers alike the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate both the complexity and narrative potential of the discipline.




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