BWW Reviews: Festival Ballet's Exquisite NUTCRACKER a Christmastime Tradition
Festival Ballet Providence's annual performance of The Nutcracker is the crowning jewel of Rhode Island's Christmas fine arts season. The company's dazzling display of artistry and technique enhances Nutcracker's characterization, expertly bringing the stuff of childhood dreams to life as the dancers twirl and leap to Tchaikovsky's familiar, sweeping score.
Nothing about FBP's production feels routine or commonplace; indeed, the dancers - under the direction of Mihailo "Misha" Djuric - take their jobs as storytellers seriously, knowing the importance of this ballet to generations of theatergoers. The company goes the extra mile to be sure this beloved holiday fantasy is professional and polished in every aspect, and this year's production is no exception. In fact, the 2014 Nutcracker is better than ever, brimming with energy and spellbinding from curtain to curtain.
Nutcracker's story opens as friends and family gather at the Silberhaus' Christmas Eve party. It's a happy jumble of holiday cheer; children cavort across the room with their new toys, and adults perform stately, period-inspired dances. The festivities truly get underway at the entrance of the Silberhaus children's godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer (Dylan Giles); the much-loved inventor and magician arrives with a seemingly-enchanted bag of gifts and a collection of astonishing automatons to offer to the assembled party.
Drosselmeyer's most wondrous present is bestowed on favorite godchild, Clara (Lan Pricolo). With the gifting of the Nutcracker doll, Drosselmeyer grants Clara a special Christmas dream, one packed full of adventure and wonder. Through it, she encounters a marauding mouse army, a prince in disguise, and a command performance of dancing confections in a magical kingdom far away.
The Silberhaus' merry party relies heavily on the dancers' expression and storytelling abilities, as believable characterization is key to giving these earliest scenes energy and momentum. Many of the company's youngest members have their first experiences with the spotlight in the opening numbers, while seasoned FBP dancers enjoy featured performances as they transform clockwork toys and scurrying rodents into enchanting works of art.
The entire Nutcracker company, down to the littlest twirling angel, is to be commended for its excellence this season. Pricolo is ideally cast as Clara; her spunk and sparkle breathe life into her character, and all of her emotions, from her terror at the Mouse Queen's attack to her joyous delight in the Kingdom of Sweets, feel unforced and genuine. In addition, Pricolo is light on her feet and demonstrates strength and grace in all of her dances.
Ilya Burov, Clara's nutcracker prince, soars across the stage with lightning-fast turns and grand jumps. Burov's movements are ever graceful, and his sword battle with the Mouse Queen (played with lots of attitude and sass by Tegan Rich) has great pacing and tension.
Giles reprises the role of Drosselmeyer again this season, and it is a part he clearly delights in playing. He infuses each of Herr Drosselmeyer's magical feats with a flourish of mystery, but gives the inventor approachable enough a personality to seamlessly join into the children's most impish games. Giles makes Drosselmeyer both a commanding and a reassuring presence on stage.
The featured dances in the nutcracker prince's kingdom are, as always, a showcase for Festival's acclaimed company. The Snow Queen and King (the excellent and well-paired Ruth Whitney and Alan Alberto) start Clara and her prince on their journey with a lovely pas de deux performed under dozens of suspended, twinkling Swarovski crystals. Brenna DiFrancesco and Vincent Brewer offer a vibrant, vivacious take on the Tea dance that is utterly charming, while Jennifer Ricci's signature performance of Coffee is a genuine showstopper year after year. Ricci's technique in this number is breathtaking, intricate, and exquisitely detailed; even the most seasoned FBP audience members are astonished and enthralled by Ricci's artistry in this dance each season.
Husband-and-wife team Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys also return to the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. The choreography associated with these characters is complex and challenging, but Putrius and Bauzys perform each lift, each turn, each lighter-than-air leap with such assurance and skillfulness that even the most difficult passage seems entirely effortless.
Festival Ballet Providence's Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition on both sides of the footlights. This year's production is one not to be missed, a true celebration of talent and creativity from the Ocean State's premier ballet company.
Festival Ballet's The Nutcracker plays a limited engagement at the Providence Performing Arts Center through Sunday, December 21, 2014. Ticket prices range from $23-85, and group rates are available upon request. To purchase tickets, contact PPAC by phone at (401) 421-ARTS (2787), visit the box office located at 220 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI, or order online at www.ppacri.org.
Pictured: Ruth Whitney and Alan Alberto
Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion