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BWW Review: 'Tis the Season for George Balanchine's THE NUTCRACKER

'Twas 17 nights before Christmas and there I was at the David H. Koch Theater, viewing Balanchine's 62 year old The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet, which had premiered it on February 2, 1954. Magic was in the air. Although it was a school night, there were a number of excited children in the audience dressed up in their finest party attire, a modern version of the children's party clothes in the first act. This ballet is, of course, geared towards the children, both in the audience and on the stage.

As the orchestra, conducted by Clotilde Otranto, played the overture of this enchanting score by Tchaikovsky, we sat before a curtain of a shooting star and an angel dressed in pink above a black and white European town. The curtain rose to reveal the adorable Avery Lin as Marie (in some versions referred to as Clara) and Sawyer Reo as Fritz, impatiently awaiting their holiday party, which would momentarily get into full swing with guests, gifts, dancing, a few unruly children, and the magic of Herr Droselmeier, played, at this performance, with dignity, by David Prottas. There were dancing dolls, mice, soldiers, a Nutcracker that turned into the Nutcracker Prince, well danced by Emil Jose Kelso, and the highly anticipated growing Christmas tree. A good time was had by all.

The children, all students at New York City Ballet's School of American Ballet, were marvelous in both acts. The young dancers all displayed excellent precision and musicality, and it was obvious that they were delighted to be there, which delighted me.

The Snowflakes, without the Snow King and Queen in Balanchine's version, did well when one of the dancers dropped a snowball wand; eventually, one kicked it to the side of the stage as she passed it and another deftly scooped it up while exiting the stage. A moment later, they all returned with no wands missing. The snow swirled in and swirled out, changing the atmosphere for that which was to come.

The second act, The Land of Sweets, presented NYCB dancers in the major roles. Megan Fairchild's Sugar Plum Fairy could have been more lyrical. She does turn with ease, however, which is fun to see. Her Cavalier, Adrian Danchig-Waring, partnered her well. They accomplished the traveling arabesque, Fairchild's never faltering as Danchig-Warig smoothly pulled her across the stage by her hand on pointe. Spartak Hoxha added a welcomed spark, dancing Tea (Chinese). He made a big impression in this short variation. Coffee (Arabian) left me missing the supple sensuality of Stephanie Saland and other dancers whom I've seen lending their passion to this role in years gone by. Daniel Ulbricht led the Candy Canes with a surge of energy, as it should be. The Marzipan Shepherdesses were missing the attack and fun that I seem to remember in numerous Nutcrackers past. Again, the children were sharp, clean, and animated.

Creating the atmosphere was beautifully assisted by the ever-magical scenery by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, costumes by Karinska, and original lighting by Ronald Bates, lighting by Mark Stanley.

Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

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