BWW Review: HILARIOUS AND POETIC, A HOLIDAY TRIBUTE TO CHILDREN: THE NUTCRACKER, BY AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE at Segerstrom Center For The Arts
Unlike numerous past renditions of the story, in the American Ballet Theatre's The Nutcracker, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky in 2010, the show didn't start by showing the guests' arrival to the house, nor by highlighting the snow in the street, nor the preparation of a Christmas tree, but it began from the kitchen.
The first place that we're taken is to a busy kitchen; a kitchen full of hanging salamis, in which the staff are preparing the dinner, and running around like chickens with their heads cut off. A nanny, who is checking out the food and all of the other preparations in the kitchen, is shown being frightened by a little mouse. She is so terrified that she almost faints, and the excellent acting for this scene immediately draws the audience's attention and sucks them in to the story.
Behind the door, guests are arriving and the Nanny gives the signal: Start serving! The staff takes the food and walks through the door, which takes them out of the audience's view. Once they all finally leave the room, the mice come out and start having their own party: stealing food in the kitchen.
An organized and well-designed display of chaos paints a vivid picture of the holiday season, with a children's story tone. The hilarious, fun mood perfectly fed the young audience members' thirsty curiosity in the Segerstrom Center For the Arts on December 14, 2018, and made adults forget about their age as well.
The stage design is a masterpiece of work, which made use of multidimensional space -- a concept borrowed from literary writings and movies.
Layers of space were revealed in a strategic way, in the scene depicting the battle between the mice and toy soldiers. While Clara was sitting on an oversized chair looking down at the battle, it reminded me of the art work by Robert Therrien, an American contemporary artist, whose signature is to alter the viewer's psychological and physical perceptions of space by creating oversized everyday objects. The art piece, Under the Table was just like that. When a human stands beneath the nearly 10 feet tall table, he/she feels like an ant.
Beyond that, a unique character was revived by the master choreographer Alexei Ratmansky-a nontraditional Sugar Plum Fairy. Instead of a typical classical ballet's fairy lady with beautiful hair, skin, dress, and dance, the American Ballet Theater's version of Sugar Plum Fairy is a colorful insect. Instead of making a soloist perform a fairy tale type of dance, this version of Sugar Plum Fairy shines like a queen, using her brilliant acting. Zhong-jing Fang, the Sugar Plum Fairy, owned the stage that night, simply by walking and sitting. On paper it may sound like an easy task, but it was all in her masterful delivery.
The toy dances, and the Chinese dance were absolutely sharp and crisp, with perfect choreography and execution, and beautiful costumes. The Arabian dance, on the other hand, was a tad bit risqué. I am sure that there are better options to demonstrate their culture.
Overall, I was very pleased by some dance highlights, but disappointed by some costumes, such as the party outfits in Act I, the attire worn in the Spanish dance in Act II, and the uniforms of the forty children from the ABT William J Gillespie School. Why couldn't their costumes have been as captivating as the snowflakes', the flowers' and the Sugar Plum Fairy's?
As in every other Nutcracker, the pas de deux in Act II is the climax of the show. The prince and princess, Cory Stearns and Hee Seo, were pouring out beautiful, classical ballet technique, bringing the poetic dreamland to life, delivering the hope for the future, gracefully showcasing their muscle strength in every flowing move, and keeping the audience in tune with the performance. The stage design, again, exceeded everyone's expectation. Having the couple dance under a blue sky with gentle snow, utilizing the Less is More approach, couldn't have been more poetic!
The Nutcracker, by the American Ballet Theatre, begins with a refreshingly unusual holiday carnival mood for children, and ends with a strongly projected glimpse in to a positive future. It is not just a journey in to the dream of a little girl, but a dream held by adults as well.
The last and the best, Lani Mefford (Clara), and Kellan Hayag (the Nutcracker boy), astonished everyone in the theater. Some audience members kept saying that they can't wait to see what big stars these young kids will become. And, I couldn't agree with that more.
Later that night, at the cast party hosted by Tiffany's in the South Coast Plaza, the young principal dancers, together with other children from ABT William J Gillespie School, danced free-style with music and enjoyed themselves so much that they were the focus of the party. It was the perfect way to end the night. After all, this ballet is a tribute to children, and children are the hope for our future.
photo credit: Doug Gifford/Segerstrom Center for the Arts