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BWW Review: THE NUTCRACKER at Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center - A Home for Classical Storytelling

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"A home for classical storytelling" for children is that of the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center's performance of "The Nutcracker." Arguably one of the most recognized ballets of all time, The Nutcracker invites audiences all over the world into a classic Christmas story about "love and light," through the eyes of a young girl, Marie, and her Nutcracker gift.

Act I sets the scene at a Christmas Eve Party where young Marie, danced by Nina Yoshida, and her brother Fritz, danced by Kohki Toda, wait for family and friends to arrive at their home in a German Village. Children from the Kirkland Academy were very present in the audience.

Much of Tchaikovsky's unforgettable score was tailored to fit a younger audience. For instance, the overture was cut in half and there was no live orchestra. The Mother Ginger section in the second act was completely cut.

An informal, shimmering gold scrim with blue center revealed a single lantern on stage that opened and closed the performance, which was a nice directional choice by Michael Chekhov the company's Director. As if an idea had sparked indicating the story was about to begin, Drosselmeyer turned the lantern on with the help of Marie and finally the story ends when the light is put out.

There was lots of energy from the dancers right from the beginning with plenty of jumping and skipping. Balanchine would have been proud of Kirkland's dancers in the party scene.

The stage was very bare and the tree and the cuckoo clock - two very important components in the story -- were made of paper and hardly convincing even in their suspension of disbelief. The scenery was an indication that this company needs funding.

The young boys had toy guns during the party scene when I've typically seen musical instruments, perhaps indicating Marie's idea of good and evil. The boys' dancing was crisp and clear with a very acrobatic leap frog section. Drosselmeyer was the youngest I've ever seen. Danced by Johnny Almeida, his acting was well done.

Nina Yoshida dancing the role of Marie performed a wonderful petite allegro when the very young Drosselmeyer gifted her the Nutcracker. Fritz, danced by Kohki Toda, entered with a giant grand jeté en tournant. This was by far one of the most abbreviated party scenes I've ever seen.

Marie's candle did not turn on when she entered the living room after the party guests left the scene. The mice needed more rehearsal, although I was relieved to see the soldiers enter in the cupboard. Interesting choice to use a single small child soldier. The strength of the stage direction during the battle scene saved the sloppy dancing. Luckily they were, after all, dancing mice. The Battle Scene introduced the characters in the dream even though Marie and the Prince were not yet in the Nutcracker Prince's land.

During the second act, the pas des deux between the Nutcracker Prince and Marie was jerky and uneasy during the lifts and partnering work. In young dancers learning partnering, it often looks more like trickery than dancing.

During the Snow scene I would've love to see more snow. The dancing Snowflakes were similar to actual snowflakes; no two alike especially in the dancing. The loud pointe shoes' sounds coupled with contained energy through port de bras lines were distracting.

The use of fog for the Angels was magical. The Angels opened the Nutcracker Prince's kingdom and introduced all of the characters and let's just say the Coffee was mild.

Eight young women danced in the corps behind the lead pas de deux for Arabian. In a rich adagio like that, I would have liked to see a better sense of adagio quality in the dancing to match the music.

Chinese or Tea was the strongest of the bunch. Kato danced the Tea section fantastically. His wonderful training shone through in his dancing.

Another eight young ladies seemingly from the Academy, accompanied the lead Russian pas de deux. Russians are known for their athletic jumping and the recognizable score that even non-Nutcracker ears have heard promotes the sort of excitement to propel one from their seat. The Candy Cane or Russian section had the best costuming and the most cohesive staging portraying Russian dolls.

The Marzipan pas de trios of long ladies danced at a very slow tempo. Perhaps due to the jumps en pointe, these Marzipan dancers were like troubadours. Lovely dancing and solid casting.

Marie suddenly transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy, which was an interesting twist as typically the Sugar Plum Fairy is danced by a different dancer.

There were male dancers in the Waltz of the Flowers, which totally took me out of watching the Flowers. It seemed that they were trying to put as many dancers from the school on stage as possible. These Waltz of the Flowers men wore 18th century wigs and the ladies wore long light pink tutus with small flowers attached to the bodice. Whether through the choreography or the dancing, the dancers completely ignored the music in this section.

One of the dancing Flowers got tickled during Marie and the Nutcracker pas de deux and another dancer downstage continued to look around as if she didn't know the steps.

These sort of things happen with students and that is exactly what they were. I understand this game very well. Sometimes Ballet companies comprise the artistry of the work to put "butts in seats" as they say. The parents of these students want to see their children perform even if they aren't quite ready to perform in a professional production.

Marie had lovely, delicate hands and I just wish she would have let go a little more and surrendered to the momen byt being a little more generous to the audience rather than letting the inner monologue of every dancer on stage take over, which is - to get the steps right!

The lines in the body during the final pas des deux were foreshortened and each choreographic phrase was unfinished. In other words, there was no completion of each phrase. Any sense of balance was shaky during partnering sections and they danced too far upstage. Over all, the turns were strong with a poor use of space.

At some point, you have to trust yourself as a performer and let go, giving only to the audience. The second act overall had much better scenic and lighting design but Marie was getting tired and started dancing just a hair behind the music and underneath herself instead of really extending and going for it to stick it through the finale. The Nutcracker Prince was crystal clear in his dancing in the finale; A fine soloist!

Overall, there were technical and choreographic inconsistencies but a great Nutcracker for the Family at Christmas time.


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