BWW Review: THE NUTCRACKER at Kansas City Ballet

The holidays are prime time for the performing arts in Kansas City. Now playing at the Kauffman Center through Christmas Eve is the Kansas City Ballet's new treatment of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." As a theatrical enterprise, this "Nutcracker" is unlikely to be surpassed by any other production of this beloved work.

Originally produced at St. Petersburg Russia in 1892, the story is an adaption of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by Alexandre Dumas (the father). It tells the holiday story of the well to do Silberhaus family on Christmas Eve, their children, Dr. Drosselmeier (Godfather to the children), and the following slumbers of Clara, the favored daughter.

"This Nutcracker" is choreographed by KC Ballet Artistic Director Devon Carney. Carney's vision of the ballet takes a few liberties with the original Russian choreography and story but strives for context, lavishness of presentation, and overall spectacle. It succeeds on all counts.

Costumes are outstanding and delivered by Holly Hines, formerly the Director of Costumes for the New York City Ballet. This production's incredible, massive, and opulent scenery and the detail of the stage properties spring from the imagination of internationally known designer and artist Alain Vaes. There is so much physical property that four workshops were needed to produce it all. Trad A. Burns is the lighting designer with over 600 productions to his credit. The Kansas City Ballet is accompanied by an excellent Kansas City Symphony.

Our story begins at Dr. Drosselmeier's toy and clockmaker shop. We soon learn that Drosselmeier is magical in addition to being a delightful artisan. Illusion is a theme that follows through the heart of this fine production of a favorite ballet.

Audiences can easily anticipate what might await them from the conjurings in Doctor D's workshop. I was struck from the opening with an image of an elegant silent film come to life on the Kauffman stage. Attention has been paid in this production to the acting and well as to the dance. This works to the production's credit.

The scene shifts to the Silberhaus home for a Christmas Eve lighting of the tree, an exchange of gifts and more demonstrations of Dr. Drosselmeir's prestidigitation skills for each of the present children. The children go off to their slumber. Daughter, Clara in particular, curls up in her bed and dreams.

The remainder of the ballet invites us into Clara's dream. She dreams that her nutcracker toy soldier has comes to life as a real boy. He saves Clara from a very villainous rat creature.

See here dancing mice, rats, a platoon of toy soldiers, sheep, a prince, a princess, sugar plum fairies, a troop of Russian peasants, visitors from the Arabian Nights, and sojourners from the mystical Far East. Dr. Drosselmeir, the protector, is never far away. Music, some of the costumes, and general themes will be familiar to the ear, but this particular compilation of dance has been created especially for this production.

More than 30 professional artists and hundreds of young students (who are just learning ballet) participate in this extravagant new rendering. The professional dancers are all very credible. The precision, strength, and athleticism required to bring "The Nutcracker" to life is obvious and impressive. The youngest participants look like they are having a ball. So do the smiling parents and grandparents out in the auditorium.

You will notice that individual dancers have not been recognized in this appreciation. The cast rotates performance to performance. Not all dancers perform at all performances. Audience members who are looking for special dancers should be careful to know which performances will feature their personal special dancers. Tickets for Kansas City Ballet's "The Nutcracker" are available on line or by telephone at (816) 931-8993.

Photos courtesy of Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

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From This Author Alan Portner

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