BWW Review: Los Angeles Youth Ballet's NUTCRACKER Scores With A Delightful, Whimsical And Polished Presentation At The Alex Theatre
The weekend before Christmas, The Los Angeles Youth Ballet presented a gorgeous, colorful and professional performance of The Nutcracker at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA.
The production was very carefully constructed, with an emphasis on good technique, passion and commitment in performance and lovingly re-created by Artistic Director and Choreographer, Andrea Paris-Gutierrez. It was staged and choreographed optimally for each age group performing. Enchanting might be an adjective to describe the feeling the performers were emitting to the viewers, who's rapt attention was a sign of both enjoyment and endorsement.
The Nutcracker Suite was composed by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, and has long been the favorite balletic composition to be performed during the Christmas Season.
Christmas Eve finds the Stahlbaum Family celebrating with their family and friends in their stately home. As the guests keep arriving, there are a few children rollerskating, circling in and out of the elegantly dressed crowd, making their way in the cold, gifts clutched in gloved hands. Clara and her sister and brother anxiously await their friends, and especially Herr Drosselmeyer, their Godfather, (Jonathan Nail) who always brings exciting gifts, magic tricks and surprises.
The moment arrives, beginning with Clara and her Godfather lighting the Christmas tree, and with the help of Herr Drosselmeyer's nephew, distribute the presents among the excited children; dolls to the girls and musical instruments for the boys.
The main character in this tale, Clara, beautifully and gently, portrayed and performed by Sofia Monroy (at the performance seen) bourrees to center stage, drawing the other children in, around her, as they all begin to dance with their toys and each other. The boys dance a short section together, the girls do a pas de chat, glissade, pas de bourree combination that was crisp and very together. The parents start joining in, introducing a cotillion-type minuet to the floor, curtsying first, properly, to begin with, then more gallops and sashaying further into this merry group number, picking up tempo, forming overhead bridges with their arms held up and overhead together, as others skip and dance through, celebrating the Eve and all it's wonders, hopes and dreams.
The prize gift for the evening is a Nutcracker soldier doll, that Herr Drosselmeyer bestows upon his godchild. He knows her heart and that she will cherish and appreciate this gift. He also tells her each nut that is cracked, brings a wish granted, as she secretly wishes her Nutcracker turn into a real boy, who would share her dreams.
The servants, butlers and maids now carry in the tiniest of dolls, the adorable children ~ tiny dancers, if you will, or as I like to call them teeny "'trinas," dressed in Arabian, Russian, French and Spanish attire as the rest of the children sit on the floor to watch them be announced and paraded around. Right afterwards, a big huge box appears in the middle of their grand living room/ballroom, and out pop some very silly puppets, a clown and a soldier vs. a funny mouse, play-arguing and slapping at each other repeatedly to make the children laugh. Then, as if on cue, a life-size Soldier doll, (Quinn Marquez) , and the Vivandre doll (Eliana Chasen) dance a pas de deux that flows as he lifts her gently across stage. They dance as dolls, with their arms and legs bent at the knees and elbows, until the mouse turned humongous Mouse King (Dany Guillen) saunters out who dazzles them with turns en a la seconde and then attacks them, and the soldier, now mystically transformed into Clara's real-boy Prince wearing a crown, stabs and kills him with his sword, to save the day. Clara, is doing glissade-soutenus and piquet turns in a circle, precisely, en pointe, dancing happily inside her dream.
But as the children continue to play, things get a little rowdy, and cause the Nutcracker to fall and crack. Clara is quite upset, but Herr Dosselmeyer bandages the doll up and his nephew dances briefly with Clara and finds a doll bed for it to rest in. The party comes to an end, as the grandfather clock will strike midnight soon.
Clara appears back in the living room in her nightgown with a candle, to check on her Nutcracker, and running on behind her are very small mice, unseen by Clara, scurrying about, who are the cutest mice you have ever seen. They stop and pose, paws flexed, twitching and squeaking , as the Mouse King appears (Dany Guillen), sword in paw, to impress, with triple pirouettes and attitude turns. As the mice continue their hurried pace and the grandfather clock strikes midnight, they sweep up the tiny dolls and take them, disappear into the woodwork.
Clara has been asleep, holding her precious Nutcracker, but suddenly awakens, not sure if she is really awake or dreaming. She dances with Herr Drosselmeyer as their Christmas tree grows and grows, magically. This is Clara's second wish, so that all children can see the tree from all over the World.
As Clara looks on, Herr Drosselmeyer sprinkles magical dust on the Nutcracker doll, and with a wave of his cape, the doll becomes real. The mice come back to attack again wielding swords, and battle with Nutcracker toy soldiers armed with rifles. The live soldier wears a mask, as he fights, bravely, pirouetting in a la seconde, trying to ward off the onslaught of the mice, momentarily being injured, when Clara does the Mouse King in with a toss of her slipper to his head! There was a comical ending to this as the teeny mice freak out, their arms gesturing wildly, running amok and scamper away. Little mice whimpers were heard fading away as the stage goes black a moment...
Now they are free to journey on, and take a splendid sleigh ride, led by prancing reindeer.
The snowflake section is next, hence the entrances and quick exits of tiny dancers, or Snow Angels in shimmery white, as Clara and her "Prince" pas de deux together, adding in the corps de ballet, the Snowflakes, encircling and moving through formations and combinations, creating a beautifully serene scene, with snowflakes falling from the sky, and beautiful lighting, switching colors, as the feeling of gently falling snow pervades. The Prince (a really fine performance by Darrion Sellman) leaps onto the stage in a grand jete, planting three triple pirouettes in a row, strongly and cleanly. His posture on stage is exemplary. Clara counters with rapid chaines across the floor and very nicely done fouettes, topping off an excellent sissonne section by the Nutcracker Prince. As the number ends the First Act, the entire company forms a perfect picture of the Rain Forest.
The lively reindeer and reindeer-ography open Act Two up and lead us to The Kingdom of Sweets, where the Festival of Sweets occurs, and all types of sweets and treats perform their different homeland dances for the special guests. A flurry of Candy Canes dance by first, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform a duet to welcome them, followed by individual musical Variations representing each part of the World the sweet or treat comes from.
Special Guest Artists Ashley Murphy and Brooklyn Mack are a stunning couple portraying the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. They work so well together, and are strong, confident dancers, executing the recognizable steps that accompany the sweet, twinkling sounds of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, they are both dazzlingly costumed; very striking and precise in style and line.
During the beginning of each Variation, the youngest group of dancers set the mood of each piece by entering first in their appropriate costumes, circling around, dancing a few specific steps to start off the section, and then placing themselves upstage center, as they pull focus with the crowd, one more precious than the next.
Spanish Chocolate is the first to perform; the Senoritas using their fans, castanets and quick footwork to dance a fandango, each partnered briefly by Dany Guillen, who has a wonderful onstage presence, then into a pas de deux with Brooke Sinton. ending with his impressive double tour en l' air.
Next up is the Arabian Coffee, featuring soloists Allison Cabanday, Siena Ciancia and Camilla Machado, who are all very limber and fluid, as they ooze through backbends, shoulder rolls, a floor section, with splits, lovely lay-backs and expressive port de bras, ending with slow developpes a la seconde, holding and balancing in that pose above the head.
Chinese Tea has the best costumes in the whole production; beginning with the littlest of the little, enter wearing teacup and teapot tutus, with delighted "oohs" and "ahhs" coming from the audience. Emma Grigorian and Annya Redfern are both ably partnered by Dany Guillen, who cleanly ends the Chinese Dance in flying split jumps.
Russian Peppermint dances the Russian Trepak section, complete with cartwheels, much energetic movement and featuring Sophia Goldsmith doing an excellent pas de chat, emboite turn combination; Marzipan dances to the Dance of the Reed Pipes, with Avery Kim, Jules Kramer and Marcel Ramirez featured; and Mother Ginger (Sasha Kaminsky) leads the pucinellos or clowns through their antics and frivolity.
Waltz of the Flowers is the most famous of all the pieces within the Nutcracker Suite. It includes the entire company, beginning with the Dew Drop Fairy (Amanda Harris) in a beautiful staunch pink tutu leading the rest of the flowers in the garden, weaving, creating a magnificent array of buds and blossoms, as they hop in arabesque, doing brises, piquet turns and entrechats across the floor, trios, duets and solos abounding, with Clara and the Prince joining them as the garden brims with more and more new blossoms. The tiny bluebells appear and pose on stage while the rest of the bluebells form a straight line, breaking that up into small pinwheels, spinning around creating an exciting visual, blending them back together into one giant pinwheel. I love a big finish!
Taking the stage once again, Ashley Murphy (long-time member of Dance Theatre of Harlem and appearing here courtesy of the Washington Ballet ), and Brooklyn Mack (formerly of Joffrey, ABT Studio company, Orlando and Washington Ballet Companies, partering Misty Copeland in Swan Lake) are elegantly dressed in white and gold, glittering intricately as The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. He begins with a double inside pirouette, into arabesque, scissor-split leaps, assisting Ashley in multiple pirouettes, where he then swiftly lifts her overhead, carrying her rapidly across stage, repeating that combination once more, holding her in that position for several beats, then drop spins her into a very low fish. She steps en pointe into a front attitude, first being assisted by Brooklyn, and sustaining that position as he lets go of her. His solos consists of cleanly done double and triple tours en l' air in a circle, side scissor-splits, and a round of grand jetes; She does an expertly done combination of lovely quick footwork to the sound of plucking violins, matching that famous twinkly sound we are all so familiar with to her movements. Piquet, Soutenu and Chaine turns are deftly demonstrated, finishing with an over-the-shoulder throw as he lifts her, carrying the Sugar Plum Fairy high in the air to cap off the Festivities.
The Bows also contain more dancing, leaping and lifts, as each group individually takes their bows. Wonderful job!
The costuming, all throughout, is bright, elaborate and eye-catching, noting that they specifically used fabrics and styles that allow the dancers to move freely, and is credited to several designers: Halsey Onstage, Wendy Ciancia, Alon Zeltzer and Paula Corley put in a lot of work to make these costumes look so wonderful and complete. Beckie Kiefer is credited with Head of Costuming and Wardrobe Coordinator.
The Sets, Scenery and Lighting were also so well articulated and detailed and gives the feeling that all departments collaborated nicely together to a victorious goal. The beautiful Alex Theatre was the perfect venue to present The L. A. Youth Ballet 2018's Christmas holiday treat.
It is encouraging, satisfying and impressive to see excellent training and guidance being offered to up-and-coming ballerinas and ballet danseurs that are studying diligently, as this caliber performance is worthy of recognition. Most of the large cast, as I noticed in the Bios, have extensive resumes already as well as awards and recognitions to their credit.
Photos courtesy of Iker Gutierrez