BWW Review: Classy Production of Classic NUTCRACKER with Maine State Ballet
Maine State Ballet 's lavish performance annual performance of The Nutcracker at Merrill Auditorium is a sure sign that the Christmas season is upon us, and the 2017 production did not disappoint! Utilizing the resources of the entire company plus scores of other local dancers and extras, Artistic Director Linda MacArthur Miele once again works magic in this large venue in a performance that fills the house with joy.
Miele's choreography, as always, is calibrated to showcase the respective talents of each level of the ballet school and company, and while she incorporates all of the essentials of the classic Petipa dances and draws on her own experience with Balanchine, she manages to place her own mark on the piece and present her company in its best light. While some of the first act sequences, especially the battle between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker, are scaled back, the second act retains enough of the virtuoso material to satisfy in all the solo and corps der ballet pieces. The company is well schooled from the youngest members to the principal dancers and there is an evident esprit de corps that lends energy to the performance.
Gail Csoboth's costumes and décor are filled with fairy tale magic and David Hermann's lighting completes the illusion. The live 46-piece orchestra under the baton of Karla M. Kelley Brenner adds to the overall effect, for the most part doing justice to Tchaikovsky's well-loved score. The harpist and woodwind sections are particularly commendable for their lovely contributions, though the strings are a trifle shallow. Nonetheless, Ms. Brenner conducts with an empathetic feeling for the dancers and a firm sense of musicianship.
The cast on the afternoon of November 25 was outstanding with numerous eye-catching solo contributions and a strong ensemble presence. The corps de ballet displayed musicality, clean line, and solid technique, though occasionally the precision of some of the linear patterns could have been improved. The large band of children made heartwarming appearances as party children in the first act, toy soldiers, little pages and candies, and the miniature "reindeer" in the finale. In the character roles, Frederick Bernier as a compelling Drosselmeyer, Christine Marshall Dow as an amusing Grandmother and Mother Ginger and Janet Davis and Glenn Davis as Judge Stahlbaum and his wife were standouts.
The solo and principal roles were all well cast. Adrienne Pelletier made a winsome Clara who displayed a lovely lyrical grace, a fine extension, and an airborne lightness in the lifts of the end Act I pas de deux. Her partner, Boomer Druchniak, brought an athletic assuredness and youthful appeal o the Nutcracker Prince. The remaining first act solos (Elizabeth Chadbourne, Porcelain Doll; Caroline Chittum, Columbine Doll; Arie Eiten, Harlequin Doll; and Roberto Forleo, Soldier Doll) were all charmingly executed.
However, it was the second act where the pure dancing takes center stage that the company shone best. Veronica Druchniak ruled her kingdom as a benevolent and beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy, and she demonstrated her strong technique, beautiful lyricism, and ever-maturing comprehension of the depth of the roles she portrays. Partnered by Nathaniel Dombek as her Cavalier, the two danced with the perfect symmetry that defines excellent partnerships. Dombek brings a strong virile technique and a keen sense of the Romantic line, and he is a strong and able partner.
All the other variations were well executed. Julia Lopez was a seductive presence in the Spanish dance, while Arie Eiten and Ellen Parkinson were perky in the tea dance. Kallee Gallant and Glenn Davis were stunning in the Arabian coffee sequence - both executing some tricky lifts with consummate ease and creating a sense of perfect rapport. Robert Shelley shone in a virtuoso moment as the Russian Cossack; Kendra Murray was a pert Marzipan Shepherdess, while Rhiannon Pelletier displayed the limpid line and fluid technique perfectly suited to the Dew Drop Fairy.The entire company came together to dance a stunning finale and to be greeted with the appreciative applause of the large Merrill audience.
One of the challenges of producing this show every year is to keep it fresh and to continue to make it a gift both to returning patrons, as well as to the new audiences who range form toddlers to adults. One of my pleasures as an observer is to see how well this mission is fulfilled. What I experienced was an audience across all age spectrums and demographics enchanted by the spectacle; impressed by the skill and art; completely immersed in the magic of the moment!
Photos courtesy Maine State Ballet 207-781-7672 www.mainestateballet.org
The Nutcracker runs from November 24-December 3, 2017 at Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St. Portland ME