BWW Review: NASHVILLE'S NUTCRACKER at Tennessee Performing Arts Center
Artistic Director Paul Vasterling has set Nashville's Nutcracker with the Nashville Symphony at the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Here, Drosselmeyer introduces Clara to the magical imagination and diversity of Nashville. In the ballet's opening, Clara sees a Nutcracker doll made by a German Toy Maker. Following the expo at Centennial Park, Vasterling creates a snowy scene of figure skating at Shelby Bottoms as partygoers head towards the Stahlbaum home. Among other Nashville nuances, Vasterling expands the battle scene to include American Infantry, Native American Soldiers, and Frontier Soldiers, all working together to defeat the Mouse King. The Sugar Plum Fairy holds court in the Parthenon Garden as a final homage to Nashville's branding as the "Athens of the South."
The December 8, 2019, 2 pm performance at Tennessee Performing Arts Center features Tilly Anderson as Clara and Michael Burfield as the Nutcracker Prince. Every production utilizes the role of Clara in different ways; Vasterling gives Clara's role validity and depth, as she maintains a strong presence throughout the entire ballet. The relationship of Clara to the Nutcracker can range from murky to mundane, while Nashville Ballet recognizes that the crux of the narrative rests with that relationship. It can be awkward at times with an older dancer trying to navigate his role(s) and relate to a young dancer in a jam-packed cast. Anderson embraces the fullness of her character and relationships with Drosselmeyer (Jon Upleger) and the Prince. Anderson and Burfield connect with poise and integrity. Burfield gives Anderson full attention for equality of presence on stage.
The company relies on its apprentices and second company to fill the corps de ballet for Waltz of the Snowflakes and Waltz of the Flowers. Company artists occupy multiple roles throughout the performance, some of them showing the strain from it. Gerald Watson appears to relish the theatrics of the party scene while thriving in the high voltage Russian Dance, much to the delight of the audience. The company's repertoire generally tends toward more contemporary work and movement, so the transition to the classical traditions in this work proved challenging for the company, especially in Waltz of the Snowflakes. Although both are strong dancers, the partnership of Katie Vasilopoulous as Snow Queen and Owen Thorne as Snow King lacks synchronicity, especially next to the ease of Anderson and Burfield's partnership.
Kayla Rowser, as Sugar Plum Fairy, and Nicolas Scheuer, as Sugar Plum Cavalier, share joyous energy in their pas de deux. Both artists move easily from bold charisma in their solos to celebratory partnership. Scheuer wavers a little with the bigness of his variations but gives full attention to his partner. Vasterling maintains the imagery of a glowing orb to connect acts. Drosselmeyer entertains party children with one, which becomes the catalyst for lighting the growing Christmas tree. Rowser holds one aloft in the final divertissement. Vasterling's branding of The Nutcracker as part of Nashville's history changes the context of this tradition. What was universal becomes unique to its audience in a way that will define ballet for Music City.
Photo: Heather Thorne