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BWW Review: FESTIVAL BALLET PROVIDENCE'S ALL NEW NUTCRACKER

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Festival Ballet Providence presents an all new version of the Christmas staple.

BWW Review: FESTIVAL BALLET PROVIDENCE'S ALL NEW NUTCRACKER

As someone with fond memories of Festival Ballet Providence's THE NUTCRACKER going back to the mid-1980s, when the company was called Festival Ballet of Rhode Island and Christine Hennessey was at the helm, it would not be an understatement to say I was nervous when I first read that even more changes were coming to the production that sparked my love of ballet as a child. At the same time, there was no doubt that the show needed some extra oomph, especially in Act II, the Land of Sweets. Thankfully, as reimagined by FBP's Artistic Curator, Yury Yanowsky, and Company Director Kathleen Breen Combes, The Nutcracker continues to be a thoroughly charming and enchanting evening at the ballet.

The cast is always note-worthy, and there are many top-notch performances. There are innumerable ways to portray Herr Drosselmeyer (David DuBois), and in this production he is presented as Clara's kindly godfather, who weaves together a magical adventure for her. Rather than making a late appearance, he arrives at the party with the other guests, and spends time entertaining the children (and the audience) with an array of magic tricks and illusions. A new and very welcome addition to the life-sized doll variations include a pair of panda bears (Athina Alimonos and Tara McCally), who are by turns menacing and delightful, even performing a few seconds of the classic "Little Swans" dance from Swan Lake. As Clara, Charlotte Seymour is lovely as both a dancer and an actor who exudes stage presence beyond her years.

Children - over 100 of them, chosen from all over Rhode Island and Southern New England through an open call - are utilized well throughout the production, starting with the party scene, and continuing throughout the show with the addition of several new roles. These include mice in the battle scene, snow fairies and reindeer, angels, and - for the first time ever in Rhode Island - as polichinelles during Act II.

Humor has been injected into many parts of the show via both the addition of new roles and simply new ways of doing things. The battle scene between the Mouse King (Giana Melucci) and his rodent minions and the Nutcracker (Kobe Atwood Courtney) and his soldiers is one scene where this is evident. Gone are the days of each group dancing separately only to "clash" intermittently. The audience is now treated to the addition of cavalry and cheese catapulting that one really needs to see for oneself.

The new sets by Peter Horne are striking from the beginning, first creating a grand Victorian era hall, and an enormous Christmas tree in the background that still grows to an impressive thirty-eight feet. Perhaps the most striking of the new backgrounds is in the snow scene, towards the end of Act I. Horne has created an extraordinary snowy, glittery moonlit forest, which is the perfect compliment to the Snow Queen and King (Eugenia Zinovieva and Mamuka Kikalishvili respectively) and the snowflake corps.

Act II, the Land of Sweets, can be a challenge to make engaging to audience members who are not necessarily ballet enthusiasts, but here again FBP has made numerous changes to keep the show entertaining.

Thankfully, the Chinese Tea variation has moved well beyond its previous stereotypical iterations. Instead, our main dancer (Kailee Felix) performs a ribbon dance, and is backed up with a traditional style Chinese dragon and members of the children's cast performing with fans. To note, this new version was choreographed with the assistance of FBP faculty member Chu Ling for authenticity.

For the first time ever, Mother Ginger (Joshua Tuason) is included, in a massive dress rising twelve feet off the ground, with a small army of polichinelle dolls who emerge from underneath. The acrobatics performed by two of the children in this role earned particular applause, and deservedly so.

The Waltz of the Flowers is elegant as ever, and the corps was led on the evening of December 17th by Anna Lisa Wilkins as Dew Drop. Unlike some versions of the role, Dew Drop's movement here is sumptuous rather than speedy, elevated by Wilkins' gorgeous ports de bras and renverse (although there is a quick nod to Balanchine's famous version that balletomanes will be sure to catch).

Cast changes meant that the Sugarplum Fairy was portrayed at the evening performance by Nina Yoshida with Mamuka Kikalishvili as her Cavalier, both of whom appeared to warm into their roles during the pas de deux. Yoshida certainly makes the most of her lines, and Kikalishvili is a good match and steady partner for her. The individual variations also allowed each dancer to shine. The Sugarplum Fairy variation is famously difficult, but again Yoshida made the most of the intricate footwork and intense control that is required and was especially impressive in a difficult section containing multiple gargouillades. Kikalishvili's was impressive in the Cavalier's variation, with revoltade jumps that literally hovered in the air. Both dancers finished this section of the second act with an energetic coda, and again, Yoshida more than ably performed a challenging diagonal of alternating soutenue and fouetté turns.

With superb dancing, gorgeous new sets and costumes, and choreographic surprises, Festival Ballet Providence's new version of the Nutcracker is well worth a visit, whether this is your first time or your fortieth.

Tickets for all remaining performances are on sale now at the Vets/PPAC Box Office, by phone at 401-421-ARTS, or online at thevetsri.com.

Pictured: Kobe Atwood Courtney as The Nutcracker. Photo by Liza Voll.


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