BWW Review: Festival Ballet Providence's THE NUTCRACKER
Festival Ballet Providence's annual production of THE NUTCRACKER is a highlight of the Christmas season. Although some aspects of the production remain the same from one year to the next, there are always some small changes, and the show is no less affecting upon repeated viewings.
The multi-level set for Act I's party scene remains impressive, a gorgeous representation of a well-decorated Victorian house during Christmastime. The costumes for the guests are also appropriately sumptuous (although it was difficult to pick out Judge Silberhaus, whose tux did not differentiate from those of the other house guests). It was also nice to see an age-appropriate portrayal of Clara - well danced at this performance by Samantha Shorr - who in this version is thankfully given more to do throughout the show than in some other productions. There are many ways to portray Herr Drosselmeyer, from scary to wizard-like, but here he is portrayed by Dylan Giles as simply a slightly eccentric godfather with interesting gifts.
Based on audience reaction, the part of the Party Scene that many people were looking forward to was the on-stage debut of one of this year's new "Nutcracker Dogs," for which a multi-day, multi-audition search was conducted, as previous Nutcracker Dog Archibald prepares to step down after 19 years in the role (but still making a cameo!). A Petite Golden Doodle named Phoebe took to the stage at this evening's performance, but attendees at other shows may see either Bronx, a Golden Retriever, or Teddy, a Corgi.
The gorgeous party scene set does slightly tamper with the magic of the Christmas tree growing before the big battle scene between the Mouse Queen (Charlotte Nash) and the Nutcracker (Ty Parmenter). As this is supposed to represent Clara shrinking down in size, explaining why she's suddenly the same height as mice and toy soldiers, when nothing else grows in the room, the effect is slightly lessened.
Once the house set does pull away, revealing a wintry forest scene for the Snowflakes, the addition of hanging crystals was a nice addition, complimenting the sparkling crystals in Snow Queen Eugenia Zinovieva's tutu. This scene was performed well by all, even getting Clara and the Nutcracker Prince involved in the action. I was glad to see that the snow was kept to a moderate level throughout, until almost the very end. On-stage blizzards may look impressive to the audience, but can be downright hazardous to the dancers.
Act II, the Kingdom of Sweets, is where the company's dancers really get to shine in the typical assortment of divertissements. The absolute stand-out is, of course, Jennifer Ricci as Arabian. Ricci's longevity is nothing short of astounding, having been with the company since its Christine Hennessey days. She has been portraying Arabian for much of that time, and her extensions and flexibility are as good as ever.
When it came time for Chinese Tea, I was hoping for a more modernized choreography, as opposed to the older, somewhat stereotypical version. Unfortunately, the "typical" Chinese Tea choreography, costumes, and mannerisms are still in use here, at a time when a number of other ballet companies across the United States are moving towards more nuanced portrayals of Chinese culture. Nevertheless, the dance is a crowd pleaser, with agile footwork and expert ribbon-handling by Melissa Wong and Jay Markov.
In some productions (including Festival Ballet's own, many years ago), Clara is asleep during much of the second act, but not so this time around. Instead, she and the Nutcracker Prince also take part in the Waltz of the Flowers, the last of the divertissements. The addition of two "Flowers" (Brenna DiFrancesco and Olivia Kaczmarzyk) acting similarly to the "Big Swans" in the second Act of Swan Lake, detract from the specialness of the Dew Drop (Charlotte Nash) role, although all of the above were well-danced. Here too, the pale green and pink costumes were fittingly sumptuous.
Kirsten Evans is a treat as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her lines and balance were impeccable in the grand pas de deux, and she was well-partnered by Alex Lantz as her Cavalier. Her solo, complete with manège, was full of charm and poise.
There is still time to catch Festival Ballet Providence's The Nutcracker, with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreography by Mihailo Djuric. Remaining performances are Saturday, December 22nd at 7pm and Sunday, December 23rd at 1:30pm at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence RI 02906. Tickets range from $25-$85, and all patrons, regardless of age, must have a ticket for entry. Groups 10+ call 401-574-3162. The show is approximately 115 minutes, including one twenty-minute intermission.