BWW Review: THE NUTCRACKER presented by Atlanta Ballet at Kennedy Center
Note: The casting mentioned in this review reflects the performance from November 27, 2019.
Tis the season for Santa Claus, holiday lights, people lining up at three am to get a deal on a 76 inch TV set, and of the course the perennial holiday ballet favorite by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky known as The Nutcracker.
This past Thanksgiving week Kennedy Center continued its annual tradition of hosting a different ballet company's production of The Nutcracker. This year's lucky winner chosen to perform in the Opera House was Atlanta Ballet. The company's Artistic Director is Gennadi Nedvigin.
Every company that presents The Nutcracker puts their own spin (no pun intended) on the material and this production is no different. Unfortunately some of the "improvements" Atlanta Ballet tries to make don't necessarily work. Some of these changes are visual ones but one specific change is a plot point moved from Act one to Act two. As you probably remember there is a battle between the Nutcracker Prince (Vitor Luiz) and the Mouse King (Keith Reeves) which ends with a big dramatic Mouse King death in Act one. Here, for whatever reason, the battle happens in Act one but the death of the Mouse King doesn't occur until Act two during all the dance variations. It doesn't make any sense musically or dramatically.
Secondly, Tom Pye's settings are extremely impressive looking. Things like a giant chair and toy case are eye popping to be sure. However, his set pieces were not automated so when they needed to move you saw a small army of stagehands come on in full view to move these large pieces. It took me completely out of the moment every time this happened. Also because the sets were not built for the Opera House at Kennedy Center the offstage masking was inadequate. You could see dancers waiting to go on and in one or two cases (from my seat anyhow) you could see clear back to the upstage wall.
Last but not least on my naughty rather than nice list is the addition of projection into a piece that definitely doesn't need that kind of technological advance to succeed. Fin Ross' projections for the most part added nothing to my experience and as in so many cases with shows lately felt like they were added just because audiences are used to seeing them nowadays. The only exception to this is in Act two with all of the variations where Ross has a giant book onstage that flips chapters as we travel around the world. It was the only time where the projection enhanced rather that distracted.
It's the holiday season so I probably should talk about some pluses in this production now.
First off Yuri Possokhov's choreography is brilliant in many spots. My favorite would probably had to have been his take on "Waltz of the Flowers" because it some of the most graceful dancing in the entire production complete with some great plant wear designed by costume designer Sandra Woodall.
The "Pas de Deux" and following variations between Luiz and Airi Igarashi as Marie (you know her as Clara the young girl in many versions) showed what happens when two dancers simply have perfect chemistry and dance in perfect sync. This is where you fully realized that all the bells and whistles that preceded this section can't overshadow simple balletic beauty.
Nikolas Gaifullin as Drosselmeier has way more stage time than in a lot of productions of The Nutcracker. He pretty much controls the story from beginning to end in this version. His grandfatherly personality warmed the audience's heart to be sure.
Last but certainly not least is my biggest plus of all and that is the use of a LIVE and very large orchestra very ably conducted by Ari Pelto. Considering many productions, including another large one here in DC, use recorded music which takes away any chance of the dancers being able to dance at their preferred tempo, this is a holiday gift you all need to appreciate.
All in all, when Atlanta Ballet's production of The Nutcracker concentrated on the dance it was a very enjoyable production. I just wish it was like that all the way through.
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes with one intermission.
Atlanta Ballet's production of The Nutcracker ran in the Opera House at Kennedy Center from November 27 through December 1, 2019.
For upcoming dance events at Kennedy Center, click here.