BWW Review: Washington Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER is a Christmas Treat
Washington Ballet's production of The Nutcracker, a beloved DC holiday tradition, has returned to the Warner Theatre in all its splendid glory.
On par with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, ice skating at the Sculpture Garden or the Smithsonian's Zoo Lights, Washington Ballet's annual holiday offering remains a magical journey and a must for Washingtonians of all ages.
For those who haven't seen The Nutcracker or even been to the ballet before, Pyotr Iiyich Tchaikovsky's story about a girl named Clara (Carla Barinas) and her holiday dream is the perfect introduction to the art form. Even more magical is Washington Ballet's twist on the 1892 classic, which resets the initial story in Washington.
On Christmas Eve, guests gather at a resplendent holiday party in a Georgetown Mansion hosted by Clara's family. Spirits, food, family and her charmingly, yet peculiar, godfather Drosselmeyer, (Luis R. Torres), entertains the children with a puppet show and gifts. For Clara, he gives her a Nutcracker doll that bears a striking resemblance to George Washington. After falling asleep, and at the stroke of midnight, Clara drifts into a winter dreamland that features a battle with mice and a journey around the world before witnessing the blossoming of spring.
The joy of this production is not just its setting but also the youthful energy and mysticism brought by the company's younger members. Children fill this production from the party scene at the beginning to the snow angels and later elements of nature throughout. They remind us of the magic that is Christmas and the beauty that brings us back to this beloved classic every year.
Tchaikovsky's score is a festive feast filled with holiday favorites. His music is so omnipresent in commercials and at parties during this time of year that you'll be thinking, "Wait, this is from The Nutcracker, I love this!"
Musically, the score in Act I opens with the warm and welcoming 'The Christmas Tree' before transforming into the exciting and thrilling 'The Battle.' In Act II, we see a festive celebration with 'Springtime Under the Cherry Blossoms' which also includes the delicate and heavenly 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Ferries.' Peter Horne's painted backdrops wonderfully compliments the fantasy nature of Tchaikovsky's score. The only downside to this production is that we're listening to a recording and not a live orchestra.
Still, Septime Webre's imaginative choreography and staging more than make up for it. He enjoys a little holiday mischief with the opening party, where Clara's Grandfather (Stephen Baranovics) has one too many eggnogs resulting in a joyful, spirited tizzy. Baranovics seems to relish the role, enjoying the opportunity to provide one of the ballet's lighter moments. Barinas' Clara retains a youthful excitement and curiosity. She conveys this effortlessly and without hesitation throughout the entire show.
The dance of the Snow King (Jonathan Jordan) and Queen (Venus Villa) defines precision and elegance. Together they highlight the deep poignancy and solace that comes from the winter snow. In Act II, we see a similar moment with the Anacostian Man (Sona Kharatian) & Woman (Tamás Krizsa). Thought this time, and due no doubt to the change of the seasons, with a dance that captures the vigor and excitement of spring. The parallel of the seasons is a moment that shouldn't be lost, because it showcases how each season generates its own unique feeling.
Act I's spiritEd Battle of the mice has been transformed into a revolutionary-themed conflict. Judanna Lynn's colonial costumes provide a patriotic essence to the scene with the mice re-envisioned as British redcoats against a patriotic nutcracker. Many of Lynn's designs echo what has been done in other versions of The Nutcracker, and yet, seeing the revolutionary-garb gives this production a nice touch.
As Clara's dream takes her across the globe in Act II, this is the moment the children shine. They are precious as the butterflies, mushrooms, bees and blossoms that inhabit spring. Almost every moment is greeted with affectionate "oohhs and aahhs" from the audience.
Finally, Torres must be applauded for the spirit and zest with which he provides the role of Clara's Godfather, Drosselmeyer. For it is through Torres' performance, which opens the show, that we become excited about Clara's enchanted gift. Knowing this, Torres gives the role a great theatrically that grasps our attention.
This is my second consecutive year attending Washington Ballet's The Nutcracker. While the production is always stellar, the big treat for me is seeing the theatre filled with young families. It's a testimony to the magic of this production, one that pays homage to the best attributes of the season and the capital city we all call home. What better way to kick off the holiday, then with this beloved DC tradition?
Runtime: Two hours with one intermission
Washington Ballet's The Nutcracker runs thru December 24th at the Warner Theatre - 513 13th St NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets please click here.
Photo: The Washington Ballet Credit: Theo Kossenas, media4artists