‘Nutcracker’ still magical

SUNDAY, DEC. 20, 2009

Ballet Memphis’ “The Nutcracker” warmed the hearts of audience members young and old at the INB Performing Arts Center Friday.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s luscious score is sumptuous under the baton of Morihiko Nakahara conducting the Spokane Symphony. The elaborate lighting, costumes and scenery transform the stage into a winter wonderland. And in this unique version, Ballet Memphis spins the timeless story through the shared visions of three choreographers.

The party scene that opens the ballet, choreographed by Janet Parke, Ballet Memphis School principal, offers a celebration of gift-giving and dancing. Whereas most versions of this scene are staged but not danced, Parke’s version features both a children’s dance and a Viennese waltz with four adult couples. The waltz’s intertwining patterns, with continually changing partners, create a sense of community and an atmosphere of convivial welcoming.

During this scene, Herr Drosselmeyer gives his niece Clara a nutcracker toy for Christmas. Through Drosselmeyer’s extraordinary powers, dolls dance, the Christmas tree grows, and the toy nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince at the stroke of midnight to do battle with the Mouse King. Thanks to Clara’s intervention, the Nutcracker Prince wins the fight. In gratitude, he transports her to the Land of the Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.

Travis Bradley as Herr Drosselmeyer convincingly weaves his magic spell with dramatic flair, then performs with strength, fluidity and assurance in the “Arabian Dance.” Hideko Karasawa is engaging as Clara, with a clean technique and a lovely lyricism. Kendall Britt as the Nutcracker, however, lacks strength and masculinity. Although he is athletic, his technique is lacking, with his movements unfinished and imprecise.

The local children under the tutelage of Dodie Askegard and Peggy Goodner Tan of Ballet Arts Studio are engaging. Although their presence on stage is endearing, in both the party scene in Act I and with Mother Ginger in Act II, timing problems distract from their charming performances.

The transition between the party scene and the two final scenes in Act I is seamless even though the latter are the vision of a different choreographer – Karl Condon, Ballet Memphis’ associate artistic director. These scenes feature a competent but unevenly matched corps de ballet that exhibits constant timing problems during unison movements throughout the entire ballet.

The Kingdom of Sweets scene in Act II is choreographed by Joseph Jefferies, a former Ballet Memphis dancer currently performing with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. In Jefferies’ slow and sensual “Arabian Dance,” the two dancers performed meticulously, but lacked emotional tension. However, the vivacious and fun “Chinese Dance” is endowed with shared emotion and precision by Stephanie Hom and Jonathan Powell. The solo “Russian Dance” is full of verve and exquisitely executed by Scott Spivey.

The “Waltz of the Flowers” is riveting. At this moment in the ballet, the scenery, costumes, music, lighting and dancing coalesce to create a magnificent scene. It is the most beautifully choreographed dance in the ballet and the most beautifully danced by the company, with lyricism, confidence and aplomb – and, yes, almost perfect timing.

The Sugar Plum Fairy danced by Crystal Brothers and her Cavalier, Rafael Ferreras, closed the evening with a grand pas de deux. They performed both their solos and duets with confidence, style and grace.


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