The Capitol Theatre lobby was packed Saturday afternoon as people rushed in for the opening performance of The Nutcracker.
Ballet West began performing The Nutcracker 55 years ago under the direction of William F. Christensen, and it has now become a holiday tradition for many families. For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, our Brandon Burt provided his unique take here.
Have all of that? Now back to the production.
As audience members hurried to their seats, the live orchestra, led by conductor Terence Kern, began playing the familiar score originally set by Tchaikovsky. Dancers appeared as they made their way to the Stahlbaum's Christmas Party in elegant 1800's ensembles carefully crafted by Ballet West's costume team.
Madison C. Young, Clara for this particular showing, stole the show with her clean technique and adorable smile. The scenery for the party scene was ornate and festive, and gave the feeling that everyone in the audience was there in the Stahlbaum's living room attending the party. The performance continued with the battle scene, complete with the growing Christmas tree, hilarious mice and the transformation of Christopher Sellars from wooden Nutcracker to glitzy Prince.
Haley Henderson Smith and Easton Smith took the stage as Snow Queen and Cavalier, and amidst Henderson Smith's beautiful extensions and lines, it began to snow on the stage (which in reality are bits of white paper that as any dancer can tell you, get extremely annoying as they fall into your eyelashes while trying to dance). Nevertheless, the snow scene was magical as always, and Clara and Prince took off in their sleigh as the first act came to an end.
The second act began with preparations for Clara's arrival, including delicious treats and lots of glitter. Elizabeth McGrath, Sugar Plum Fairy, appeared in a brilliant tutu complete with a long golden train which made me nervous the entire time she danced with it. Of course the true professionals never tripped over it, and Clara was transformed into an adorable princess as she made her way to the throne to watch the divertissements.
The Spanish dancers began, followed by the mysterious Arabian dancers who's lead female entranced the audience with her gorgeous lines. The Chinese danced next with their parasols and fans, followed by the mirlitons who danced as light and pretty as the music.
Next up were the male Russian dancers, led by Aidan DeYoung with their impressive split jumps and lively expressions. The entire stage seemed to light up while they were dancing, making sure to capture the attention of everyone in the audience.
Mother Buffoon entered the stage in her--well, technically his; the part is traditionally played by a male dancer--large skirt housing a handful of cute children dressed as jesters. The children danced around and did quite impressive acrobatic tricks as Mother Buffoon entertained the audience by being ridiculous and trying to kick her legs under her skirt. The familiar Waltz of the Flowers came next, led by Dewdrop Jacqueline Straughan and her partner Beau Pearson. Corps de ballet members waltzed across the stage as purple flowers as Clara and Prince (still awake on their thrones) looked on.
The Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier Christopher Anderson concluded Clara's treat with the legendary second act pas de deux, ending with flawless fouette turns for McGrath and equally impeccable tours by Anderson in the coda. Clara's dreamy adventure came to an end as she waved goodbye to the Sugar Plum Fairy and her kingdom, and the audience slowly came back to reality. As the audience showed their appreciation for the cast, the dancers disappeared behind the curtain, successfully completing the first show of the season.
If you haven't gotten tickets to this must-see seasonal favorite, check out balletwest.org.