Superb dancing, eye-catching visuals work their holiday magic in Ballet West’s “Nutcracker”

Sun Dec 05, 2021 at 1:13 pm
Beckane Sisk and Chase O’Connell in Ballet West’s The Nutcracker. Photo: Beau Pearson

Featuring the classic choreography of William F. Christensen, Ballet West’s production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, which opened this weekend, abounds in imaginative extravagance. With big, bold sets, a rainbow of costumes and a flashy approach to dance spectacle, BW’s Nutcracker maximizes the ballet’s potential for magic and holiday cheer. 

John Wayne Cook’s scenic design (with additions by Dick and Belinda Bird) for this Nutcracker immediately flings the audience into wintery remembrances. In the ballet’s first act, the shifting walls and projections portrayed an immersive holiday world—the clamor of your parents’ holiday party, the restless sleep of Christmas Eve, a winter storm blanketing your town in a white expanse. Through lighting trickery and shifting mis-en-scene, Ballet West brought one back to the gaiety and bustle of childhood Christmases, to the sense of awe and magic the holidays once did and can still possess.

If Act One harnessed nostalgic memories, Ballet West conjured up a contrasting never-land in Act Two’s tour through 19th century exotic fantasies of Asia and Eastern Europe. Against the fluid scenery of Act One, Act Two provides a more static and literal backdrop of collapsed Japanese pagodas, Russian onion domes and more, painting Clara’s night visions of these worlds.

Photo: Beau Pearson

Saturday night’s young cast members added another layer of amusement, with Gabriel Brown bringing a welcome mischievousness to his role as Fritz that countered the daydreaming gazes of Annabelle Jackman’s Clara.

Act Two did highlight some of the brightest aspects of Christensen’s choreography by using the score’s playful brevity as a foundation for athletic showmanship. In the “Chinese Dance” Tyler Gum dazzled with flashy stick tricks. The brief and fiery “Russian Dance,” featuring David Huffmire and ensemble members, nearly resembled break dancing in its flurry of leaps and limbs, delivering one of the night’s most rewarding comic delights.

The true dancing peaks arrived in the act-ending spotlights. In the “Waltz of the Snowflake,” Beckanne Sisk and Hadriel Diniz mirrored the velvety grace of the wintry setting as the Snow Queen and Snow Cavalier, gliding across the stage in a graceful manner that almost made them appear to float.

The famed “Grand Pas de Deux” in Act Two contrasted the ephemeral grace of the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” with a more physical spectacle. Emily Adams and Adrian Fry milked the duo for every acrobatic lift and frozen fall offered, displaying remarkable strength and movement control.

The evening’s unspecified conductor took a measured approach to the ballet’s ubiquitous score, toning down fervent raucousness (the Russian Dance in particular felt noticeably slower than you’re apt to hear in most recordings) and steadily blending themselves in behind the rhythms of the dancers. There were fitful balancing issues with percussion occasionally swamping the rest of the ensemble of the mostly excellent Ballet West Orchestra.

But overall Ballet West’s Nutcracker lived up to its well-earned reputation as sophisticated dance spectacle and holiday fare fit for the whole family.

Ballet West’s The Nutcracker runs through December 26.

Leave a Comment