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The Nutcracker

There are imitations and there are satires, but The Nutcracker, when performed with a full orchestra and by a company of sufficient depth, remains a special treat year after year, as we see in this year's production by the Colorado Ballet.

Jesse Marks as the Nutcracker Prince and Dana Benton as Clara
Jesse Marks as the Nutcracker Prince
and Dana Benton as Clara
Photo: Mike Watson
As classical music aficionados will tell you, hearing Tchaikovsky's score performed live is a pleasure in and of itself. In this case, that pleasure is multiplied by the composer's command of the ballet idiom, through his partnership with Marius Petipa (and assistant, Lev Ivanov), with whom he also collaborated for Swan Lake (also with Ivanov) and The Sleeping Beauty.

The Colorado Ballet's annual production is based on reconceived choreography by its former artistic director, Martin Fredmann, which showcases the talented company and the lovely sets and costumes by Jose Varona, acquired a few years back from the San Francisco Ballet (with additional costumes created by the Colorado Ballet wardrobe department).

Gregory Gonzales as Herr Drosselmeyer and Tracy Jones as Columbine
Gregory Gonzales as Herr Drosselmeyer
and Tracy Jones as Columbine
Photo: Mike Watson
One of the fun conceits of this ballet is the hazy line between everyday and magical events. For example, Herr Drosselmeyer (Gregory Gonzales, pantomime extraordinaire) turns a couple of dolls into full-sized dancers—Columbine (Morgan Buchanan) and Soldier (Kevin Geël Thomas)—yet, is this sleight-of-hand, or does Drosselmeyer have some esoteric gift? Later, he bandages Clara's Nutcracker after her brother, Fritz (Sean Omandam), breaks off its arm. Under different lighting conditions, perhaps signifiying Clara's dream, he grows the Christmas tree to gigantic proportions, saves Clara from the Rats, transforms her Nutcracker into a Prince, and resurrects the Prince, who then escorts Clara, first to a land where the snowflakes come alive, and then to the Land of Sweets, for a series of confectionary dances. Finally, Clara is asleep at home with her Nutcracker, with Drosselmeyer conjuring above her, and we are asked if it was real or a dream.

Morgan Buchanan in the snow sequence
Morgan Buchanan in the snow sequence
Photo: Mike Watson
After having seen this spectacular production a number of times, we can tell you with confidence that it is real—all of it—the music, the dancers, the lovely costumes and sets, the toys that come alive, the snowflakes and flowers that waltz, and the Sugarplum Fairy her Cavalier. Lucky for us!

After the skirmish with the Rat King and his alternately scary and slapstick brigade, the Nutcracker Prince (Jesse Marks, now sans mask) and Clara (Dana Benton) have their first pas de deux, a joyous series of leaps, spins, and whips, sereneded by the snow, before they leave on a flying sleigh (Yes, we see them alight!). The gradually increasing snowfall is a sight to behold!

Kevin Gael Thomas in the Russian divertissement
Kevin Gael Thomas in the Russian divertissement
Photo: Mike Watson
After introductions in the Land of Sweets, the treats begin with the snappy Spanish Chocolate (Tracy Jones, Emily Dixon, and Kevin Hale), followed by the seductive Arabian Coffee (Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano), the comical Chinese Tea (Francisco Estevez), the coquettish Danish Marzipan (Shelby Dyer, Morgan Buchanan, and Luis Valdes), the exuberent Russian Candy Canes (Ryan Lee, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Sean Omandam), the playful Polichinelles and the rockin' Mother Ginger (Bryce Lee), and the splashy Dew Drop (Asuka Sasaki) and Flowers.

Maria Mosina as the Sugarplum Fairy and Alexei Tyukov as the Cavalier
Maria Mosina as the Sugarplum Fairy
and Alexei Tyukov as the Cavalier
Photo: Mike Watson
Finally, we are treated to the classical pas de deux of the Sugarplum Fairy (Maria Mosina) and her Cavalier (Alexei Tyukov). The Russian pair is sublime, graceful, and full of life through these famous passages.

Adam Flatt and the Colorado Ballet Orchestra deliver a lovely rendition of Tchaikovsky's rich score. Beautiful choral work from Melissa Flail and Chloe Scull of the Evans Choir.

The Colorado Ballet's The Nutcracker runs through December 27th. For tickets: coloradoballet.org.

Bob Bows

 

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