Another December means another round of Ballet West’s beloved Nutcracker.
Now in its 67th season, this venerable Nutcracker builds on the renowned choreography and staging of William F. Christensen and provides undoubtedly the biggest show of the year for the company. Year after year, Ballet West sells out a dozen or so performances, proving that Utah audiences have an insatiable hunger for this holiday tradition.
Friday night’s opening night performance showed the source of the sustained popularity for the company’s Nutcracker—lively and humorous choreography, an accomplished group of dancers to bring it to life and, in every aspect, a love for the inherent grandiosity and cheer of Tchaikovsky’s fable and music.
Part of what makes The Nutcracker, and particularly Christensen’s choreography, so consistently appealing is its ability to weave conventionally great dancing into a larger piece based on spectacle and comedy. For every bout of classical ballet, there exists numbers that borders on pure, circus-esque acrobatics or slapstick antics. The elegant Waltz of the Flowers is directly succeeded by the Mother Buffoon number, a whiplash segue from color-coded, poised synchronization to a revelry of drag, game playing and vaudevillian costume trickery. That The Nutcracker so seamlessly bounces between these modes speaks to its success in keeping audiences—including youngsters—entertained while still offering up moments of dance excellence.
These moments between the comedy and joviality seem specifically designed to pull extravagance out of the human body, carrying on the showmanship of mini-numbers such as the Trepak or Danse Chinoise into more conventional choreography. The Grand Pas de Deux between Emily Adams and Hadriel Diniz arrived slowly with where the dancing took awhile to match the exuberance of Tchaikovsky’s music, though both dancers excelled in their respective solo movements in a flurry of never-ending twirls that won vocal admiration from the crowd.
Act I is admittedly a bit heavy on the childish antics, but the arrival of the Waltz of the Snowflakes at the act’s conclusion brought a bout of technical dazzle. Amy Potter and Brian Waldrep approached the damous waltz with more vivacity and brilliance than its usual elegant presentation. Where other performances might reach for fluidity, Adams And Waldrep felt more electric, brighter and sharper in their movements.
In her third year performing the key role of Clara, Olivia Humeniuk displayed a comfort with the dramatics and technicality of the ballet that afforded a glimpse into a careful and studied dancer. Her movements felt decisive and measured in a way that stood apart from the other children leads—she retained such a presence as to make apparent how much of the ballet she spends asleep, off stage or spectating from afar. Should she continue with her dance career, it will be exciting to see Humeniuk take on more complex, involved roles.
The cherry on top of the performances arrives through the glitz and glamor of all the extraneous visuals. Often, Ballet West sets use minimal staging and careful, metaphoric lighting in their productions. The Nutcracker greatly stands apart from these with its gigantic machines and moving scenery. As much as this production emotes through movement, it does so too with wire flying, fake snowstorms, mechanical set pieces and full-cover animal costumes.
This visual spectacle likely accounts for some of the worldwide praise BW continues to receive for their productions—on top of presenting a well-performed classic, they do it with a sense of pomp and circumstance that really sells the “magic” of it all. And, of course, all this is buoyed by Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, which needs little introduction and analysis, as movements such as the Overture, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies and the March of the Toy Soldiers have more or less become synonymous with the winter holidays.
While it, of course, doesn’t rank among the most novel or explorative performances Ballet West will put on in a season, The Nutcracker still holds a wealth of charm that’s worth the price of admission. For families with younger ones, this ballet may provide a smooth and lighthearted introduction to the vast world of ballet.
The Nutcracker continues at The Capitol Theatre through December 24. balletwest.com.