Colorado Ballet's national award-winning annual production of The Nutcracker showcases why this classic remains one of the premier showpieces in the repertoire, infused with a variety of classical dances and folk-flavored divertissements that display the artistry and depth of the company.
|Artists of the Colorado Ballet|
Photo: Mike Watson
When Mikhail Baryshnikov choreographed The Nutcracker for the American Ballet theatre in 1976, he remarked that "This is Drosselmeyer's evening. It is his ballet." In the Colorado Ballet's production, based on choreography by Martin Fredmann (with additional choreography by Sandra Brown, staged by Lorita Travaglia, Sandra Brown, and Maria Mosina), Drosselmeyer doesn't dance, as he does in Baryshnikov's version, but he is still running the show.
|Gregory K. Gonzales as Herr Drosselmeyer|
Photo: Mike Watson
Gregory K. Gonzales is a joy to watch in this role, mesmerizing us with his masterful pantomime and theatricality, and his comical, absent-minded-professor forgetfullness (Which direction was I going? ... Oops! Forgot my hat!) makes the magician both a master of wizardly forces and a humorous vehicle for good works.
The Nutcracker is, simply put, about an eccentric and mysterious man with an eye patch who gives his goddaughter a nutcracker doll for Christmas, precipitating a series of wonderous and dreamy events, filled with insightful psychological undertones. All this was written by E.T.A. Hoffmann, 81 years before Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, as The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, by way of Alexander Dumas' adapted story, The Nutcracker.
During Tchaikovsky's delightful overture, there is a brief prologue in which Drosselmeyer introduces the audience to the magic trick he has prepared for his goddaughter, Clara Stahlbaum, and the other children at her family's Yuletide party.
As the festivities kick off, Drosselmeyer's manifestation of the Columbine doll and the Soldier doll amazes adults and children alike, and his conjuring of a gigantic Christmas tree and super-sized toys is another stunner, but it is his repair of both the toy nutcracker (in waking life) and his raising of the Nutcracker Prince from the dead (in Clara's dream) that gives pause regarding the psychological insights Hoffmann has woven into the tale. His sense of humor shines through in the parallel between the boys chasing Clara in waking life, and the mice chasing her in the dream. Priceless!
From the moment that the Nutcracker Prince transforms from a soldier doll into a young man, Emily Speed (Clara) and Bryce Lee (Nutcracker Prince) bring a light and sweet touch to the budding romance of the coming-of-age dream sequence. Their pas de deux in both acts are a delight.
The first act ends with beautiful work by the ensemble of Snowflakes (16 dancers) and Crystals (4 dancers), as snow begins to fall and slowly builds into a near blizzard, topped off by Clara and the Nutcracker Prince literally flying away on a sleigh to the Land of Sweets. It's one of the most beautiful scenes in the entire repertoire.
|Asuka Sasaki as the Sugarplum Fairy|
and Francisco Estevez as the Cavalier
Photo: Mike Watson
The second act begins with Clara and the Nutcracker Prince arriving in the Land of Sweets, greeted by the Sugarplum Fairy (Asuka Sasaki), her Cavalier (Francisco Estevez), and her retinue of earthly delights. After the Nutcracker Prince explains, via an athletic dance, how Clara saved him, the famous divertissements are performed in Clara's honor:
Spanish Chocolate (Benjamin Winegar, Fernanda Oliveira, and Tracey Jones)—quick steps to snappy castanets and a flourish of skirts;
Arabian Coffee (Christophor Moulton and Chandra Kuykendall)—seductive pas de deux amidst exotic atmospherics;
Chinese Tea (Tyler Rhoads)—comedic antics of a clown with a playful, winking dragon;
Danish Marzipan (Nicolas Pelletier, Mackenzie Dessens, and Sarah Tryon)—a merry, flirting flautist gets his comeuppance from two coquettes;
Russian Candy Canes (Leah McFadden, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Sean Omandam)—thrilling, exuberant athleticism and stamina; and,
Mother Ginger (Tyler Humphrey) and her children (Polichinelles)—a happy showcase for the Colorado Ballet Academy and hilarious dance moves from the colossal, matriarchic red-head.
The ensemble performs these to perfection. Quite the dessert tray!
and Artists of the Colorado Ballet
Photo: Mike Watson
The delights of the Land of Sweets are capped off by Dew Drop (Melissa Zoebisch) and the Flowers that carries a metaphor of the breathtaking displays of a spring meadow abloom. Zoebisch's grace highlights this wonderful set of dances.
Finally, the Sugarplum Fairy (Sasaki) and her Cavalier (Estevez) perform a stunning pas de deux followed by Clara (Speed) and the Nutcracker Prince (Lee) with their own fireworks, leading to good-byes from each of the divertissements, before we are brought back to Clara awakening from her dream, as Drosselmeyer, in the background, brings his orchestration of the dream to a close.
Music Director & Principal Conductor Adam Flatt and the Colorado Ballet Orchestra perform wonders with Tchaikovsky's immortal score. Jose Varona's original costumes (with additions by the Colorado Ballet Wardrobe Department) and sets, originally designed in 1986 for the San Francisco Ballet (the first company in the U.S. to present the full-length ballet in 1944), are grand! This is the last year to see them, as the company has launched a campaign to raise funds to support the creation of new sets and costumes for its 60th anniversary production of The Nutcracker in 2020.
The Colorado Ballet's presentation of The Nutcracker, runs through December 29th. For tickets: coloradoballet.org/performances/the-nutcracker.