Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Asuka Sasaki, Cara Cooper, Casey Dalton, Catherine Sailer, Chandra Kuykendall, Chrisotpher Moulton, Dana Benton, Domenico Luciano, Gregory Gonzales, Jesse Marks, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Lesley Allred, Luis Valdes, Morgan Buchanan, Sean Omandam, Shelby Dyer
There is very good reason why Piotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets ever written. It contains some of the most beautiful melodies ever composed, and it has an almost endless stream of character dances. As everyone knows, it is based on E. T. A. Hoffman’s story, as translated by Alexandre Dumas, of Clara, whose Christmas gift, the Nutcracker, comes to life. The Nutcracker, now a soldier, defeats the Mouse King with the aid of Clara, but not before the soldier is knocked unconscious. At the defeat of the Mouse King, a spell is broken, and the Nutcracker/Soldier is transformed into a handsome Prince. Intent upon showing his gratitude to Clara for saving his life, he spirits her off to a magical land of toys and candy. There, the Sugar Plum Fairy decrees that a great celebration take place in order to honor Clara. While Clara and the Prince are seated on thrones to witness the celebration in their honor, many dances take place to reward her for her bravery. At the end of the celebration, the Prince carries Clara back to her home, where she awakens with vivid memories of what has just transpired, but is also completely unsure if it was reality or if it was a dream.
Tchaikovsky followed no new paths or innovations in his compositions, yet his melodic lines are remarkably powerful even though they use traditional harmony, when compared to his contemporaries such as Wagner and Bruckner. His ballets, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, are the most popular ballets of all time. Many potential audience members seem to avoid the Nutcracker because it is done by every dance company imaginable since it has become a staple of the Christmas season. That is truly unfortunate because the music is remarkable, and the production presented by the Colorado Ballet is superb.
From the opening, the entire company exuded a joy and enthusiasm on their way to the Christmas party that was tangible. When Clara’s godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, appears, all of the party guests seemed to draw away from him, not from fear as in past productions, but out of a sense of respect. In Saturday evening’s production, Clara was danced by Dana Benton, who was absolutely irresistible in her childlike charm, and effortless dancing. She was truly grace personified. Herr Drosselmeyer was played by the esteemed Gregory K Gonzales who has played this role many times. However, Saturday evening, he truly excelled: he was not only mysterious and magical, but very caring towards Clara as well. Sean Omandam danced the role of Clara’s brother, Fritz, and he too was exceptional in his effortless portrayal of a somewhat bratty sibling. It is Fritz who is responsible for breaking the Nutcracker, but Herr Drosselmeyer assures Clara that all will be well. After all the guests have left the party, and the house darkens with everyone in bed, Herr Drosselmeyer begins to work his magic. In Hoffman’s story, everyone begins to grow smaller. Of course, the only way to do this on stage is to have the Christmas tree grow much taller, and, all of the toys underneath the tree become quite large. Now the Nutcracker, danced by Adam Still, is the size of the mice, as is Clara. She provides the distraction which allows the Nutcracker to slay the Mouse King. I point out that in this year’s production the Soldier Mice, and even the Mouse King, seem to have been portrayed in a more humorous vein than in the past productions, where they seemed positively evil.
The pas de deux between Clara and the Nutcracker turned Prince, was absolutely spectacular. Both Adam Still and Dana Benton are remarkable dancers, but they also possess a great dramatic sense. They not only demonstrated great confidence in their ability to dance these roles, but they demonstrated an excitement which was inherent throughout the entire performance Saturday evening.
The members of the Colorado Ballet have such versatility that they often dance different roles on the same day. For example, at the matinee performance on November 30, Sean Omandam danced the role of the soldier doll, while that evening he danced the role of Clara’s brother, Fritz. No doubt some of the alteration was done in consideration of the physical demands upon the human body. Nonetheless, I think it is remarkable the way the members of the Colorado Ballet can switch roles from day-to-day, or from afternoon to evening. Dana Benton danced Clara Saturday evening, but in the matinee performance on the same day, in Act II, she danced one of the Marzipan candies. That is remarkable concentration.
Toward the end of Act I, the Prince and Clara visit the Land of Snow. It was in this scene that the choreography seemed to be considerably different from last year. That is certainly not a criticism by any stretch of the imagination, as it was certainly beautiful to watch. The program lists additional choreography done by Sandra Brown, though most of the ballet was based on choreography done by Martin Fredmann.
Act II contains some of the most famous dances ever written. Clara and the Prince have traveled to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy who was performed by Chandra Kuykendall. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier was danced by a new member of the company, Domenico Luciano. As I watched Kuykendall dance Saturday evening, I was struck by the fact that she seemed to be a little careful and without her usual exuberance. In a few instances it seemed as though she might be recovering from a slight injury that may have occurred during rehearsal, but I stress that this is sheer speculation on my part. She certainly was as wonderful to watch as she always is. Her partner, Domenico Luciano was excellent, and I look forward to his performances throughout the season. He exhibited great strength which resulted in an astounding ease of movement as well as grace.
The highlights of the celebratory dances in Act II were the Arabian, danced by Shelby Dyer and Luis Valdes. There are so many lifts in this duet that one wonders how Valdes can stay in shape even though Shelby Dyer is very small. Morgan Buchanan, Cara Cooper, and Christopher Moulton were absolutely superb as the Spanish Chocolate dancers, as were Casey Dalton, Asuka Sasaki, and Jesse Marks as the Marzipan dancers, but I must give special mention to Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Lesley Allred who danced the Russian. Omandam and Thomas were so precisely together, and they jumped so high off the stage, that the audience was dazzled. The famed Dance of the Flowers was spectacular.
Grace is a word that might characterize the way the Colorado Ballet Orchestra performed. They were at times emotionally intense, more so than I have heard them before. But, more than any other performance, the orchestra and the dancers seemed to be very comfortable with each other. As I have said before, Maestro Adam Flatt and the Maestra Catherine Sailer have done wonders with the Colorado Ballet Orchestra over the past few years. They have contributed mightily to making the Colorado Ballet the well-rounded organization that it is: it is an organization where everybody contributes their fullest, and the result is wonderfully artistic and a joy to watch and hear.
As I said in the opening paragraph, there is such a good reason why this ballet is so well known. It is also equally important to understand that the Colorado Ballet never treats this performance as a cliché. All of the dancers, all of the orchestra members, and all of those involved in the production backstage, clearly worked very hard to make this the exciting and artistic performance. You must see it.
Follow this link to see the date and times of performances and to purchase tickets: http://www.coloradoballet.org/
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