Opus Colorado

The Nutcracker by the Colorado Ballet
December 7, 2009, 4:58 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

The Colorado Ballet knows that it is Christmas! From the very first note the orchestra played, and from the very first movement that Drosselmeyer and his dolls made, the air of excitement filled the hall. It was a very emotionally charged performance on Sunday afternoon.

I am constantly amazed at the changes wrought in the Colorado Ballet during the last three or four years. Amazed because of the incredible depth of the dancing, that is to say between the corps and the soloists, let alone the quality of the dancing. Let me say at the outset, that all of the dancers, whether they be “in the corps,” or whether they are considered soloists, have demonstrated the ability to be soloists. And I have no fear that those who are listed as “soloists” will be offended by that. I hope that you will excuse me for getting a little ahead of myself, but I am referring to Sunday’s matinee, December 6, of The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker ballet is such a popular ballet, or I should say, the music is so popular, that almost everyone has heard it or at least has heard about it. And, let me point out that there is a world of difference between sitting at home listening to a CD, and actually watching the ballet unfold upon the stage. The reason? When one sees a ballet performed, all of the smallest gestures that the dancers make echo all of the smallest gestures that the composer makes in the score. Those gestures can then be seen as well as heard. The ear of the average concertgoer has not been trained to the same degree that a musician’s ear has been trained, so the average concertgoer can often be awakened to new events in the music simply by watching the dancers. Therefore, I would urge all of those who are sitting at home thinking that after all, they know the music to The Nutcracker, so why should they go to the ballet, to attend the performance by the Colorado Ballet and see what they are missing.

The performance Sunday afternoon was remarkable because the soloists, Clara, who was danced by Asuka Sasaki and the Nutcracker Prince, who was danced by Luis Valdes, come from the corps. There was Shelby Dyer, a corps member, who danced the Sugar Plum, and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, who danced the Cavalier and is listed as a soloist. But after watching the performance of this remarkable ballet troupe, it is apparent that any member of it could be a soloist, and that is what I mean in the first paragraph, when I say they have demonstrated incredible depth.

There are so many names that need to be mentioned: Kevin Gael Thomas, Olga Prikohodtseva, Igor Vasine, Olivia Hatrzell, Jaime DeRocker, Cara Cooper, Sean Omandam, Evelyn Turner – the list goes on and on. All are wonderful, and I beg forgiveness from those dancers whose names are not mentioned here. I urge those who want to read more names to attend a performance and read the program. And after that, please go backstage and give these dancers your personal support by telling them how wonderful they truly are.

As some of you may not know, The Nutcracker is based on a story by the incredible E.T.A. Hoffman, who had a huge influence over composers of the romantic period, in particular, Robert Schumann. But Hoffman’s story of the Nutcracker is really quite different in many ways from the ballet, even though most of the details are the same. The original story by Hoffman, I daresay, would be too frightening for all of the young people who always attend The Nutcracker, even though it does have a happy ending. It’s a little bit like the story of Hansel and Gretel. Even youngsters can tolerate the fairy tale, but I’ll bet there is no youngster who can sit through Humperdinck’s opera of Hansel and Gretel. Or, for example, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Youngsters can tell that Wallace Beery’s portrayal of Long John Silver in the 1934 movie of Treasure Island is that of a bad pirate. But in Stevenson’s novel, there is no question that Long John Silver is positively evil. But this production of The Nutcracker was pure joy, and it is one of the best productions of The Nutcracker that I have ever seen. It is certainly the best the Colorado Ballet has ever done. As a matter of fact, before the performance got underway, the Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet, Gil Boggs made some general announcements, during which he pointed out to the audience that they should watch for the joy inherent in the dancers performances. I’m not sure that he really needed to do that, because the joy surely must have been apparent to everyone in the audience.

The sets were absolutely marvelous – did anyone notice the faces on the towers and the cookie in the kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy? In the opening scene, the Ballerina Doll, Cara Cooper, and the Soldier Doll, Sean Omandam, were mesmerizing because of their mechanical movements. They were so concentrated – and so musical. The next scene of course is the party scene. And by the way, the one thing all of you must realize is that there are no small scenes in this particular ballet. Everything is large. Everything is complicated. The scene changes have to go very quickly. And did anyone notice that the violins’ solo at the scene change in Act One actually comes from Tchaikovsky’s other ballet, The Sleeping Beauty? And what about the scene where the Christmas tree grows? Do you realize that it’s not the Christmas tree that is growing, it is that Clara is shrinking? She becomes the same size as her beloved Nutcracker who defeats the evil mice and their King.

Guest artist, Gregory K. Gonzales, who portrayed the kind Drosselmeyer, was very fluid, and positively glided from one part of the stage to another, and yet left us with the feeling that he is an individual best left in a good mood. Igor Vassine and Olga Prikohodtseva were wonderful as Clara’s parents.

The soloists in the Second Act, Janelle Cook and Travis Morrison, the Arabian; Casey Dalton, Sally Turkel and Kevin Gael Thomas, the Spanish Dancers; Sean Omandam, the Chinese soloist; all of the Marzipan soloists; the Russian soloists; Mother Ginger by Kevin Wilson and Symone Esquibel; Sayaka Karasugi who danced Dew Drop; and Evelyn Turner who danced The Flower: all deserve special mention. Their technique was something to behold and I cannot find enough superlatives for it. All of these dancers demonstrated what I can only call artistic integrity, as well as excitement for what they were doing. One can only imagine the hours and hours of work, not to mention the hours and hours of athletic style work-outs.

I was left with several impressions. Asuka Sasaki, who danced Clara, and Shelby Dyer, who danced the Sugar Plum, gave their characters a remarkable sense of delicacy which I have not seen before. Nor have I seen such concentration from every single cast member concerning the smallest detail, from facial expressions to hand gestures. Even when Luis Valdes had his arm around Asuka Sasaki, his hand on her waist was held just so.

Of course, all of this reflects upon Gil Boggs, the Artistic Director, and the two Ballet Mistresses, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia. I am sure that all of you must realize that these dancers do not dance every single performance of The Nutcracker. The performance schedule is such that there are different dancers every time the ballet is performed. That means that the dancers imbue their own personality into the characters they are portraying. In turn, that means that at each performance, the dances are slightly different. Can you imagine the stress that creates for Maestro Adam Flatt, the Music Director and Principle Conductor? I can assure you that this is not just another conducting job. In addition, I think it is time to mention the Company Pianist, Natalia Arefieva. She has to prepare these dancers for Mr. Flatt. How hard it must be to keep a steady beat while allowing the dancers their artistic freedoms. The orchestra in this performance was as superb as the dancers. Unfortunately, it is often the case that ballet orchestras somehow come out second best. That is certainly not the case with this orchestra. I was drawn to the woodwind section, particularly the clarinet played, by Debra Wilbur, and the harpist, Pamela Eldridge. And I would like to point out that the string section was truly fine. When the string section is so small, and they do have to fit into the orchestra pit, it is very easy to hear if anyone is out of tune. They never were. This is the best orchestra, and might I add, Adam Flatt is the best conductor that the Colorado Ballet has ever had. All of the individuals mentioned in this paragraph have given the Colorado Ballet a new artistic heart. It is also a joyful heart.

1 Comment so far
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Well, hello Mr. McNeil! Someone suggested that I try Googling my name, and your review is one thing that came up! Long time ago, clear back in 2009, so I don’t know if you even still live in Littleton. … Anyway, I REALLY appreciate your kind words about the orchestra, as well as mentioning me personally. I’ve been playing principal clarinet on Nutcracker since 1993, and it never gets easy for me! Cheers, Debra Wilbur

Comment by Debra Wilbur

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