RICHMOND BALLET: The Nutcracker – a Holiday Classic
Reflections on a Ballet by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts | Carpenter Theatre | 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219
Performances: December 13-23, 2019
Ticket Prices: $25-$125
Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com
Why is The Nutcracker a holiday tradition – what do nutcrackers have to do with Christmas? According to German folklore, nutcrackers bring good luck and protection to your family and home. It represents power and strength, guarding your family against danger and baring its teeth to ward off evil spirits while serving as a messenger of goodwill.
The Nutcracker character originated with Prussian author E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story, The Nutcracker and The King of Mice. In the story, the Stahlbaum family has an annual Christmas party and their children, Marie, Fritz, and their sister Louise, receive gifts from their godfather, Drosselmeyer, a clockmaker with a talent for making mechanical toys. The story, filled with
about the triumph of good over evil. In 1844 French author Alexander Dumas père, adapted Hoffman’s story, changing Marie’s name to Clara. The family became the Silberhauses. This was the version that became a ballet, created in 1892 by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa (French) and Lev Ivanov (Russian). The Petipa and Ivanov choreography became the model for many of our contemporary productions.
The Richmond Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker was conceived by the company’s Artistic Director, Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell with artistic direction and choreography by Winslett and scenery and props by Caldwell. (The magical tree was designed by Alain Vaës and the lush costumes are by David Heuvel.) This year marks Winslett’s 40th production of the holiday classic for Richmond Ballet. From time to time, she makes changes and refreshes the ballet, which keeps it as interesting for the dancers as it is for the audiences.
The Richmond Ballet Nutcracker is a beautifully mounted production that appeals to both children and adults. There is, of course, dancing. While the “star” of the show is Clara, danced on Wednesday by McKenzie Fisher, who shares the coveted role with Kyla Williams, there is plenty of dancing by the adult company members. There is a lovely duet for the Snow Queen and King (Melissa Frain and Ira White) and later Lauren Archer and Trevor Davis, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced the “Grand Pas de Deux.” After spending the fall semester teaching dance history, it was hard not to think of the changing roles of men and women in ballet from the Classical period (of which The Nutcracker is a prime example) to the Romantic period (when women became more prominent). I was torn between watching Davis spin Archer with mechanical precision – almost as if she were one of Drosselmeyer’s inventions — and gasping in awe as she ran and leaped, landing precariously and gloriously atop his shoulder. Repeatedly.
This ballet is also filled with character dancing, from the halting waltz by the grandparents (Susan Massey and Marcelo Outeiro) to the mouse battle with Anthony Oates as the Mouse King. The second act has something for everyone, dancing flowers and angels, and specialty dances (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian, and more. Izabella Tokev and Fernando Sabino were mesmerizing as the Snake and Her Charmer, and the Russian dancers, Patrick Lennon and Logan O’Neil with Matthew Frain as their Dancing Bear is always a favorite. The Trépak, based on a traditional Ukranian folk dance has the men jumping in the air, then spinning on the floor like break dancers, while the bear adds a touch of humor, wearing red shoes to accent his furry costume, and moon walking off the stage while blowing kisses to the audience.
But wait, there’s more. The costumes are stunning, providing a visual delight, along with the huge, colorful set and props like the magical Swan Sleigh that glides across the stage carrying Clara and her Little Prince (Nicholas Blankenship).
And, finally, there is Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. It is familiar from the opening notes through the Finale and is probably the first classical music many children are ever exposed to. There are magical melodies associated with each scene that evoke memories of previous productions and prompt associations with idealized visions of Christmases past, present, and yet to come. The icing on the cake in this kingdom of sweets is that the music is played live, by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Erin Freeman and a 30+ member Snow Choir, directed by Lisa Fusco.
The Nutcracker wraps young and old in a warm, familiar fantasy. It means Christmas and traditions and family, and a complete letting go of the stresses of everyday life for two hours of joy.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Richmond Ballet Facebook Page