THE MAGIC OF THE NUTCRACKER – REFRESHED

Richmond Ballet Presents a Holiday Favorite

An Unconventional Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis & Guest Reviewers Kingston and Emmitt

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre, 600 E. Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: December 9-23, 2022

Ticket Prices: $25 – $130

Info: (804) 344-0906, etix.com, or richmondballet.com

Updated COVID-19 Protocols, see below.

THE PROGRAM

The Nutcracker 

Artistic Direction and Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Production conceived by Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Music performed by the Richmond Symphony

Conducted by Erin Freeman

Scenery designed by Alain Vaës

Costumes designed by David Heuvel

Lighting designed by Richard Moore and Associate, Catherine Girardi

When I was a Girl Scout Leader (which I was, for 27 years), one of my favorite things to do was to take young girls camping for the first time. Likewise, one of my favorite things to do as a writer, teacher, and grandmother is to take my young people to the theater for the first time. Three of my grandsons live in RVA, ages 14, 8, and 8 months. The oldest has seen The Nutcracker before, and with the return of live performances, it was time for the middle one to have his first Nutcracker experience. So on Sunday evening I got a chance to re-experience the classic holiday ballet through new eyes.

The magic begins the moment you enter the theater – well, as soon as you pass through security and have your tickets scanned. [Security approved of my clear plastic tote and the small “sippy cups” I’d brought so we wouldn’t spill the drinks we bought at the concession stand.] While waiting for the program to begin, I enjoyed watching the families with children of all ages, most dressed in their holiday finery. Kingston (a high school student and the family percussionist) and Emmitt (age 8) saw that it was okay to go take a peek at the orchestra pit and returned to their seats discussing the probability of someone falling into the pit.

Other preparatory and property elements worthy of note included explaining why the audience applauded the arrival of the Symphony conductor and the many layers of show drops and curtains that open throughout the lavish production to reveal scenes from the streets of Nuremburg to the entry and drawing room of the Silberhaus home to the Enchanted Snow Forest and Confitenberg, the Kingdom of Sweets. Also, the diversity of the cast is important, because representation matters, especially when young audience members can see people onstage who look like themselves. An example follows a few paragraphs down.

The Nutcracker is a family show for The Richmond Ballet as well as for the audience. Students from the School of Richmond Ballet, apprentices, members of RBII, new and experienced company members, and even faculty and staff share the stage for this multi-generational extravaganza. In addition to refreshed costumes and scenery, the Silberhaus party features newly constructed doll houses for Dr. Drosselmeyer’s magic show, Mother Ginger is back from her pandemic hiatus – with eight kiddy-winks under her voluminous skirts — and Associate Artistic Director, Ma Cong (who dances the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer) has choreographed a new Chinese dance that incorporates elements of Chinese folkdance, which he studied extensively early in his career, with Beijing Dance Academy and The National Ballet of China.

Yes, there is a magic show within the magical show. Dr. Drosselmeyer, godfather to Clara (Adhya Yaratha at Sunday’s 5:30 PM performance) and her mischievous brother Fritz (Sunnelin Seay), and creator of the famous Nutcracker for which the ballet is named, has a penchant for turning toys into humans. Winslett and Cong’s interpretation of Dr. Drosselmeyer, however, is substantially less creepy than the character was originally written. There is also the magic of dreams as Clara falls asleep with her mended Nutcracker – after her little brother Fritz, in a fit of jealously, pulls off its head – and in her slumber journeys with her Young Prince (Benjamin Piner) to the Kingdom of Sweets – where all the dancing happens.

I am on board with the youth in my adoration for the battle between the Mouse King’s army and the Toy Soldiers. But of course, Kingston and Emmitt who are bonafide martial artists, had a lot to say about the fight technique. One graciously commented that, “it was good.” The other assessed that the sword fights were not realistic, specifically that the swords should have come closer. “We practice near misses,” he critiqued.

Emmitt, the eight-year-old, kept up a running commentary: the Bear (Paul Piner) in the Russian dance is breakdancing, and why is one of the Lambs black? My apologies to any nearby patrons who may have been disturbed. Most noteworthy, he was mesmerized by Mother Ginger to the point that he expressed a desire to participate in an upcoming production. He was undeterred when I told him he’d need to take ballet classes, but near the end of the scene abruptly changed his mind. “I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I can’t stand still that long; I have too much energy.”

I learned later that both novice critics retold the story and re-enacted several scenes for their mother. Both also noted that in a pas de deux the woman gets all the good dance phrases. And finally, “There’s no Nutcracker in the second half – it doesn’t make sense. Otherwise, that was a good one!” That’s Emmitt’s summary and he’s sticking to it.

If I may conclude with my own two cents worth…

Adhya Yaratha and Benjamin Piner were absolutely charming as Clara/The Little Princess and Dr. Drosselmeyer’s Nephew/The Little Prince. The Snow Choir sounded heavenly. I would love to learn that magical gliding step that takes the Angels across the stage, guiding or welcoming Clara and her Prince to The Kingdom of Sweets. It reminds me of a gliding step used by Russian dancers that my dance history students showed me this past fall. The new choreography for the Chinese Dance – the title of which is actually Tea – does, indeed have an authentic look and feel. Dancer Eri Nishihara’s highly touted green pointe shoes are, in fact, all that – and, wait, was the dragon newly outfitted as well?

Naomi Wilson was a lovely Butterfly in the Waltz of the Flowers, and finally, it was a pleasure to finally get to see guest dancer Kristina Kadashevych dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy as well as the ballet’s Grand Pas de Deux with Aleksey Babayev as her Cavalier. The petite dancer’s steps appear effortless and feathery – a stark contrast to the conditions surrounding her current residency. Ms. Kadashevych, you see, fled the Ukraine last spring as her homeland was being invaded by Russian soldiers, so perhaps those ethereal steps actually reflect what it feels like to be free. The Nutcracker is not new to her, and she will also be performing with the Richmond Ballet in February when the company returns to Dominion Energy Center with the East Coast premiere of Ma Cong’s Firebird and Balanchine’s signature Serenade (limited run, February 17-19).


Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.


THE NUTCRACKER PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
December 9-23, 2022 | Dominion Energy Center
600 E Grace St, Richmond, VA 23219

Friday, December 9 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 10 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 11 at 1:00 PM and 5:30 PM
Friday, December 16 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 17 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 18 at 1:00 PM and 5:30 PM
Tuesday, December 20 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, December 21 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, December 22 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Friday, December 23 at 2:00 PM 

UPDATED COVID-19 Protocols (As of March 2022): Please note that we are seating at 100% capacity this season. Beginning with Studio Three in March, we will no longer require patrons to wear masks or to show proof of vaccination/negative COVID test in order to attend a performance.

MASKS: In light of the latest CDC guidelines and Central Virginia’s current “Low/Medium Community Level” status, masks are optional at these performances.

BALLET BARRE: The Ballet Barre (cashless) will be open for our spring Studio performances. Beer, wine, and soft drinks will be available for purchase pre-show as well as during intermission.

CHOREOGRAPHER’S CLUB: In addition to the exclusive Q&A session with the artists, designers, and dancers, we will host a modified post-show reception. More details will be found in your House Notes email.

WELLNESS CHECK: Patrons who do not feel well leading up to a performance are asked to stay home. If you have tested positive or have symptoms of COVID-19, please call our Box Office at 804.344.0906 x224 so that we may discuss ticket options.


Photo Credits: Production photos to follow

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FIRES IN THE MIRROR: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities

A Tightrope Take on a Tragic Accident

A Theater Review by Makai Walker

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St, Richmond, VA 23220

Performances: March 26 – Sun April 25, 2021

Ticket Prices: $33 live and streamed

Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org

[NOTE: This production was made Covid conscious with a severely limited seating capacity of a maximum of 10 audience members at each performance, as well as other safety protocols that can be found on The Firehouse Theatre website.]

Fires in the Mirrorfelt like a 2-hour stroll through 90s New York and considering the premise of the show I’d call that a good thing. The one-person play by Anna Deavere Smith is a series of monologues collected from Smith’s interviews with real people and directed by Katrinah Carol Lewis who stared in another of Smith’s one-person plays (Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 at TheatreLab in 2017.

Fires in the Mirror tells the story of the Crown Heights Race Riots of 1991, the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, and the car crash that started it all. It consists of 29 performed monologues taken verbatim from interviews with 26 subjects, some of whom were near or directly involved with the accident. In the first half of the play, we’re given context to the racial tensions roiling between the black and Hasidic residents of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. This, unfortunately, is the weakest part of the play. Actor Jamar Jones puts his best efforts towards spinning an engaging and emotional story, but he is significantly hindered by the first act’s lack of focus and direction.

Act One involves various Black and Jewish people discussing the matter of identity. As a separate component, Act One is a highly informative and intriguing take on culture, but in the context of a play sparked by a specific event, Act One feels like an hour-long non sequitur.

As the second act begins, we take a deep dive into the fatal collision that claimed Gavin Cato’s life and the retaliatory murder of Yankel Rosenbaum. Unlike its precursor, Act Two is much more engaging. As the story unfolds, we peer into the perspectives of the people closely involved with the incident. The final two monologues, those of Rosenbaum’s brother and Cato’s father, are the highlight of the evening.

Jamar Jones evokes a playful and committed approach to the characters                that never feels too distasteful and is truly lived in. His embodiment of the interviewees is breathtaking and thrilling to watch.               In terms of themes, Fires in the Mirroris very open-ended about what it wants you to take away. As the play progresses, it hammers home the idea of an incongruous truth or the sense that no one knows what really happened. At times one feels an underlying rhythm of monologues that alternately dip into each “side” of the story. There is the Black side, the Jewish side, and then there are the elements of the crash that are added, embellished, or omitted. While watching, I kept getting flashes of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, in which four people take turns telling subjective or self-serving alternatives of the same story.

Anna Deavere Smith does a fantastic tightrope walk across the conflict and brings light to some of the more deep-seated racial issues in Crown Heights. The questions I kept asking myself was, “What is this play trying to say?” and “Who was right, who was wrong?” I agree with director Katrinah Carol Lewis; there is no winner or loser. This was a tragic accident and regardless of the fallout two lives were lost. That’s the “why” that needs examination.