THE NUTCRACKER: LIVE

TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF HOLIDAY CLASSIC

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 East Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: December 11-23, 2021

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets $25-$125

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

The Nutcracker
Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

with The Richmond Symphony,

Erin Freeman, Conductor

Production Conceived by Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell

Artistic Direction & Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Scenery & Prop Design by Charles Caldwell

Christmas Tree Design by Alain Vaës

Costume Design by David Heuvel

Lighting Design by Richard Moore

Associate Lighting Design by Jim French

It’s December 2021 and in three months we will mark a most unlikely anniversary – two full years of living with a global pandemic. After months of learning the differences between social distancing, quarantine, and isolation, live theater has settled into a new routine of live performances. First, there were limited-seating performances with virtual streaming options. The new standard is to allow fully-vaccinated people to attend live performances with few seating restrictions. Patrons must show proof of vaccination and remain masked. Oh, and in the larger venues, you can forget about visiting the bar; it’s closed until further notice. All of this takes some adjusting, but it’s worth it to be able to experience the singular joy of attending a live show.

The Richmond Ballet’s holiday standard, The Nutcracker, was not performed live last year due to the pandemic, but it’s back this year and opened on Saturday, with a few modifications that did nothing to diminish the excitement of joining young Clara on her journey to Confitenberg, the Land of Sweets. Small children and adults sat mesmerized from the moment the Richmond Symphony began the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky’s score until the elaborate curtain dropped after Clara woke up from her adventure.

This year’s production of The Nutcracker is special for two reasons: it is the first live production since the world shut down in March 2020, and this is the last year to see the familiar Nutcracker costumes and sets before they get a make-over for 2022. You can expect three acts and two intermissions (although you cannot take drinks or food to your seats), but I noticed that when the clock struck twelve times only six little mice appeared instead of twelve, and the most obvious change was the absence of Mother Ginger and the dozen little dancers that hide under her voluminous hoop skirt. And of course, with nine new members in this company this season, there are lots of new casting choices to experience.

Adhya Yaratha dances the coveted role of Clara, the recipient of the magical nutcracker doll. Yaratha, a student at The Steward School, was recently featured as a “Standout Spartan” in her school’s newsletter. She revealed that she has been dancing for 13 years and “for much of that time” dreamed of being cast as Clara. She danced with grace and confidence and made a delightful Clara.

Bladen Kidd held his own as Clara’s recalcitrant little brother, a band of boys on a series of humorously disruptive raids against the girls at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party. Carter Bush (RB Trainee) proved to be an attentive apprentice to his uncle, the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer (the recently retired Fernando Sabino returning as a guest) and a courteous Nutcracker Prince accompanying Clara on her adventures in the Kingdom of Sweets.

The predictability and tradition of The Nutcracker are part of its charm, and seemed especially important this year: they were signs of stability and normalcy. Whoever thought a magical growing Christmas tree and a swan sled could represent stability?

Sabrina Holland and Khaiyom Khojaev danced the “other” leading roles – you know, the adult ones – the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. They welcome Clara and her Prince to the Kingdom of Sweets and close Act Three with a grand pas de deux that epitomizes the lightness of the Romantic ballerina and the supportive role of the male dancer, with both attacking their technique with relish and flair.

All the favorite characters are there and there are plenty of roles for Richmond Ballet II, the Trainees, and the students of the School of the Richmond Ballet. The battle between the Mouse Army and the Regiment Soldiers features Jackson Calhoun (RB II) in the comedic role of the Mouse King. Principals Izabella Tokev and Joe Seaton deliver a picture perfect ice blue pas de deux as the Snow Queen and Snow King, attended by a corps of a dozen Snowflakes. Celeste Gaiera and Patrick Lennon, Marjorie Sherman and Jack Miller dance a Spanish jota with flair. Naomi Robinson and Ira White revive the sensual Snake and her Charmer, and Naomi Wilson dances the acrobatic role of Tea, accompanied by a group of Chinese dragon dancers.

Sarah Joan Smith and Colin Jacob (both first year company members) are the Shepherdess and Shepherd who shelter a half dozen little lambs who steal the show. They have masks added to their costumes this year which fit perfectly with their costumes. Paul Piner, Roland Jones, and Zacchaeus Page, all members of RB II, are the ever-popular Russian dancers with their very hip dancing bear (Piner), and Eri Nishihara dances the role of the bedazzled butterfly, surrounded by a dozen Candied Flowers.

The diverse and multi-generational cast is an apt reflection of the audience and represents the best of what this season represents. It’ so good to have The Nutcracker back onstage at The Carpenter Theatre this year; there is nothing like live theater to offer a magical escape from the everyday and mundane.

The Nutcracker Performance Schedule

Saturday, December 11th, 2021 @2:00pm and 7:00pm

Sunday, December 12th, 2021 @1:00pm and 4:30pm

Saturday, December 18th, 2021 @2:00pm and 7:00pm

Sunday, December 19th, 2021 @1:00pm and 4:30pm

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021 @7:00pm

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021 @2:00pm

COVID-19 Protocols: Upon entering the theatre, all audience members ages 12 and above are required to show printed or digital proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or of a professionally-administered negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance. Patrons ages 18 and above will also need to show a photo ID. All patrons ages 2 and above will continue to be required to wear masks.Please note: Proof of a negative COVID test is not required for children under the age of 12.

Photos Credits: Sarah Ferguson

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rvart review

RICHMOND BALLET’S “CINDERELLA”: Happily Ever After

Richmond Ballet’s CINDERELLA: Humor & Romance Unite

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219

Performances: February 14-16 @ 7:00pm; February 16 @2:00pm; and February 17 @1:00pm

Ticket Prices: Start at $25

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

Magic. Magic with a generous dose of humor. The Richmond Ballet’s 2019 production of Malcolm Burn’s Cinderella is the sort of magical ballet that makes little girls want to become ballerinas. (Not trying to be sexist here, just speaking from personal experience or memory.)

Set on the grand Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre stage, with storybook scenery, elaborate costumes, and props by Peter Farmer, lighting by MK Stewart, and additional costume design by Tamara Cobus, Burn’s choreography soars into fairyland and carries the audience willingly along for the journey. Sergei Prokofiev’s romantic score is played beautifully by the Richmond Symphony, conducted by Erin Freeman.

Cinderella, her bullying stepsisters and unsympathetic stepmother, her kind but defeated father, the fairy godmother and the fairies of the seasons, the magical mice and the charming Prince are all here in this traditional fairy tale. But it’s been awhile, and I didn’t remember just how amusing this ballet is! (On opening night there was one woman in the audience who had an infectious laugh – for the first act. By acts two and three, she had progressed to laughing uncontrollably, often at the most inappropriate times.)

The physical comedy of Elena Bella (a stepsister) and Trevor Davis (The Jester) are personal highlights of the ballet. Bello is a petite powerhouse with stunning technique and a penchant for comedy, which she also demonstrated as Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Davis also managed to perfect a blend of technique and comedy.

And, of course, the delicious comicality (yes, that’s a real word) of having the second stepsister played by a man, Matthew Frain, goes without saying. I was excited when I saw him appear in toe shoes, and yes, he did manage to get in a few steps on pointe. And while his role requires him to perform in an over-the-top klutzy style, he worked diligently with company members to prepare. [See a video clip of him preparing for his role with his “sister” Elena Bello: https://www.richmond.com/studio/entertainment/dancer-matthew-frain-as-cinderella-s-step-sister/video_9f728237-58fc-5a45-a063-ff64851d227a.html].

Among the more traditional roles, Cody Beaton is Cinderella and Fernando Sabino is her Prince. Their pas de deux is lush, unhurried, and beautiful. Their unlikely love story – the stuff of fairy tales – is helped along by the Fairy Godmother (Lauren Archer) and the fairies of the Seasons. Melissa Robinson is the Spring Fairy; Izabella Tokev is Summer; Abi Goldstein is Winter; and Eri Nishihara is Autumn. Nishihara took my breath away with her effortless flexibility; it seemed that each time she lifted her leg it floated to the back of her head.

Burn gives attention to the smallest detail. Even minor characters are given memorable representations, such as Mate Szentes as the pretentious Dancing Master and Khaiyom Khojaev as The Violinist with super-exaggerated gestures. I adore the Chimes: the twelve hooded figures who signal Cinderella’s curfew turn their heads on signal revealing glowing red “eyes.” Each season fairy is accompanied by a trio of student apprentices, and the guests at the Prince’s ball are all given authentic gestures and organic movement patterns that make the entire scene flow like a dream.

Humor, romance, fairy tale enchantment. What a beautiful offering for the Valentine weekend. I so much prefer Cinderella to Romeo and Juliet for the Valentine week, as I personally find that classic tale too depressing for a romantic date. Cinderella is a story ballet that allows you to fully escape into fantasy for approximately two and a half hours (three acts, two intermissions) – maybe even longer if you plan your evening right. . .

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

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Photo Credits:

Richmond Ballet in Cinderella by Malcolm Burn. Richmond Ballet 2019. All Rights Reserved. Photos by Sarah Ferguson.

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