It wouldn’t be the holidays without Drosslemeyer’s magic, Mouse King, a Sugar Plum Fairy and a little girl with a Nutcracker Prince. I have to admit that is has been a long time since I’ve actually participated in the Yuletide ritual. My children have received their Nutcracker education through video. Since I come from a modern concert background they have seen a wide spectrum of interpretations, from the classic Baryshnikov/ Gelsey Kirkland version to the Balanchine movie with the unfortunate appearance of McCauley Culkin. In our personal library we have more contemporary choices like Maurice Bejart’s autobiographical story, Matthew Bourne’s witty orphanage depiction and the piece do resistance, Mark Morris’s contemporary classic The Hard Nut.
Having said all that, since Lady H. and the Viking Princess are almost 7 and 3, I thought it was time to take the plunge and experience a live performance. We decided to run down to the Fox Theater and see how the Atlanta Ballet fares in the mix. It fares well.
The first element that distinguishes this production from the pack is that it is set in a Russian period context. The costumes in the party scene are in beautiful lush blues, purples and creams. The international guests are distinguishable with their spectacular sparkly headdresses.
Drosselmeyer stood out as he swooped in with his vibrant black and red cape. The names are a bit different, for example our young protagonists name is Marya not Clara and Mother Ginger is Matrushka, in the Russian tradition. Otherwise, the story is pretty familiar with a few interesting additions.
I love a person in drag. I think it is always appropriate and I don’t care in which direction the gender swings. I, myself, had the delicious opportunity, to play a man off-Broadway for a couple of years in The Donkey Show. Bradley Renner is fabulous as Mother Matrushka. It is typical for this role to be portrayed by a large flamboyant man and is always something to look forward to. Atlanta Ballet also included a butcher in the party scene, played by Jackie Nash. Not only is she a convincing man but she is the most animated in the entire show. As if that wasn’t enough, a giant pink pig in point shoes, played by Ericka Goss, joins her/him for a pas de duex, ending in a loving kiss. Now if future productions don’t include dancing swine, I’m going to be a bit disappointed. It was short but had a lasting effect on me.
If I were a child I wouldn’t have believed the Meissen Dolls were real people. The bouncy, bobble head portrayal of the toys by Peng-Yu Chen and Jesse Tyler, arrests reality and brings the audience deep into the fantasy being created on stage.
I do believe the first half was slightly more successful than the second. Now, it may have something to do with my tiny Viking Princess spilling her popcorn all over the floor and proceeding to dance on it, creating another soundtrack for the audience around us to enjoy. It also has to do with the snow flakes, looking stunning in their nontraditional long dresses but the choreography not having that swirly quality that moves the eye across the stage. The Sugar Plum Fairy normally is the the Queen of the show. In this version, her grandiose presence was undercut by the fact that she had to share her variation with Marya.
What I truly love about Nutcracker season is companies have the opportunity to use children in the community and their dance schools. Atlanta Ballet is successful in this area. Across the board these little dancers performed with a sophistication I believe is necessary when watching a company of this caliber.
The children in the party scene were believable in their roles. They didn’t seem self-conscious and knew all their blocking. There were bakers in bonnets and red and white socks balancing together like their adult counterparts. Little pink sheep and an even littler black lamb move in unison in full headgear. The bon bons are wonderful as their suite arched to a climax and the delicious treats flipped their way around the stage.
The baby mice are awwwww- worthy doing the Macarena, inspiring laughter and providing nice contrast to the very groovy and slightly creepy adult rodents. The mouse King had a spectacular costume, resembling something straight out of The Secret of Nimh.
It was a fabulous evening containing something for everyone. There is quirk, kitsch and believable performances to keep an old modern dancer like myself entertained. The action and dark characters appeal to scruffy boys, or a tomboy in our case. Finally, the Atlanta Ballet brings the necessary technique and magic to the table that keeps the fantasy alive for every young girly girl, young or old, who attends.