Friday, 14 Dec 2018

Sumptuous and sumptuous nutcracker by Ballet West at the Kennedy Center

Is it just me or does optimism feel like a coveted luxury product this year? More difficult to find than a Diorissimo bag, more spiritual than a Godiva chocolate trick. And yet, here is "The Nutcracker", particularly beautiful, played by Ballet West Salt Lake City, where heat and sunlight prevail. Even if it starts with the snow.

Spring plays a prominent role in this "nutcracker", populated with bees, butterflies and flowers. In the romantic world of this production, the molten planet seems far away, until December 9 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. The snow is so abundant that it is an accessory: the valiant snow flakes bear snowball noses. We love butterflies here: The fairy Sugar Plum – the monarch "The Nutcracker" – is clearly from a royal line. She sports the most magnificent pair of golden butterfly wings with polka dots.

It's not just a beautifully crafted and danced production. It's also historic. Ballet West made the country's first and oldest production, created by Willam Christensen in 1944. Christensen, director of San Francisco Ballet in the 1940s, had not seen a complete "Nutcracker" before creating his own; he was informed by the Russian émigré dancers George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, who already knew the original 1892 production of the Mariinsky Ballet of St Petersburg. Christensen met them when they stopped in San Francisco while they were touring with the Russian Ballet of Monte Carlo. When Christensen left this city and founded what would become Ballet West, he took away his nutcracker.

The Washington public last saw the version of Ballet West's favorite vacation in 2012, also at the Kennedy Center. The current tour presents the same clear, refined and somewhat casual choreography of Christensen, but it has been treated with $ 3 million in new sets and costumes.

The result is a perfect balance between textured spectacle and elegant dance. The first act takes place a little slowly, because the Christmas party of the Stahlbaums is a matter of good manners and most of the dance takes place in the second act. On Wednesday, the highlight of the party was the association of a wonderful dancing bear (pity Vinicius Lima, the sweaty human inside all this fur) and the deliciously delicate doll of Sayaka Ohtaki.

Snow scene in Ballet West's "Nutcracker" (Beau Pearson)

There are so many little touches here. The second act begins with a brief overview of the puppet version of Clara's journey from her childhood home to the land of the Plum Fairy. There was a good sense of varnish throughout the ballet; This is not a business given to dazzle or any kind of forced demonstrations of technical fireworks. The feeling of calm and self-possession was particularly evident in the Mirlitons, especially with their nod to the French court dance. I was as enthusiastic as the young Clara (the wonderful animation and vivacity of Makenzie Hymes) to finally meet the fairy Sugar Plum, as Beckanne Sisk is one of the most charming and seductive ballerinas to embody the role recent memory. In truth, she did not need wings to add lightness to her pace. She was every time the queen of fairy tales of her dream – royal but warm, expressive but subtle, which maintained its balance as if it were held in the air, and yet, paradoxically, its dominant quality was sweetness.

One of the great luxuries of this production – of any "Nutcracker" that we see at the Kennedy Center – is to hear the Opera House Orchestra unveil the carrying score of Tchaikovsky. (Jared Oaks led.)

Of course, there are other "nutcrackers" at this time of year. At the Warner Theater, the Washington Ballet celebrates the 15th anniversary of its Washington-themed production – it begins at a Georgetown mansion and ends on the banks of the Potomac – created by former art director Septime Webre.

The transformation of this ballet into a must-have for the holidays, an economic boon for the ballet companies who play it and a canvas on which choreographers can impose different visions of time, place and characters – all testimonies of the brilliant idea initial of Christensen. How lucky to have rubbed shoulders with the hundreds of other versions of "The Nutcracker", his own – as he created it – all those years later.

Ballet West Willam Christensen's "The Nutcracker" at the Kennedy Center until December 9th. Washington Ballet "Nutcracker" by Septime Webre at the Warner Theater until December 28th.


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