Posted on Thursday,
December 14, 2006
'Classic Nutcracker' is rich, vibrant, entertaining
By Linda Shapiro
"Ballet Minnesota's Classic Nutcracker" wraps the stage of the O'Shaughnessy like a homemade afghan with intricate patterns and rich, vibrant colors. It offers warmth and family feeling. And if it occasionally drops a few stitches, the overall effect is spirited and highly entertaining.
The first act Christmas party in the 19th century Silberhaus drawing room bristles with celebration as elegant adults, adorable children, bustling maids and dancing boys (sometimes in ragged unison) swirl about in lively, looping patterns. Godfather Drosselmeyer, played with sinister jollity by Robert Cleary, distributes toys to the delighted children, including a spiffy Nutcracker for Clara Silberhaus.
Freezing the action at various times during the festivities and adding pulsating strobe lights is a terrific way to foreshadow the menacing scene that takes place after midnight, when Clara sneaks downstairs to play with her beloved Nutcracker. She is soon surrounded by frolicsome little mice and red-eyed rats, who are quickly dispatched by the Nutcracker and his crack regiment in a battle scene marked by carefully orchestrated mayhem. The victorious Nutcracker, transformed into a handsome young officer, whisks Clara off to the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy with help from swirling snowflakes and a whole cadre of vivacous little angels.
Andrew Rist's choreography for the snowflakes is fast and brittle - more a blizzard than a soft, lyrical snowfall - and the ensemble often seems to be racing to keep up with the deluge of steps. More successful is his ravishing waltz of the Flowers in Act II, where lithe blossoms melt in and out of kaleidoscopic patterns with unaffected ease, led by Erin Warn as a prize-winning rose.
Once in the castle of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara and the Nutcracker (danced with vitality and elan by Kathleen Schaefer and Allen Gregory) are entertained by dances from many lands. These include a saucy "Carmen"-flavored Spanish; a robust Russian; and a piquant Chinese variation with spinning parasols, a dragon, and a smoke-belching demon.
Most satisfying of all is the pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, performed with regal eplomb by former Bolshoe soloist Oksana Konobeyeva and Alexey Agudin of American Ballet Theater.
Aside from dazzling dancing, the two exhibit an ardent warmth and generosity of spirit that could serve as a model for the budding Clara and her faithful Nutcracker.
Cheryl Rist's imaginative costumes and Mary Novodvorsky's richly inventive sets enhanced this animated production.
"Choreographer Andrew Rist's classic interpretation focuses on telling the story through the dynamic flow of the dancing. Notable for its stunning design and energetic performances, this "Nutcracker" make the children a vital part of the story.
"Ballet Minnesota Energizes a Classic"
Borcht Arts Magazine
"This radiant production brought the spirit of Christmas thundering back."
"Recently, while on a visit to Minneapolis from California, my son took my wife and myself to St. Catherine's (O'Shuaghnessy Auditorium) for your production of the Nutcracker. We've seen many productions over the years in San Francisco, Seattle, and elsewhere, as it is a family tradition. Seattle had a superb production, what with Maurice Sendak's sets, and the production was very elaborate, but it couldn't hold a candle to Ballet Minnesota's production. The dancers were superb, the costumes and sets were terrific, but the energy and humor brought one into the story, and it was the most entertaining production I've ever seen. Thank you for a very enjoyable evening, and good luck in the future. You have a winner, and I wish you well in the New Year.
- F.X. Radnich, California -
"I just saw Ballet Minnesota's performance of the Nutcracker this past Friday night at O'Shaughnessy auditorium. It was a fabulous performance and I left feeling quite proud that we have such a good ballet company here."
- Tamara Lee, Maplewood -
"Thank you so much for the student performance of the 'Nutcracker'. Our group so enjoys and looks forward to the yearly event. If it wasn't for the affordability of Ballet Minnesota (student) performances, many of our students would not have an opportunity to see the fine art of dance in person.
- Cheryl White, homeschool teacher -
"Thank you so much for yet another year of the Nutcracker performances. It was a truly enchanting experience for my children and enriching for adults and children alike."
- Annmarie Kirsch, St Anthony -