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Sacramento 'Nutcracker' exceeds expectations

The Nutcracker, choreographed by the Sacramento Ballet?s artistic directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda, tells the timeless tale of a young girl?s imaginary journey into a world of confectionary delights on Christmas Eve.

The Sacramento Ballet partnered with about 100 local dance students to bring this charming production to Fresno?s William Saroyan Theatre, Nov. 26-27.

During a Christmas ball at the wealthy Stahlbaum residence, the children, Clara (Emma Zanira) and Fritz (Lexie Stahl) eagerly anticipate receiving their Christmas presents.

A family friend, the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer (Nolan T?Sani) is invited to attend the party and he brings Clara a beautiful Nutcracker doll. Fritz, jealous over his sister?s special treatment, breaks the Nutcracker?s jaw in an envious rage. Dr. Drosselmeyer comforts the crying Clara by repairing her toy?s jaw with a handkerchief.

Later that night, Clara sneaks out of bed to retrieve the Nutcracker, but, unable to find him, falls asleep and crosses from reality into the imaginary land of dreams, where anything is possible.

Dr. Drosselmeyer turns into a magician and causes the Christmas tree to grow larger and larger, until it towers far above Clara?s head. He also transforms the Nutcracker (Robert Cisneros) into a life size creature with an army of soldiers who engage in a battle with the vicious Mouse King (Michael Separovich) and his evil mice followers.

Just as the Mouse King is about to run the Nutcracker through with his sword, Clara intervenes and saves her friend by throwing her shoe at the Mouse King. After this event, the Mouse King?s spell over the Nutcracker is broken, and he becomes a dashing prince.

The pair hops aboard a hot air balloon that flies them through the magical Snowflake Forest to the Kingdom of the Sweets, where they meet the Snow King and Queen and their many subjects, who perform beautiful dances for their guests to show their gratitude for defeating the Mouse King.

I had never seen The Nutcracker performed live before, so my high expectations for The Sacramento Ballet were exceeded by leaps and bounds. The music provided by the Fresno Ballet Theatre Orchestra was a wonderful touch. Their involvement marked the first time in a few years that The Nutcracker was accompanied by a live orchestra in Fresno.

This was truly the most exquisite production I have ever witnessed, and I applaud Cunningham for his excellent work. His choreography was beautiful and he managed to incorporate humorous steps among the breathtaking numbers.

The casting was superb. The locally auditioned children in this production all did a wonderful job and brought an endearing quality to the show. Zanira did a fantastic job and I was especially impressed as she is such a young performer.

Cisneros?s numbers were executed with precision and skill. His battle with the Mouse King was carried out with a combination of comedy and believable danger.

T?Sani?s portrayal of an eccentric doll maker was well done and his mysterious nature gave the otherwise lighthearted tale a slightly dark twist.

My favorite characters were Dr. Drosselmeyer?s dolls. Their dances were amusing as their limbs remained rigid to reflect the construction of mechanical toys.

The set was fabulously well done, complete with very intricate details which made the stage very visually captivating. The lit candles adorning the Christmas tree and the moving wings of the owl which sat atop the grandfather clock in the Stahlbaum?s home are just a few examples of the details that made The Nutcracker?s set incredible.

A hot air balloon suspended from the ceiling was used to carry Clara and the Nutcracker to the Snowflake Forest and the Kingdom of the Sweets. This contributed to the set?s far above average quality and made the stage appear larger as it took advantage of the open space over the actors.

The most interesting aspect of the set changes occurred when the downstage lights dimmed and a transparent curtain behind the dancers revealed another scene upstage.

The Nutcracker was by far the best local performance I have had the pleasure of witnessing thus far and I hope to see more ballets by The Sacramento Ballet in the future.

For those interested in seeing another company?s take on this ballet, the Lively Arts Foundation?s 20th production of The Nutcracker will take place at the Saroyan Theater, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 2 p.m.

For more drama reviews, read the Nov. 18 article, Fresno Pacific fails to employ show’s potential.

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