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'The Nutcracker' stages variety of talents

Ever since the age of three, The Nutcracker has been an unshakable Christmas tradition in my life. Over the years of watching the ballet, and even performing in it, I know the story backward and forward, and still find it hard to restrain the longing to hop up onstage and dance along.

I can always trust Fresno to put on a great performance of The Nutcracker. Under the direction of Diane Mosier, the Central California Ballet put the show onstage at the William Saroyan Theater, Dec. 10 and 11.

Rather than following the plot that most are accustom to, this rendition was adapted by Frank Moffett Mosier, from the Hoffmann 1814 tale. The show begins with a prologue of the magician Drosselmeyer (Hal Bolen) and his nephew (Joe Cox), who are to release an enchantment from the Princess Pirlipat (Sarah Band), which was placed by the Mouse Queen (Rachel Durant or Katie Giometti).

Once Pirlipat is saved, the Mouse Queen and King (Jesus Luviano) appear in fury, and engage in battle with Drosselmeyer. He sends them off, but not before his nephew is placed under a spell.

The scene shifts to a Christmas party at the home of Marie Stahlbaum (Annalise Rodriguez or Hunter Mikus), a young girl. After she and the guests spend time dancing and celebrating, Drosselmeyer shows up with his magic. He gifts the family with a Nutcracker doll, to which Marie’s brother, Fritz (Jon Spearman or Thomas Harabedian), takes a liking.

As Drosselmeyer displays a magic box, the Mouse Queen unexpectedly bursts out and breaks the Nutcracker. Once Drosselmeyer gets the situation under control, Marie takes tends to the broken doll. After the party is over, Marie falls asleep in the parlor, but is awkened to a swarm of mice. Drosselmeyer briefly appears to perform magic, which makes the Nutcracker come to life (Spencer Ruell). He leads a troop of soldiers to victory over the Mouse King.

Upon discovering her husband’s dead body, the Mouse Queen is infuriated, and swears vengeance toward Marie and the Nutcracker. She and the mice depart, leaving Marie and the Nutcracker to enjoy the Land of Snow.

In the second act, the Nutcracker leads both Marie and Drosselmeyer to the Kingdom of Sweets. Drosselmeyer explains that the Nutcracker is the man under the Mouse Queen’s enchantment. Marie is then honored with performances by treats such as Spanish Chocolate, Chinese Tea and Russian Dancers.

Just as everything seems calm and settled, the mice and Mouse Queen appear once again. The Nutcracker quickly leaps into action, vanquishing the Queen, and lifting the curse. He is revealed as the Cavalier (Ethan White), and he dances with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Nikki White) in a Grand Pas de Deux.

Though I appreciate the Mosiers’ intentions of bringing an unconventional twist to a well-known story, sometimes it is simply more enjoyable to watch a classic. This year marks the sixth that The Nutcracker has taken this route, and it is very confusing at times. I often found myself frustrated with the absence of dance. It almost seemed a shame to waste Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beautifully-written music.

One particular aspect that still bothers me is the return of the mice. Once Marie is happily in the Kingdom of Sweets watching each set of performers, they are occasionally interrupted by mice. In the darling Marzipan dance, the ballerinas maybe get one minute of choreography, the the next few minutes are taken over by a spontaneous battle. When there is beautiful ballet music, I’d rather see ballet dancers dancing than ballet dancers running around in a free-for-all.

That being said, the show was genuinely redeemed by beautiful choreography in other scenes. The first show-stopper was the Snowflake Waltz, by Carla Stallings-Lippert. The dancers performed excellent execution of complicated movements. This scene took advantage of each beat, applying the perfect combinations.

When a corps of dancers came out for the Waltz of the Flowers, I was once again impressed. Mosier made great use of the stage with her spacing. The group worked together, uniformly performing their parts to create a spectacular sight onstage. In this piece, Courtney Boyd performed a beautiful solo as the Dew Drop. She had beautiful form, great skill and held a captivating presence among the dancers. I would have liked to see more classical dances like hers.

I was pleased to see the Spanish Chocolate piece choreographed by alumna Amanda Edwards. A veteran in Fresno ballet, she asked the dancers to apply perfect hand flicks and leaps to the energetic song.

While many classical ballet dances were stunning, a troop of performers from Break the Barriers stole the show with their stunts in the Russian Dance. Easily the crowd favorite, the men refused to stand still with their incredible flips and two-man somersaults. I was particularly amused to see science teacher Dan Harris onstage performing with this group. Although I’ll never let him live down the arm flicks and goofy stage smile, I am nothing less than impressed with his routine.

Break the Barriers was a brilliant addition to the show, and I hope to see them back in the future. They raised the bar for every other scene, and almost dared everyone else to present something more spectacular.

This is exactly what The Nutcracker needs. Every dancer proved that they can accomplish beautiful dancing, so I want them to push their boundaries. The show is already charming and perfectly enjoyable, but I know that they are capable of making each scene as breathtaking as the next.

When it came time for the principal dancers to perform, I had no doubt in my mind that they would give outstanding presentations. In the Snow Pas de Deux, Matthew Linzer and Terrin Kelley proved themselves to be solid dancers with great agility. I would always like to see more drama rather than just poses and a few slow movements, but maybe I’m just being picky.

It was special to watch such talented dancers as Nikki and Ethan White perform the Grand Pas de Deux. Some may have recognized them as classical ballet entry finalists on Paula Abdul’s show, Live to Dance. With this in mind, I had high expectations for their presentation. They were extremely comfortable dancing together, which allowed them to display great strength and confidence.

In the Grand Pas de Deux, the audience was treated to a treat of spectacular choreography and skill. Nikki’s series of fouttes evoked enthusiastic applause as she transitioned into a sequence of tour jetes, side-by-side with Ethan. Her spotting was precise, so she had no hint of dizziness or unstable recovering. Ethan’s most stunning steps were his swift entrechats.

Considering The Nutcracker as a whole, my complaints are minute, and did not tarnish the production’s charm and entertainment. It truly was an impressive performance; my criticism merely stems from years of analyzing ballet down to a dancer’s ankle extension. I did not leave the show with a negative attitude, but rather impressed and cheerful after a truly enjoyable performance.

Since this is my last school year in Fresno, it saddens me to think that I witnessed Fresno’s The Nutcracker for the last time. I genuinely hope to attend the show in future years. The tradition is one that stands strong in the city, and only gets better and better.

For those who missed the dramatic version, the Fresno Philharmonic will present The Nutcracker Swan Lake with Joyce Yang as the musical soloist, Dec. 17-18 at the Saroyan Theatre. Tickets start at $15 and the box office can be reached at 559.261.0600.

The Lively Arts Foundation will next present the Alonzo King LINES Ballet: Scheherazade, at 7:30 p.m. in the Saroyan Theater, Feb. 24. For tickets, visit the Lively Arts website or call 877.608.5883.

For more ballet reviews, read the Sacramento ‘Nutcracker’ exceeds expectations.

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