The historic and sumptuous "Nutcracker" by Ballet West delights at the Kennedy Center


Am I just me, or does optimism feel like a luxury object coveted this year? More difficult to find than a Diorissimo bag, more spiritually in support of a Godiva gift tower for chocolate. Yet here comes "The Nutcracker", particularly cute, performed by the Ballet West in Salt Lake City, and it's all light and warmth. Even if it starts with snow.

Spring plays a leading role in this "Nutcracker", populated by bees, butterflies and flowers. Even the snow is so abundant in the romantic world of this production, at the Kennedy Center Opera House until December 9th, which is an accessory: the waltzing Snowflakes bring the snowball flies. Butterflies are worshiped here: the Plum Sugar Plum – the monarch "The Nutcracker" – is clearly descended from a real line of them. She sports the most magnificent pair of golden butterfly wings.

This is not just a beautifully danced and beautifully designed production. It is also historical. Ballet West realizes the nation's first and longest production, created by Willam Christensen in 1944. Christensen, director of the San Francisco Ballet in the 40s, had never seen a complete "Nutcracker" before creating one of his own; he learned from Russian emigrant dancers George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, who were familiar with the original 1892 production of the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. Christensen met them when they stopped in San Francisco while on tour with the Russe de Monte Carlo Ballet. When Christensen left that city and founded what would become the Ballet West, he brought his "Nutcracker" with him.

The public in Washington saw for the last time the version of Ballet West preferred in 2012, also at the Kennedy Center. The current visit presents the same Christensen choreography as clear, refined and a bit shameless, but has been treated for $ 3 million of new sets and costumes.

The snow scene in "The Nutcracker." (Beau Pearson) by Ballet West

The result is a refined balance between materic show and elegant dance. The first act proceeds slowly, as the Stahlbaum Christmas party is a well-educated thing and most of the dance comes in the second act. On Wednesday, the highlight of the party was the pairing of a wonderful dancing bear (sinful Vinicius Lima, the sweaty man inside that fur) and the exquisitely delicate doll of Sayaka Ohtaki.

There are so many delicious touches here. The second act opens with a brief overview of a marionette version of the young Clara's voyage from her childhood home to the land of the Plum Fairy. There was a subtle sense of polish throughout the ballet; this is not a company given to electrocution or any kind of forced exposure of technical fireworks. The sense of calm self-control was serene in the Mirlitons, in particular, with their reference to the dance of the French court. I was enthusiastic about the young Clara (the lively and lively Makenzie Hymes) to finally meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, for Beckanne Sisk is one of the most fascinating and seductive dancers that embody the role in recent memory. In truth, he did not need wings to add lightness to his step. She was in some ways the queen of the fairy tales of her dreams – royal but warm, expressive but subtly so, that supported her balance as if the simple air held her, yet, paradoxically, her dominant quality was softness.

A luxury piece of this production – of any "Nutcracker" you see at the Kennedy Center – is listening to the Opéra House Orchestra that has scattered the Tchaikovsky soundtrack. (Conducted by Jared Oaks).

Of course, there are other "Nutcracker" in this period of the year. At the Warner Theater, the Washington Ballet celebrates the 15th anniversary of its Washington-based production – beginning in a Georgetown mansion, ending up on the banks of the Potomac – created by former art director Septime Webre.

The transformation of this ballet into a basic holiday, an economic advantage for the ballet companies that perform it and a canvas on which the choreographers can impose different visions of time, place and characters – are all testaments to the genius of the idea initial of Christensen. What luck that alongside all the hundreds of other versions of "The Nutcracker", his has endured – as he created it – all these years later.

Western ballet performs "Nutcracker" by Willam Christensen at the Kennedy Center until December 9th. Washington Ballet performs "Nutcracker" by Septime Webre at Warner Theater until December 28th.


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