The Nutcracker is a holiday classic that you can find in almost every American city – big or small – and this year our nation’s most prominent performing arts center The Kennedy Center presents Ballet West as their Christmas stars this season. There is no doubt why Willam Christensen‘s version is the longest-running full-length production in America (since 1944!) as it is the most creative, intelligent, and magical production of The Nutcracker I have ever seen. Mr. Christensen is a master storyteller. Although we are all familiar with the skeletal frame based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale that most ballet companies use to build upon, it is Ballet West‘s adaptation that makes the most sense. What can often seem illogical leaps – as dolls coming to life, giant mice battling toy soldiers, and being whisked away to lands reigned by Snow Queens and Sugarplum Fairies tend to be – are artfully tied together by seamless transitions; ones that don’t jarringly skip from one scene to another but rather maintain consistency in both voice and choreographic integrity.
Speaking of choreography, it is most impressive how Christensen manages to keep the stage in perpetual motion. This is not to imply that there is always physical movement, as the moments of pause and suspension are just as breathtaking as those composed of flurries of bourrées (which, by the way, all the company dancers and guest children must be applauded for). There is truly a sense of art in motion as the ever-changing scenic compositions – whether for one dancer or sixteen – are aesthetically stunning and emotionally engaging, all while being technically challenging. All the second act divertissements are so unique conceptually and choreographically, so much so that even after over hundreds of combined personal performing, directing, and viewing experiences of The Nutcracker, it’s as if I had never seen it before. This would be a good moment to give an important shout-out to costume designer David Heuvel and the entire scenic design, lighting, and production teams for it is their efforts that truly create the magic. From pre-curtain on, there is a never a dull moment; quite the contrary, there is a continuous pulse in the air as the audience is simultaneously appreciating what they see and anticipating what surprise is to come next.
Ballet West is a beautiful ballet company, one that Artistic Director Adam Sklute is surely proud of. The professional standouts of the evening are Sayaka Ohtaki as the Doll, Arolyn Williams as Mirlitons, Beckanne Sisk as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the corps de ballet as Snowflakes and Flowers. All of these ladies perform with exceptional control of their technique, expression of their roles, and are simply a joy to watch – especially, the corps. Their glowing energy, precise musicality (in a series of emboîtés, one could hear in the audience the gloriously synchronous landings as their pointe shoes make contact with the floor), and impeccable execution of formations.