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State Street Ballet

'Hollywood Nutcracker'

by Andre Yew

December 13, 2003 -- Lobero Theater, Santa Barbara, California

One of the nice things about seeing the same piece many times is the opportunity to more easily see improvement (or, unfortunately, regression) in dancers who have danced the same roles before as well as the unique qualities of new dancers. State Street Ballet's yearly "Nutcracker," based on a 1930s Hollywood theme, provides such an opportunity, and I'm happy to report that the results are good.

Roberto Almaguer, a new member hailing from Cuba, danced the Nutcracker, partnering Jennifer Batbouta, who danced Clara, on Saturday night. With some alteration in the choreography to allow Almaguer to show off his impressive turning skills, Almaguer provided solid, secure support and partnering to Batbouta. Both dancers gave sympathetic, charismatic performances.

For me, the most impressive improvement from last year is the softness and expressiveness of the company's arms, especially in mime, and especially for the women with Nicole Grand's the most impressive of all. Grand danced the Sugar Plum Fairy's variation in the grand pas de deux with great technical and dramatic composure, along with really beautiful arms.

Alyson Mattoon and Yuan-Ming Chang, another new male dancer, danced the difficult Arabian section with great strength and control, and were crowd favorites. The snowflake scene also showed newfound stylistic unity amongst the dancers. The noisy snow machine has fortunately been retired, but one of the scene changes was still noisy (can someone oil those squeaky wheels?).

If anyone could steal a scene from cute little girls in equally cute polka-dot dresses, it was Sergei Domrachev in an en travesti role, Mae West and Children (set to music for Mother Ginger). Dancing with great verve and humor, Domrachev was improbable as an old lady dancing with male ballon and power (in character shoes!) with multiple fouette turns and jumps. This section was new choreography, and was impressive for its effectiveness despite its apparent simplicity (as probably required by the children's roles).

It seems to me that State Street Ballet choreography often tries to impress by sheer technical difficulty with little attention paid to using the stage space for anything more than preparation for the next trick. Or else the opposite happens, and there are too many things happening on stage, so that the main action is diluted. I'm glad to see this new section because it shows that they can use stage space well: the swirling children's lines helping define Domrachev's dancing instead of having it be engulfed and be diminished by empty space.

The company danced well and seemed to be on tonight. The audience appreciated their dancing, and I left with a lighter step in my feet, feeling happy, which is all I could ask a "Nutcracker" to do.

Edited by Jeff.

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