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Pennsylvania Ballet - 'The Nutcracker'

by Sigrid Payne DaVeiga

December 16, 2005 evening -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia

The lobby of the Academy of Music stirred with the excitement of children and adults alike, as they browsed souvenirs and programs before this Friday evening performance of “The Nutcracker.”  As the last audience members found their seats, , the anticipation of the children in the audience, some of whom were seeing this holiday tradition for the first time, was palpable.  The production opened with a large greeting card filling the stage: holiday scenes filled the enormous greeting card border as the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Salvatore Scarpa, played Tchaikovsky’s much-beloved overture.

Act I opened on Marie  (Jacqueline Callahan), and her brother, Fritz, (Alec Misinkavitch), asleep in the foyer of the Stahlbaum house, peeking through a keyhole to see the Christmas tree and their parents preparing gifts in the next room.  The guests arrived for the holiday party and the audience stirred with the beauty of their costumes and the warmth of the Stahlbaum home. 

The children were sharp in their execution of the choreography in the party scene; their costumes were as beautiful as the sets were elaborate.  One little girl with long dark hair wearing a white dress with dark blue trim stood apart from the other children.  Even beneath the tulle of her party dress, one could make out the precision of her technique; she had incredibly clean footwork for a child this age.   

 Herr Drosselmeier entered hidden under his dark cape; the children in the audience waited in suspense to see who would be revealed.  When he did appear, his face was jolly and great.  Alexei Borovik had such good humor in his rendition of Drosselmeier that he commanded attention among the audience as well as among the children on stage.  Harlequin and Columbine, performed by Rebecca Azenberg and Victoria Gates, were cute crowd-pleasers; however, their execution of these variations was a little too bouncy and lacked the sharpness required to be convincing as dolls.  Jonathan Stiles, on the other hand, gave a very strong performance as the soldier; the children watching were, in fact, crawling out of their seats to see him!             

The party scene came to a close with Fritz’ usual antics, breaking Marie’s Nutcracker that she received from Drosselmeier.  The audience let out a collective gasp because of the atrocity of his behavior. Ariel Breitman performed quite well as Drosselmeier’s nephew, rescuing Marie and bringing her a bed for her Nutcracker.  After the rest of the guests had left the party, he and Marie left the stage in opposite directions, with quite believable looks of longing for each other.     

When Marie returned to the stage in her nightgown to fall asleep with her Nutcracker, Drosselmeier cast his spell.  The Christmas tree grew fantastically and the audience entered the magical land where mice fight toy soldiers.  The soldiers did a wonderful job, and the fight scene was a fitting climax.  Once the Nutcracker won his battle, he lost his mask, and then the prince and Marie floated through the Land of Snow looking quite in love.

The corps did an adequate job performing as the Snowflakes.  Their costumes were lovely, and the simple set quite beautiful.  The flurry of all sixteen dancers on stage was pleasant to watch and the Philadelphia Boys Choir did a nice job in their accompaniment. 

Act II opened with the smallest Angels I have ever seen.  They were adorable and their formations vied with those of the Snowflakes.  Arantxa Ochoa, as the Sugarplum Fairy, did a nice job engaging the Angels, who took their cues well from her.  Her Sugarplum variation was dispassionate, though, and she seemed to be in pain.   

Tara Keating and James Idhe performed the first variation in Act II, Hot Chocolate.  Keating’s performance was the most stunning of the night.  She was confident and her technique was impeccable while her interpretation remained playful and seductive.  This was the one piece that I wish could have lasted longer than usual.

Amy Aldridge’s Coffee was a little disappointing.  She is a dancer born to do this piece, but the noise that her costume made during the many bouncing movements this choreography requires was distracting. Jonathan Stiles did some great jumps in the Tea variation, but Sarah Aeten and Chelsea Giday did little with their bland choreography.   

Jermel Johnson, who led the Candy Canes this evening, was wonderful.  His execution was immaculate and he seemed to be having so much fun on stage.  Alexei Charov was great as Mother Ginger, and the little girl with brown hair from the party scene clearly stood out again here, front and stage left, with her perfect feet and clean technique; she led the line of other children back under Mother Ginger’s dress at the end. 

Valerie Amiss’ Marzipan Shepherdess was very pretty, but she seemed to point her toes only half of the time she was dancing.  Her Polichinelles were quiet but their dancing appeared to be off-beat.  Riolama Lorenzo’s Dewdrop was rather sterile and aloof.  The corps did a nice job as the Flowers, soft and flowing; Heidi Cruz again showed herself to be one of The Pennsylvania Ballet’s stronger dancers in this piece.

Arantxa Ochoa and Alexander Iziliaev performed quite well in the climactic pas de deux.  When she slid across the stage on pointe in arabesque, the entire audience was enthralled.  The piece climaxed perfectly with the music and their magnificent last pose was a great way to close this famous set piece. 

The soloists waved good-bye to The Little Prince and Princess and they floated away high above the stage in a magical boat, until next year’s performances.  “The Nutcracker” was received well by the audience this evening and The Pennsylvania Ballet, in collaboration with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Boys Choir, brought another year of a wonderful holiday tradition to the City of Brotherly Love.

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