by Gretchen Collins
December 16, 2006 – Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
It has been said that Tulsa was born of an oil fever and nurtured in pioneer spirit. That’s just the essence Tulsa Ballet’s Artistic Director Marcello Angelini wanted to convey when he created a new version of “The Nutcracker” in 2003. Unfortunately, after researching the city’s history, he found that during the 1920s, Tulsans were still struggling with unpaved streets and oil barons had not yet brought the arts to the rough and tumble frontier town. There was, however, some of the world’s finest art deco architecture pushing up out of those muddy roads, built by oil men who could afford the best imported materials.
In an interview, Angelini recounts how he decided to combine the art deco aspects with E.T.A. Hoffmann’s, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” and the story as retold by Alexandre Dumas. He relocated the action to 1920s Paris, the birthplace of art deco. Angelini was about to embark upon a two-and-a-half-year journey that would challenge his dancers and change the look of “The Nutcracker” as Tulsans had known it.
The sets of the beloved 20-year-old “Nutcracker,” created by Roman Jasinski and Moscelyne Larkin, founders of Tulsa Ballet, had become dangerous for the dancers. The costumes had seen much better days. It was all beyond Band-Aids and duct tape. Angelini began by pricing sets and costumes in the States and quickly learned the prices were too high for a regional ballet living within a tight budget. Even with shipping costs, it was less expensive to have the costumes, backdrops and sets designed and constructed in Italy. Most eventually made the trip by ship because they were too heavy to fly.
Angelini says he turned to Luisa Spinatelli, who costumed him during his performance years. Spinatelli was enthusiastic about Angelini’s concept and joined what would become his dream team. Her career includes designing costumes for the ballet, opera and theatrical productions.
Costumes were realized by Brancato Costumi Teatrali. They encompass Roaring ‘Twenties flapper dresses, elegant coattails for the men, delicate white and blue dresses adorned with beads and feathers, and bright yellow mouse attire. All 160 costumes fit perfectly despite the conversion of inches to centimeters.
Paolini Libralato came on board to paint the backdrops. Angelini calls him a “real artist,” someone who would gaze at a drop all night to make certain the light was represented authentically. Angelini reports that there were many late night calls from Italy as Libralato painted. It was worth it. Libralato’s creations include the Paris Opera’s opulent foyer, an exterior scene of castles wrapped in snow, and the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace at Versailles. In place on the stage of the Chapman Music Hall, they are sumptuous.
Nicholas Cavallaro of Lighting Associates, Inc., designed the lighting. It is soft and lush during Charles’ and Marie’s pas de deux in the snow, and bright and exciting during the national dances.
For Angelini’s part, he wanted to choreograph steps that would hold the attention of dancers year after year. That can be difficult given the yearly ritual of “The Nutcracker.” Seasoned dancers also give Angelini’s choreography its due. Last year, guest artist, Guy Albouy, changed his travel plans from a one-week stay to three after viewing a DVD of TB’s “Nutcracker.” Albouy enjoyed this version so much, he returned to dance it one more time with former principal dancer, Daniela Buson, at her retirement gala last April.
Angelini’s refusal to create a wimpy “Nutcracker” makes it impossible for dancers to coast through it. His version requires a lot of partnering. In the end, the performance is only as good as the couples dancing together.
The role of Charles was created for principal dancer Alfonso Martin, who returned this season after a year with Boston Ballet. His former partner, Daniela Buson, has taken on the duties of ballet mistress. Martin is now performing with demi-soloist Karina Gonzales, who first danced the role of Marie last year. Each pas de deux was a luxurious pleasure with effortless lifts and excellent shadowing. One pas de deux was especially well-executed. Gonzales was lifted by Martin and rolled off his shoulder, down his body, where she slipped gracefully onto the stage. This was a melding of strength and trust. It was lovely to watch, and we were treated with another later.
Martin had ample opportunity to show off his sailing leaps and crisp batterie, receiving spontaneous applause several times. Gonzales’ demonstrated fairytale lightness in her pointe work. During one of their duets, Martin caught and held Gonzales in mid-pirouette, her arms gracefully reaching out, one leg deftly lifted. The scene was beautifully backlit. One, two, three seconds. It was a perfect “moment.”
Soloist, René Olivier, performed the Arabian sequence in the national dances with demi-soloist Rupert Edwards and corps dancers Nathan McGinnis and Joshua Trader. Olivier was as supple as a caterpillar as the three men carried, drugged, and in general, manhandled her. She left the stage in an impressive airborne backbend.
Alexandra Bergman, soloist, and demi-soloist Serena Chu partnered with soloist Michael Eaton and corps member Ricardo Graziano in the Spanish piece. The two women are among TB’s best contemporary dancers, and were devilishly coquettish behind red fans. Principal dancer, Ma Cong, performed a crescendo solo of athletic leaps that was over too soon.
Georgia Snoke was cast as the Ballet Mistress of the Paris Opera School. Snoke, who has been with TB since its inception, was a luminous straight woman to Joshua Trader’s offbeat school pianist with amorous intentions.
Lending their talents to a knockout “Nutcracker” performance was the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sung Jin Hong, members of Tulsa Ballet II, and students from the Tulsa Ballet Center for Dance Education. In this performance Marie was well-played by Jenna McCoy.
Barring a few missteps from the mice during the battle scene, TB’s “The Nutcracker” captured the fever of the early twentieth century, and the spirit of pioneers everywhere.