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Media City Ballet

'The Nutcracker'

by Kathy Lee Scott

December 9, 2007 -- Alex Theatre, Glendale, California

'Tis the season for "Nutcracker," but unlike New York City, where citizens have multiple professional troupes from which to choose, Los Angelinos have semi-professional groups performing the classic show. One is Burbank-based Media City Ballet, whose "Nutcracker" featured a working magician, local ballerinas and a horde of children in brilliant costumes. The matinee on Dec. 9, 2007, was held at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale, California.

MCB's artistic director, Natasha Middleton, choreographed the two-act ballet after the tradition of Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, of which her father was a member. Seventeen-year-old Amara Baptist reprised her role as young Clara to magician Craig Dickens' Drosselmeyer. Edgar Nikolyan danced both Drosselmeyer's nephew and the Nutcracker Prince.

Dickens brought a couple of his magic boxes from which the mechanical dolls appeared and his levitating skill to raise Clara off her bed. As Clara, Baptist failed to relevé to full pointe on her right foot repeatedly. Her foot was either weak or injured. Despite her thinness, she appeared heavy when Nikolyan struggled to lift her on a few overhead positions.

Several of the major parts were double cast, a common practice. Especially impressive was Courtney Croitori, who danced Columbina, the mechanical doll, appeared in the Snow quartet and also appeared as the Sugar Plum Fairy. This last role is difficult itself, deemed the most intense role by some dancers. In the last coda, Croitori began to tire, opting for single piqué turns.

Admirable in his two strenuous roles, the toy solider and Spanish dancer, was Tyler Nelson. As the former, his jumps cleared high, and his sharpness in the latter brought a torreador to mind.  Most accomplished among the cast was April Lynn McLeod, who danced Snow Queen and Spanish. She attacked the movements surely and held her poses with minimal wobbles. Her Snow King, Arsen Serobian, fumbled a bit on one overhead lift but recovered to roll her into the fish pose. In contrast, Nelson securely held her aloft on one arm in an incredible, stylistic pose during the Spanish dance. McLeod became Spanish with her noble posture and sharp movements.

As expected, Steven Woodruff enjoyed his Rat King role. He hammed it up during both the battle and death scene. His mice came equipped with bright red eyes that lit up, making them more menacing when they first appeared on stage.  A few of the corps dancers displayed disappointing pointe technique. They failed to remember their trailing feet, which relaxed into flopping appendages. One unfortunate Flower slipped on a piqué turn but she rebounded bravely and finished the dance unscathed.  Another disturbing practice by the corps concerned wearing noisy pointe shoes for the performance. They clumped through the Snow scene and Flower waltz, almost obscuring the music.

The three dancers in Reed Flutes (Shannon Grant, Kristine Gregorian and Andee Tims) wore gorgeous dresses of mint green and pink with small hats. Kudos should go to costume coordinators Chisato DuBose and Anna Leiker. The tempo of the recorded music seemed too slow, leading to lethargic movements and sloppy, missed beats.

Both men in the Russian and Chinese dances (Artour Sangueli and Nicholas Muller, respectively) shone, the ladies complementing their moves (Ruzanna Avetisyan, Megan Mendoza in Russian; Yoko Ambe, Tatiana A'Virmond in Chinese). However, Muller’s  turnout failed him.  Gabrielle Palmatier and Eduardo Larios Cueto wound themselves around each other in the Arabian dance, interacting well with each other. Two aerialists, Brenda Hamilton and Tania Pierce, framed them; the aerialists hung from flame-red fabric and maneuvered their bodies from entwined hands and feet.

What most parents waited for came next: Mother Ginger (Philippe Leibzig) and her Gingerbreads and Punchinellas. Their almost neon-colored costumes brightened the stage as the youngsters tormented the dancer in drag.  During the Waltz of the Flowers, Felicia Guzman as Dew Drop kept her face toward the audience almost to the extreme. She tended to ignore her partner (Serobian) at times.

Despite a few minor technical difficulties, the magic of Tchaikovsky's music and Media City Ballet's dancers entertained the afternoon audience.

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