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Nashville Ballet

'The Nutcracker'

by Elizabeth McPherson

December 23, 2007 -- Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville, TN

Nashville Ballet has grown enormously in strength and in number over the last decade.

The company has increased both audience attendance and their support base in the Nashville community. At the last performance of “The Nutcracker” this season, the house was almost full and abuzz with anticipation.

The Nashville Ballet “Nutcracker” is a composite of choreography from the current company director, Paul Vasterling, and previous directors, as well as a bit of the traditional Lev Ivanov choreography (although Ivanov was not acknowledged in the program). Over thirty children perform in each of the four casts. The company is comprised of sixteen members, with six apprentices, and twenty-two more dancers in the second, pre-professional company.

The choreography covers all the traditional ground of the “Nutcracker” story with some unusual additions or changes, such as the inclusion of “Drossies” a band of miniature Drosselmeyers (played by children) who extend the reach of Drosselmeyer’s magic. Secondly, the mechanical dolls that Drosselmeyer brings to the party also appear in part of the scenery toward the beginning of the ballet. There are decorative columns on the apron of the stage, inside of which the dolls dance. The Chinese themed dance of Act II is interestingly staged with a traditional Chinese dragon running around the stage and choreography for the single male dancer that includes movements from traditional Chinese ribbon dance.

An unusual, but less effective, element is that the young  prince (evolved from the Nutcracker) was actually an adult man who later became the Sugarplum Fairy’s cavalier. This left Clara sitting all by herself through the entire second act. Although this may be in part due to the lack of young male dancers, I much prefer Clara’s prince to be her  contemporary. Finally, “Waltz of the Flowers” is performed at the beginning of Act II instead of the end. I was told by the public relations officer that this was to “liven up the ballet,” however it did not liven it up for me; instead it seemed oddly arbitrary.

In terms of dancing, the child clowns from Mother Ginger’s skirt were particularly endearing in their enthusiasm and joie de vivre. Mother Ginger was played by various guest celebrities such as ice skater Scott Hamilton, ten-time World Heavy-Weight Champion Jeff Jarrett, hockey player Darcy Hordichuck, and writer Chad Young.

A few of the corps de ballet seem destined for great opportunities and stood out for their sparkling performance quality. They include Asami Seki, Anna Jennings, and Krissy Johnson.

The most compelling solo dancing was seen in the Spanish dance performed by Grace Rich, Andrea Vierra, and Alan Alberto. These three dancers seemed to relish performing. They showed wonderful attack and drive, owning the choreography which employed slicing movements and body twists indicative of a Spanish-style bravura.

In contrast, the Russian dancers lacked skill and energy. This dance was exceedingly lackluster. In what should have been a “no holds barred” exclamation of extraordinary physical feats, we were given two dancers rambling along through choreography that seemed not to excite them or us.

I found the principal couples (Snow - Christine Rennie and Eddie Mikrut, Sugarplum - Sadie Harris and Jon Upleger, and Dew Drop - Kimberly Torcivia and Brian Williamson) to be cool. This could be due to the direction they were given or that this was the last “Nutcracker” performance, but there was little attempt to connect with the audience, to draw us into their world. The “Waltz of the Flowers” couple had more connection than the others, but all three couples’ movements lacked vivacity and an edge and risk-taking quality that would keep the audience engaged and thrilled to be a part of the experience instead of merely mildly entertained as one of my party described his experience.

The Nashville Symphony was similarly lacking in drive and energy. The music plodded on, and this is Tchaikovsky, hardly a “plodding” composer!

The overall impact was that the outline and technique were there, but the spark was missing in all but a few performers

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