Oregon Ballet Theatre's 'Nutcracker'
by Dean Speer
December 10, 2011 -- Keller Auditorium, Portland, OR
Located in Bandon on the dramatic and rugged Oregon coast, aficionados of Northwest treats will quickly recognize Cranberry Sweets as the purveyor of one of the best exports this cranberry capital has to offer.
Located in downtown Portland at Keller Auditorium is the cranberry colored front drop that’s used for Oregon Ballet Theatre’s production of Balanchine’s “Nutcracker,” which gave us ballet-goers the feel and sense of the holiday treat we were all in for during this opening performance of their annual December run.
"Nut" is paired with a terrific show created last year, OBT’s “Holiday Revue." The lobby was paired with a nut roaster, from which the wonderfully pungent scents of cinnamon roasted walnuts captivated us each time we entered.
Some of the best aspects of the Balanchine “Nutcracker” are its two, large ensemble pieces – the Dance of the Snowflakes and in Act II, the Waltz of the Flowers.
One of my writer colleagues has commented on the high technical level demanded by the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and of the Dewdrop [who leads the Flowers]. I would add to that list the lead Marzipan Shepherdess, very ably danced by Julia Rowe, who essayed her assignment with aplomb. The five Shepherdesses really engage and deploy many, if not nearly all, aspects of that ballet technique speciality – pointe work. That and it’s interesting choreography. Piqués, coupé relevés, pirouettes, “walks” – passe pieds through the ballet positions done sharply and precisely.
Instead of a typical Russian character dance, this version has dancing Candy Canes, one of whom – Chauncey Parsons – whips his hula hoop under his legs and then over his whole body, while in the air. His saut de chats á la seconde [mid-air splits in second position with both legs to side, in line with the ears], perfectly etched and hovering. His buoyancy and lightness were exciting and refreshing.
Javier Ubell’s elevation in the extended and traveling jumps of Chinese Tea delighted and lifted us up onto the edges of our seats, as did the charm of the two attendants, Elle Shelby and Elizabeth Shew.
Thomas Baker’s playful and over-the-top [big top, literally] drag Mother Ginger was a snappy and lively vignette, unleashed a batch of “Polichinelles” whose cheerful skipping and bright visages were appropriately perky and fun.
OBT is fortunate to have snagged one of the best ballet dancers around in the personage of Dewdrop Yuka Iino who clearly showed the technical demands of the Balanchine choreography.
Speaking of unleashing, it was a pleasure to enjoy OBT’s newest pas de deux couple, principals, Haiyan Wu [Sugar Plum] and her Cavalier, Yang Zou. Wu’s strength and experience were clear, as was Zou’s partnering, yet she exhibited some opening night nerves; I’m confident that a relaxed demeanor will be 100 percent there as they settle into the run. My one piece of coaching advice would be for her to mitigate how she expresses “Wow, look at this” via an open mouth. This is an unnecessary habit that cloys at the audience. A regular and real smile would serve better.
A grand afternoon at the ballet, with the full and mighty OBT Orchestra, led by maestro Niel DePonte.
Both shows, having lifted our spirits, sent us out into the scented atmosphere, sighing and looking for more cranberry sweets.
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