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 Post subject: Review: Nutcracker in Hartford, CT presented by Dance Co
PostPosted: Sun Dec 29, 2002 4:55 pm 

Joined: Mon Jan 22, 2001 12:01 am
Posts: 132
Location: Southwick, MA, USA
Kirk Peterson's The Nutcracker 'charms' and 'wows' audiences with Sandra Woodall's stunning costumes and décor, its spectacular scene changes, and the rolls it provides for young dancers. Its affective success, however, follows on its dramatic coherence and the endless flow of choreographic ideas quickened by the subtleties of Tchaikovsky's music.

"It's December in the year 1855," the program informs us, "Junius Brutus Booth, the famed actor, and his family have invited famous guests from San Francisco and California to visit the Yosemite Valley for Christmas Eve celebration." Although Peterson retains the plot and characters familiar to the Nutcracker (meaning the libretto written by Vsevolozhsky), he sets the action in mid-nineteenth century America and creates characters on contemporary historical personages. For example, a famous magician, Hermann the Great becomes Drosselmayer, while Lotte Crabtree and Edwin Booth become the characters of Clara and Fritz. This relocation, if more in space than time, immediately connects Peterson's Nutcracker to American audiences. Additionally, Peterson relocates the court of the Sugar Plum Faerie Queen from the Kingdom of Sweets to the Enchanted Plum Tree Garden. In fact, in Act II, Peterson builds a Faerieland complete with Throne, King, Queen, Faerieletette attendants, and Mushroom citizens. The effort Peterson makes to create this supernatural world, including the Old French spelling of Faerie, is incantatory and means to evoke, the way Tchaikovsky sonically evokes with celesta and harp, the reality of the fairy world. Importantly, and in addition to marking a vivid contrast between the 'real' world of Act I and the dream of Act II, the emphasis on the Faerie world offers reasons for dancing. Recall, for instance, that a rule at the Paris Opera during this time (mid 1800's) held that only those beings that could dance in 'reality' could dance on stage- Faeries, spirits, etc. being at the top of the list. By carefully building the Sugar Plum's world, Peterson reinstalls a dramatic element significant to ballet tradition, describes the time period of his Nutcracker by alluding to its medieval interests, and offers a clear motivation for the contents, the divertissement that feature the magical aspects of the flora, fauna, land, and spirits of the American West, of Lotte's dream.

In fact, for Peterson's fans his return to Hartford is a dream- come- true. And, the accumulative delight and excitement that proclaimed the opening night of his Nutcracker enhanced the season's good cheer ten fold. Moreover, cheers and applause greeted the appearances of former Hartford Ballet dancers Tim Melady as Emperor Norton and again as the Native American Shaman (in later performances he also danced the role of Junius Brutus Booth), James Graber as Hermann the Great, Carlos Molina as the Sugar Plum Cavalier, and Cheryl Madeux as the Snow Faerie Queen. Joining them in this grand event were ABT soloist Michele Wiles as the Sugar Plum Faerie Queen, Boston Ballet principal dancer, Paul Thrussell as the Snow Faerie King, and all twelve members of the ABT studio company. Additionally, as Nutcracker celebrates a young person's dream so to it celebrates young dancers. Students from the School of Dance Connecticut, the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts, and the Hartt School of the University of Hartford filled the countless roles of party scene guests and children, soldiers, mice, the Boss Rat, snowfaeries, bear, mushrooms, faerielettes, sunflowers, butterflies, Queen Bee, bumblebees, spider, flowers, and puppeteers.

Choreographically, however, Peterson completely re-thought the artistic expectations of Nutcracker. His re-thinking returned a dignified ballet that plies deeply into the music. It rewards those that suspend the throwaway, take-it-for-granted-ness that plagues this seasonal favorite. Consider, for example, the Dance of the Reed Flutes, deleted in some productions of Nutcracker. Titled Lacewings and set on four ladies on pointe the characters alone reflect the delicacy of the music's sonority. However, the continuous weave of deceptively simple contrapuntal 'writing' for groups, paired and in opposition, and the choice of petite, picking type steps and turns embody the music's humming rhythms, the pizzicato strings, and the clustered scoring for flutes. Moreover, the choreography neatly etches the lyrical interactions of lacewings in a Faerie world.

In the performances given by Cheryl Madeux as Snow Faerie Queen and Michele Wiles as the Sugar Plum Faerie Queen the boundaries between dance and music all but disappeared. The heart-melting allure, the lush harmonies of Madeux's dancing resonated with the Nutcracker's most melodious moments and exposed therefore the sweep and depth of the Snow pas music for all to see. And, Vishnu-like, Wiles displayed the power of her Queenly station, particularly during her Sugar pas variation, when the music seemed to emanate from her. In the end, however, the musical magic of Kirk Peterson's The Nutcracker worked so well, in fact went- over- the-top, because of the artistry of Glen Adsit, conductor, and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

<small>[ 31 December 2002, 07:21 PM: Message edited by: S. E. Arnold ]</small>

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