An Easy Nut To Crack
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker”
Opening Saturday Matinee, 11 December 2010
Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon
by Dean Speer
When Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director, Christopher Stowell, had the wisdom, foresight, and ability to acquire George Balanchine’s iconic 1954 “The Nutcracker,” it was a fortuitous venture indeed. OBT is the only company west of the Mississippi that performs the Balanchine "Nutcracker.".
Lucky for Portland and lucky for OBT as it’s given them a “brand” that has become closely associated as a company calling card.
Choreographically, Balanchine is at his best here in the two, large group dances – the Snowflakes that conclude Act I and the Waltz of the Flowers that precedes the Grand Pas de Deux [the climax of the ballet – which everyone expectantly awaits whether they know it or not].
It’s also thin in a couple of places, particularly the bed swirling about the stage carrying a prone Marie, whereas most productions have something like a Snow King and Queen Pas de Deux instead. Really, its glorious music is, I believe, squandered here...not to mention the poor (uncredited)“bed boy” having to maneuver this thing smoothly from underneath while trying to peer through white sheer bed skirts.
Thrilling in the Grand Pas de Deux were Yuka Iino, Sugar Plum Fairy and Chauncey Parsons, her Cavalier. OBT is lucky to have both, particularly a male find like Parsons who has it all – the line and carriage of a danseur noble, terrific technique, and solid partnering skills. Hewell deserves his Principal Dancer title, as does Iino with her ability to make endless turns, display fearless technique, and show her radiant smile and joy in what she does.
Balanchine here, and in the person of Dewdrop [Candace Bouchard], throws at them some of the most difficult, challenging yet satisfying and fun steps and sequences of the ballet vocabulary. Fouettées in unusual combinations, piqué balances, gargouillades for the women and double tours, coupé jeté in attitude en menage, and multiple pirouettes including grand relevé a la seconde for Parsons. Very exciting indeed.
Outstanding too were Kathi Martuza as Coffee, in a part revised and created for the great Gloria Govrin. Martuza brought her considerable gifts to each nuance of this mysterious solo – strength, accuracy, suspension in balances and turns.
Javier Ubell in Chinese Tea displayed his amazing elevation and ease of execution of allegro steps.
Trying for a date was the outrageously funny buffoon of the drag Mother Ginger, courtesy of guest artist Kevin Poe. A giantess on stilts, Ginger mocks herself as well as flirting with the audience, “directing” one member to call her on the phone. The platoon of kids who pop out from her circus tent-sized skirt are all well schooled and trained students from OBT’s academy.
Even though the company did not get an orchestra rehearsal [budget, I presume], the mighty OBT Orchestra never the less sounded quite good, with Niel DePonte at the baton, accompanying the dancers and choreography seamlessly.
OBT’s Balanchine “The Nutcracker” is a really good time at the ballet. Portlanders should flock to and support this production, and hopefully through this support, restore live orchestra for every show, not just half the run. Nothing replaces acoustic music and sound and this production sings and soars at its best when musicians fill the pit.