Custom and Tailor-Made to Wear -- A Review of Pacific Northwest Ballet's Closing Nutcracker Performance for 2004
by Dean Speer
If ever a ballet company looked better than PNB at the conclusion of its perennial run of Nutcracker, I don’t know which it would be. I found that nearly 40 performances had finely burnished this already tight and highly proficient ensemble of artists. Having caught the evening show of the first day of the run (Friday of Thanksgiving weekend), it was interesting to reflect on how the two compared, overall, and with a different cast.
The Company as a whole looked physically stronger, completely alert and totally in command of the material. And in the context of the material, many dancers were pushing themselves beyond the median and doing extraordinary things, even at this juncture, which was thrilling and rewarding. Among these in particular were Maria Chapman as the “Peacock” who used rubato effectively as an interpretive device. For example when she held an arabesque, she *really* held it, and made up the time for it as she moved into the next pose and sequence. She made what is already an exotic dance, exciting, and truly phrased the choreography.
Olivier Wevers as Herr Drosselmeier really got under the skin of this complex, and in this version, dark(er) character. I liked how his gestures and body language in the opening really told the audience of his thought process in coming up with the scheme of making a triangle of the Nutcracker Prince, the Rat King, and Clara and pitting the Rat against and playing up Clara’s worst nightmare, which he then carried over into the “actual” Party Scene, and concluding in Act II with his maniacal laughter at having duped Clara into coming to the Pasha’s exotic land and revealing himself to her and that it was all a fake. The “adult” Clara then crumples into a pile of crying, quivering Jello and runs off, only to reveal that it was “young” Clara really having a bad dream. Wevers is a very talented principal dancer with an impressive and in-depth European background who can not only look and be a danseur noble but who also enjoys character parts as well.
Speaking of “adult” Clara, this was my first time enjoying the interpretation of principal dancer Carrie Imler. She was very well matched with soloist Batkhurel Bold, a Russian-trained Mongolian. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Bold from the moment he first joined PNB in 1996 and I have to wonder if he realizes just how good he is! Sympathetic partnering throughout and 400 watt solo turns. He has amazing elevation and balon. Ms. Imler was regal and carried the part consistently, never flagging in her characterization nor in deploying her steely technique and bright interpretation. In an earlier interview for Criticaldance.com, she observed how she enjoys allegro, jumping and such and this was abundantly clear as she moved boldly through the Sugar Plum Fairy solo (it is not called this in this production, but that’s what it is) and with the Grand Pas de Deux. She expresses confidence to such a degree that it has the wonderful effect of relaxing the audience which allows us to enjoy the ballet even more.
And what can I say about Dewdrop (my titling!) of Noelani Pantastico, whom I predict will soon someday become a Principal. Her fearlessness and attack in everything come very close to matching one of my favorite joys, Colleen Neary who absolutely sizzled through and in everything she danced. Probably there isn’t anyone on the planet to match her but Ms. Pantastico reaches to that level and in her own way. Radiant. Someone else who also held balances and poses and who pushed herself in a way that was fun and most pleasing.
Also of special note from Act I, are Kara Zimmerman as the Ballerina Doll, Jordan Pacitti as the Sword-Dancer Doll, and in the Masque that continues to play out Clara’s nightmare were the trio Kylee Kitchens, Nicholas Ade, and Josh Spell.
Karel Cruz, whose legs are wonderfully endless, with beautiful line played a strong chief Warrior Mouse. My only suggestion for interpretive guidance would be for him to continue to develop an increasing sense of line and use of dynamic phrasing, such as rubato. For example, this character makes an entrance from downstage left and makes an attitude croisé (with a bit of a reverse) that I’d like to see held a bit longer before going charging off into the next sequence. In other words, I’d like to see him “model” the choreography a little more.
Artistic Directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell certainly deserve high praise and credit for commissioning and creating this 20-year old masterpiece of dance theatre.
Maestro Stewart Kershaw reached the milestone of his 500th PNB Nutcracker performance at this show and was thanked on stage by the Artistic Directors at the conclusion of the tutti bows.
Burnished though they were, I have to note that when the final curtain rang down, it was fun to hear the Company CHEER from backstage!
Of course, being the “Dizzy” Dean that I am, I look forward to PNB’s fun run of this ballet in 2004 and suggest, that if they can stand it, to extend the run some more. The houses I attended were packed with enthusiastic audience members.
<small>[ 02 January 2004, 06:06 PM: Message edited by: Dean Speer ]</small>