There are certain things that always signal the holiday season: among others, candy canes, Santa Claus in the mall, and The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker is the ballet of the holiday season, and Ballet West’s production of Willam Christensen’s The Nutcracker at The Kennedy Center is one of my favorite productions. From the moment the lights went down and that familiar overture began, I and the audience were as enthralled as any small child.
The Nutcracker tells the story of Clara, a young girl given a Nutcracker in the form of a small soldier. Later in the night, the Nutcracker comes to life and fights the Mouse King, but at a crucial moment, Clara distracts the Mouse King and the Nutcracker is able to successfully defeat him. After the battle, the Nutcracker is magically transformed into a handsome prince and Clara and the prince go to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where they are entertained by a variety of dances before saying goodbye to the Sugar Plum Fairy and her kingdom.
Ballet West, first and foremost, has excellent dancers. They combine both technical skill with grace, athleticism, and beauty: ballet at its finest. Both the corps de ballet and the soloists are outstanding, making this production of The Nutcracker truly one to remember. Special standouts include the Sugar Plum Fairy (Christiana Bennett) and her Cavalier (Christopher Rudd), The Snow Queen (Haley Henderson-Smith), The King (Easton Smith), and the “Waltz of the Flowers” pas de deux dancers, Emily Adams and Rex Tilton. The children as well were fantastic — pulled almost entirely from the Washington DC area — and at times they stole the show, such as the tumbling children who emerged from Mother Buffoon’s skirts. And of course, Clara (Anastasia Markova) and Fritz, (Henry Winn) were delightful.
Of course, the ability of the dancers was complemented and enhanced by Willam Christensen’s beautiful choreography. It was never trite or obvious, but interesting and inventive, truly turning the familiar production of this Nutcracker into something new and fresh.
One of the most fun things about this production is the humor it finds in all the moments: the interactions between the children are humorously reminiscent of reality, while the battle between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker prince and their respective armies was hilarious as the mice tried to revive their king and failed, and other small moments that made this production stand out from the rest in the storytelling department.
Contributing to the magical mood of this production were the great special effects: various magic tricks performed by Dr. Drosselmeyer (Beau Pearson), a cannon during the battle between The Mouse King and the Nutcracker prince, and even falling snow during the dance of the Snow Queen, her Cavalier, and her snowflakes. Likewise, the beautiful costumes by David Heuvel and the lighting by Nicholas Cavallaro all contributed to the magic of this production.
There are always numerous productions of The Nutcracker during the holiday season, yet if you only see one, be sure it is Ballet West’s production of Willam Christensen’s The Nutcracker at The Kennedy Center.
Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Ballet West: The Nutcracker plays through December 9, 2012, in The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.