If you're like my family and me, then The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition. The score is as familiar as classic Christmas carols, and the story as well known as a favorite bedtime book. And if you go to Ballet Arizona's Nutcracker looking to witness the magic of the Nutcracker for what feels like the millionth time, you'll be satisfied.
Artistic director Ib Anderson's rendition of the show may not be the most youthful or creative around, but it's an enjoyable production for ballet aficionados and children alike.
The long and uneventful overture is the first in a series of missed opportunities. While watching nearly three minutes of video, you might wonder why such a wonderful piece of music wasn't inspiring enough to deserve choreography. It's the same story with the battle scene, which falls flat in both energy and action. The most prominent example might be the last scene of the first act, which overuses literal smoke and figurative mirrors to distract from its one-dimensional choreography.
You might find Roman Zavarov's performance as Herr Drosselmeyer underwhelming as we did. His dancing dolls, played by Raychel Weiner and Randy Crespo, also landed slightly off the mark, dancing more gracefully than springy, as you'd imagine mechanical dolls to be.
The best scene of the first act is the snow scene, a prime example of beautifully choreographed chaos. Dressed in long white tutus, the corps of dancers form geometric shapes and execute complicated formation changes and roll-offs. As the music builds to a crescendo - the fake snow falling thicker than ever - the dancers begin a dizzying series of hopping turns that's simple but beautiful.
Of the dances in the Land of Sweets, the Arabian Coffee is a likely favorite. Jessica Phillips and Myles Lavallee perform the duet nearly perfectly, executing the complex lifts with fascinating accuracy. Jay Markov and Brian Leonard's high-energy performance of the Russian Trepak is a sure crowd-pleaser, but the standout of the second act is Jillian Barrell as the Dew Drop. Barrell, who also played the role of Snow Queen in this production, is light as a feather and a joy to watch.
Tzu-Chia Huang as the Sugar Plum Fairy is technically faultless, or at least almost, but lacks some of the magnetism required of a bonafide prima ballerina.
I won't lie and say this is my favorite version of The Nutcracker, but it's a solid show nonetheless. It would be nice to see more live action and fewer fancy effects, but the high-quality production elements might just appeal to those once-a-year audience members looking for holiday entertainment rather than classical ballet. And that's okay.
The Nutcracker runs through Tuesday, December 24, at Symphony Hall. Tickets ($25 and up) are available via www.balletaz.org.
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