Thursday, December 6, 2012

KC Ballet "Nutcracker" review by watchNwrite

The Nutcracker brings Lukewarm Applause Rating: 3

The Nutcracker
Kansas City Ballet

The Kansas City Ballet Company opened "The Nutcracker" on December 1st with a matinee and then presented an evening performance at 7:30pm - only to receive lukewarm reactions from its audience. With choreography by Todd Bolender, this production proves to be less-than-efficient at really inspiring the Christmas spirit. From poorly-acted gestures to overly-focused faces, it is hard to enjoy the piece without worrying about what the dancers are worried about.

Robert Fletcher had his work cut out for him as the Scenic and Costume Designer. Both the set and costumes remain right at the expectation for what "The Nutcracker" should look like, bringing a brightness and nostalgia that is familiar to anyone who has previously seen the production. For newcomers, though, they act as vehicles to achieving the sort of magic that is so highly-associated with this ballet. The moments we look forward to - the growing tree and the Snow Forest - were exquisitely successful due to the Costume and Scenic Design. Lighting Design by Kirk Bookman fully supported the costumes and the set, working together to create some gorgeous technical moments. However, the Kingdom of the Sweets section gets rather monotonous due to minimal, if not absent, changes in lighting.

The Choreography left something to be desired and was the weakest aspect of the show as a whole. Bolender does provide interesting and dynamic moments, indeed, but other portions - like the children's dances and the Arabian Coffee dance - had several disappointing moments. While the children appeared to have training, most of them did not appear to have any idea why they were onstage. Completely absent faces and unmotivated gestures plagued the entire party scene. The kids' choreography did not handle the balance between classic ballet and childish charm well. The Arabian dance was another disappointment; danced by Arielle Espie and Craig Hall, the dance did not meet the difficulty expected for this portion. Both dancers were missing some of the enchantment of these characters as well.

Moving through the show, the first relevant moment of this ballet was the Mechanical Dolls dance, danced by Nadia Iozzo and Michael Davis. The dance is a bit awkward, standing out a bit from the other somewhat drab and unclean dancing in the party scene. But the extremely rigid and freakish style of the dancers is welcome as a fresh and interesting moment. Josh Spell as the Nutcracker is very strong; during the Battle, there are few moments that are as solid as Spell's dancing. The Mouse King, Geoffrey Kropp, and his Mice are not nearly as animated as one would like to see in this dreamy and over-stated ballet, and the Battle was almost climactic. The CPR joke was the strongest moment by far as it completely captures the attention of the audience as we transition into the Snow Forest. The Snow King and Queen (Jill Marlow and Logan Pachciarz) looked a bit tense on this particular evening, struggling slightly in the Pas de Deux, but they make up for it with certain moments.
As with all large group numbers in this production, the Snowflake dance was very pleasant and beautiful. The timing and execution of the dancers in large group dances became the best parts of the show. The entry of the Sugar Plum Fairy is in stark contrast to the Snow King and Queen; Laura Wolfe as the Sugar Plum Fairy was weightless and delightful with a strong carriage and lovely grace. Her presence of mind and character only make one wish her fellow cast members had the same performance level. Her Cavalier, Marty Davis, with his solid jumps and lines, was an additionally beautiful dancer and a strong support for Wolfe.

Once we really get into the Kingdom of Sweets, we start off with the Spanish Chocolate dance, which is completely overrun by Ian Poulis, whose face is remarkably dramatic to the point of being downright distracting (however pleasantly humorous). He and his partner, Sarah Walborn, worked well together to lead the dance with power. The Arabian dance, as mentioned above, is danced by Espie and Hall, and was either weakly-choreographed or choreographed only to the abilities of the dancers. Either way, it did not do the historically-impressive reputation of this dance justice. The Chinese Tea dance (danced by Josh Spell with Rachel Coats and Aisling Hill-Connor), while incorporating both character and classic ballet, stands as the strongest of the culture-based dances. The Russian Ribbon Candy lead, Ryan Nye, was strong, but his eagle toe-touches were less-than-impressive. Tempe Ostergren as the lead in the Dance of the Reed Pipes was strong as she exhibits lovely control over her limbs and face. From here on out, all the dancers become sufficiently entertaining in their group numbers, solos included. The buffoons were especially pleasant, and the Flowers were stunning. Angelina Sansone as Dew Drop worked her long legs and arms into divine lines and extensions; at times, it is easy to worry she will lose control over the length of her limbs, but she never does.

The Grand Finale goes off with more of a firework than a bang, and it kind of makes for a ultimately-mediocre climax. However, it was in sync and executed proficiently, but it seemed more like the dancers themselves were running out of steam. Though there were dull moments and disappointing performances, it can't be said that with some changes of casting (which is planned), this ballet cannot be truly stunning. The lights are ready. The set is ready. The costumes are ready. The ballet technique is ready. The Kansas City Ballet just needs to smack with character and intensity a bit more.

"The Nutcracker" plays through the 23rd of December, incorporating multiple matinee performances, and if you're in the Christmas spirit, this ballet could be the topping to your cherry pie. If you're not already excited about it, "The Nutcracker" could wind up being more of a dry experience for you.

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