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Review: ‘The Nutcracker’ at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre

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Metropolitan Ballet Theatre’s 28th annual production of The Nutcracker is a veritable feast for the senses. With a gorgeous array of costumes, a set that will evoke contented sighs from any Downton Abbey fan and choreography that highlights the diverse ages and skill levels of Metropolitan Ballet Theatre’s student base, this holiday staple is a highlight of the Montgomery County, Maryland arts scene.

The cast of The Nutcracker. Photo by Goli Kaviani for Metropolitan Ballet Theatre 2016.

The cast of The Nutcracker. Photo by Goli Kaviani for Metropolitan Ballet Theatre 2016.

I have seen Metropolitan Ballet Theater’s (MBT) The Nutcracker a few times, and I found the 2016 production to be the strongest, tightest yet. Drawing on their student base for a majority of the dancers, The Nutcracker leaves no doubt that MBT is a dance school of the highest caliber.

Staged and choreographed by Elizabeth Odell Catlett and Katerina Rodgaard, MBT’s production is styled after the original 1892 production which featured the beloved Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky score and staging by Marius Petipa.

Catlett and Rodgaard’s precise choreography succeeds in capturing the soaring familiar melodies and uplifting moments in Tchaikovsky’s music. Great care was clearly taken to showcase the diversity of the dancers to create one fluid production. Throughout the show, the dancers seemed uniformly confident and prepared.

Noteworthy performances were given by MBT’s pre-professional students. Annebeth Heller, as the Lead Arabian dancer moved with captivating, sinewy grace (The entire performance of the Arabian Corps was notable for its uniqueness and tight synchronization.) Jennifer Bivin and Pardiss Kaviani seemed to defy gravity as the Lead Flowers and Shreeya Chowdhury was a strong Dewdrop.

Meredith Hwang and Renat Osmonov in The Nutcracker. Photo by Goli Kaviani for Metropolitan Ballet Theatre.

Meredith Hwang and Renat Osmonov in The Nutcracker. Photo by Goli Kaviani for Metropolitan Ballet Theatre.

Meredith Hwang returns this year for her second turn as the Sugar Plum Fairy. I saw Hwang in this role last year, when she shared the part with a professional dancer. It is a testament to her growth as a ballerina that she was entrusted with this demanding role for all ten performances this year. Hwang’s performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy was worthy of leading lady status and there was great chemistry between her and Renat Osmonov, who bounded across the stage in a series of dizzying spins in the role of the Cavalier.

The ensemble members performed as tight units, most notably in the beautiful Land of Snowflakes scene which evoked the beauty of a Russian winter as the dancers in frothy white skirts danced under the soft fall of snow. (Costume design by Laura Baxter, Elizabeth Odell Catlett, Jennifer Hausdorfer and Tracie Strucker. Set design by Ryan Catlett, Elizabeth Odell Catlett and Jay Reilly.)

The younger members of the company were adorable as mice, toy soldiers, angels, and of course the many polichinelles of Mother Ginger.

In a lovely community tradition now in its second year, MBT invites local leaders and celebrities to play the role of Mother Ginger for one or more performance. While raising awareness for arts education in Montgomery County, this year’s special guest Mother Gingers (listed below) each put their own stamp on this fun cameo role. It was great fun to see how these guest performers took to the stage!

Metropolitan Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker is a joy for children and adults alike. It has become a staple of my family’s holiday traditions and I highly recommend it to others!

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The Nutcracker performs through this Sunday, December 11, 2016, at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre performing at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center – 51 Manakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For tickets call (301) 762-1757 , or purchase them online.

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Guest Mother Gingers: Melanie Alnwick (Anchor and Reporter, Fox 5); Rob Wu (Councilmember, City of Gaithersburg); The Great Zucchini (DC’s #1 entertainer for young children); Angie Goff, (Anchor and Reporter, NBC 4); Heather Katz (MBT alumn and actress); Tony Spearman-Leach (Director, Montgomery Community Media); John Kelley (Quince Orchard High School Varsity Football Coach); and Nancy Floreen (President, Montgomery County Council).

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