‘The Nutcracker’ at Ballet Theatre of Maryland at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts

A sure sign the holiday season is in full swing is the annual return of classic ballet, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. It is almost as iconic as Santa Claus, a Christmas tree and catching the final play on TV of the Army-Navy game. (Navy won. Again.)

Photo courtesy of Maryland Ballet Theatre.
Photo ©Nick Eckert for Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

The Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s annual production did not disappoint.

It was a sugar-coated magical evening.

This year, The Nutcracker returned to the stage of Maryland Hall, formerly a high school, with a new Kingdom of Sweets backdrop, a piece of scenery so sweet one could gain weight just staring at it. The elabortely painted screen featured candy cane mouldings and drapes made of pink sugar glaze topped with sprinkles. On either side of the doorway were potted topiary composed of rainbow colored swirl pops. The multi-colored panes in the tall, arched windows appeared to be made of sugar.

It joined the other two backdrop sets: one for the party scenes in Clara’s home that includes a decorated Christmas tree that grows, and a scene in the Snow Kingdom.

The show, first staged in Russia in December 1892, has endured through the ages, and is a treat for kids of all ages.

What’s not to like? It is a lush afternoon or evening of  fantasy filled with ballroom dancers, fairies, gypsies, Russian, Chinese, and Spanish dancers, dancing flowers and buds, fighting toy soldiers and giant rats, and a happy ending.

In modern terms – as one of my own kids expressed it a few Nutcrackers back – Barbie Doll gets her Boy Toy.

The story has no surprises in the plot – just in how it is executed.

In a sense, it’s the Olympics for ballet dancers at all levels of professionalism and talent. Their grace and athleticism are on display in several beautiful solos, paired dances and in the small and large group performances.

They did not disappoint.

There is, seemingly, a cast of hundreds of adults and children.

For the young performers, many of whom were on stage for the first time, you can see it’s magic for them, too.

This show had a lot of them puckishly sticking out their tongues and indulging in toy swordplay. Alexa McFall (who, late in the show, did a cartwheel using only one hand) was excellent as Clara’s younger sister Louise. She endures torments from her bratty brother Fritz, portrayed by Emily Davis.

The music was recorded, but, with the theater at Maryland Hall’s recent upgrade and renovation, the sound was lush and enveloping.

Costume Design and Wardrobe Mistress Alyssa Johnson Taylor, and Seamstresses Anne Booth and Susan Johnson, deserve congratulations for their hundreds of lavish, beautifully made costumes that were spiraling across the stage.

Four costumes, however, were a wink at the hometown crowd.

In the fight scene between the giant rats and the toy soldiers, most of the adult and child-size rats were dressed in standard furry fare body suits and rat masks. Two of the rats skittered out sporting Naval Academy midshipmen dress parade jackets,  complete with double rows of brass buttons. The Rat Queen wore an old Naval Academy tuxedo cutaway jacket with some eratz braid and medals. On her head was the outdated female “cover” or hat adorned with a pair of large rat ears and a face mask.

The military people in the audience convulsed with laughter.

(And, in the party scenes, the “Admiral” wore a dress uniform with a lower rank insignia.)

This production is a BIG production. So much so, there are four casts with interchangeable leads at every performance.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Ballet Theatre.
Photo courtesy of Maryland Ballet Theatre.

The winning Clara I saw (Nicole Kelsch) in Cast A does not appear in that role in the other three cast listings. Alexander Collen performed as the Nephew (Nutcracker) in Cast A, and returns in Cast C. In Cast B and D, the role is played by Diego Sosa, who made a strong impression as the Admiral (in party scenes) and the Spanish Guy.

Other terrific leads in this version included:

  • Al Kessler as Drosselmyer, who proves people over “a certain age” can still dance beautifully. And, no one swirls a cape or commands the stage like he does.
  • The statuesque Alyssa Taylor as Frau Silberhaus and the Dew Drop Fairy. She had several beautiful solos in the show.
  • Gaia Rappaport as the Snow Queen, and Calder Taylor as the Snow King.
  • Jillian Cyr as the Chinese Lead. Gaia Rappaport was also the charming Ballerina Doll.
  • Rachal Leonard as Mother Gypsy, with the world’s largest skirt – and the guy who carries her around onstage, Aaron Bauer.
  • Heidi Erickson as the Gypsy Doll.
  • Christine Humbach as the Maid.
  • Mark McCormack and Alden Taylor as Party Dads.

At the top of the show, Dianna Cuatto, the artistic director, addressed the audience. During her speech, she mentioned several dancers wear out two pairs of toe shoes during each performance, at a cost of $75 per pair.

Watching the show, with all the leads exhibiting excellent balletic prowess, it is easy to understand how the thin satin covered shoes are worn out from spinning, leaping, gliding and sliding across the stage.

The male dancers, especially the leads, deserve credit for all the hoisting, holding, carrying and carting these guys do. Sure, this is not ballet-speak, but this is a lot harder than simply lifting a deadweight at the gym. They are strong, athletic, possess split-second timing (to toss or catch their spinning partner), and immeasurably graceful. It is amazing to watch them in action.

Then, they stand back and let their partner take the applause.

A delightful performance for all ages.

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

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The Nutcracker plays through December 20, 2015  at Ballet Theatre of Maryland, performing at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street, in Annapolis, Maryland. For tickets, call or purchase them online.

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Wendi Winters
Wendi Winters is a writer, reporter, columnist and photographer - and a former NYC public relations executive. A good portion of her career has been in public relations - backed by solid experience in fashion retailing, wholesaling, textiles, marketing, advertising, design and promotion. She owned her own successful fashion public relations/advertising/special events/runway show production firm for seven years. As a journalist, she was the first freelancer to bring a journalism award home to The Capital - and then earned two more awards. Since May 2013, Ms. Winters has been a full time staff member at Capital Gazette Communications. Prior to that, she freelanced for the company for twelve years. Including her three weekly columns, she writes more than 250 articles annually. Her writing byline has appeared in Details Magazine, What's Up? Annapolis Magazine, and numerous others. She's been a feature writer for Associated Press Special Features and for Copley News Service. For years, her fashion critic columns ran in the NYC weeklies Manhattan Spirit and Our Town. Since moving to this area in 1999, as a D.C./Baltimore-area theatre critic, her reviews appeared in Theatre Spotlight and The Review. Plus, she was a Helen Hayes Awards nominator for two terms. Mother of four, she continues to be active as a Girl Scout leader and a regional church youth advisor. You bet she can make a mean S'More!