Visions of sugar plum fairies quite literally danced in my head and into my heart last night at the Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s first performance of The Nutcracker this season, on November 23, 2016, at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts. This delightful version of the holiday classic, set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, will enchant you with its grace, its energy, and display of true talent.
This professional resident company of The Lyric in Baltimore will take The Nutcracker to its stage next weekend, on Saturday and Sunday December 3 and 4, 2016, and then will finish its run at The Maryland Hall for Creative Arts in Annapolis, MD for the following two weekends, December 10-11 and 17-18, 2016.
Just before the performance began, Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto made a few brief announcements about the history of The Nutcracker. (Apparently it wasn’t a popular ballet at first; the United States became a “Nutcracker Nation overnight” when George Balanchine’s 1954 production was THE TV event of that holiday season.) She also clued us in that there are some new additions to the this year’s production.
Ms. Cuatto has done a fine job creating the choreography and casting its principal dancers, soloists and demi-soloists – 15 in all. Surprisingly, they hail from places as far away as Scotland, Hong Kong, Cuba, and Paraguay, along with mid Atlantic states and New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio. These dancers, and the apprentices and trainees who rounded out the cast, performed with precision and pizzazz. They have clearly mastered their artistry of ballet, and dance with confidence and good cheer.
There were moments when the fancy footwork caught my attention, like Raydel Cacere who danced the Russian Doll, and Alyssa Johnson-Taylor, who performed the Dew Drop Fairy. There are other moments the dancers’ faces and their expressions of delight drew me in, like with the dancing of Sarah Gilliam, as the Chinese Lead, and all all those little girls under 4 feet tall.
If you aren’t familiar with The Nutcracker’s storyline, you’ll have the opportunity to read up on it in the extensive program notes, or you can read this synopsis.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s version puts special emphasis on the coming of age birthday and romance between Clara (Elizabeth Fritto) and the Nephew/Prince (Diego Sosa.) Their dances were beautiful to behold and conveyed a range of emotions, from fear and danger when fighting off the rats and mice in a nightmarish sequence, to awe and love as the ballet ends. Fritto and Sosa’s chemistry throughout the ballet was impressive.
Regarding the aforementioned rats, the Rat Queen (Corrine Elkins) has quite a last hurrah before succumbing to The Nutcracker Soldier’s stabbed wound. It was an unexpected comical touch which the audience appreciated. Other amusing bits were throughout the opening scene of the Christmas party, where acting and reacting to one another was as much a part of story as the dancing.
The audience conveyed their enthusiasm with the company of the dancers at several points in the ballet. Many of the soloists and supporting cast received hearty applause as they headed for the wings when they finished their time in the spotlight. They masterfully executed elaborate lifts, leaps, spins, particularly the Snow Queen and Snow King (Nicole Kelsch and Alexander Collen), and the Arabian Guy and Arabian Girl (Alden Taylor and Samantha Lucas).
Part of the fun of watching this ballet is its feast for the eyes provided by the costumes and the set design. This Nutcracker offers a glorious range of colors and fabrics for the dancers to wear, especially for the Act 2 dances that highlight different nationalities. Sure, there are plenty of pink tutus, but there’s also that fantastic oversized cape with the purple lining worn with a flourish by Clara’s Godfather, Herr Drosselmeier (Albert Kessler), so here’s a special nod to Costume Design and Wardrobe Mistress Alyssa Johnson-Taylor for putting together an excellent look for all the dancers.
The action takes place in a grand Victorian style home interior all decked out for a large Christmas party, a winter fantasy land, complete with falling snow and low fog, and the “Magical Kingdom of Sweets and Dreams,” with peppermint columns and lollipop topiaries. These backdrops were expertly painted by Brian Walker, Meagan Helman, and Calder Taylor. Lighting design was provided by Stacie-Johnson Leslie.
Unfortunately, there were a few elongated pauses between the dance sequences, particularly in Act 2. The stage would go bare, with no interlude music. Also, at times, the pre-recorded musical track waited for dancers to appear on the edge of the stage to be cued to play, so when dancers were delayed, it meant a dead stage for a bit, long enough to wonder what would happen next. The volume of the orchestration, at times, seemed too soft, especially when the sounds of dancing feet landed hard on the stage. This could have been lessened with raising the volume a tad.
We are very fortunate we can see a professional production of The Nutcracker in Bowie, Baltimore, and Annapolis. Local fans of The Nutcracker will appreciate the splendor of it without having to buy pricey tickets and travel to downtown DC.
Treat yourself and the special people in your life to an enchanting evening at Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s festive version of a Christmas tradition. This wonderful Nutcracker will leave with you with a spring in your step and warmth in your heart.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s The Nutcracker played on November 26 and 27, 2016 at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts – 15200 Annapolis Road, in Bowie, MD.
The Nutcracker continues its run at The Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric – 140 West Mount Royal Avenue, in Baltimore, MD on Saturday, December 3 and Sunday, December 4, 2016, at 1 PM and 5 PM. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 900-1150, or purchase them online.
The Nutracker concludes its run at The Maryland Hall for Creative Arts – 81 Chase Street, Annapolis, MD with performances on December 10, 11, 17, and 18, 2016:
Saturday, December 10, 2016, at 7 PM.
Sunday, December 11, 2016, at 1 PM and 4:30 PM.
Saturday, December 17, 2016, at 7 PM.
Sunday, December 18, 2016, at 1:00 PM and 4:30 PM.
For tickets, call the box office at (410) 280-5640, or purchase them online.
Bowie Center for the Performing Arts Nutcracker Casting 2016:
|Albert Kessler (Sat)|
Calder Taylor (Sun)
|Frau Silberhaus||Alyssa Johnson-Taylor|
|Aunt Lisa||Corinne Elkins|
|Party Moms (4)||Sommer Walker|
|Party Dads (4)||Aaron Bauer|
|Ballerina Doll||Nicole Kelsch|
|Russian Doll||Raydel Caceres|
|Party Girls (5)||Emily Orzada|
|Party Boys (6)||Sophie Davis|
|Louise (1)||Clara Atsinger|
|Marie (1)||Laura Pimpo|
|Fritz (1)||Emily Davis|
|Admiral’s Granddaughter||Samantha Lewis|
|Admiral’s Grandson (1)||Sally Hannigan|
|Admiral’s Daughter (1)||Bethany Schwartz|
|Rat Queen||Corinne Elkins|
|Rats (5)||Addison Porter|
|Sergeant (1)||Sommer Walker|
|Lieutenants (2)||Sarah Macdonald|
|Mice (6)||Alexa McFall|
|Screamer Mouse (1)||Emily Sutton|
|Bossy Mouse (1)||Samantha Lewis|
|Cookies (3) front||Clara Atsinger|
|Soldiers (6)||Sophie Davis|
|Drummer (1)||Gillian Letonoff|
|Bugler (1)||Lucie Fink|
|Rifleman (1)||Emily Davis|
|Snow Queen||Nicole Kelsch|
|Snow King||Alexander Collen|
|Snow Corps (12)|