Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s production of The Nutcracker at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is a real treat for the senses. Choreographed by Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto, it brings Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet to glorious life, with excellent dancing, colorful costumes, and creative lighting.
Four different casts perform on different days. The show I attended featured Cast 4. Hayley-Ann Vasco brings an expressive innocence to Clara. She looks astonished as Fritz (Emily Sutton) and the boys rush her and the girls, and cries when Fritz takes her nutcracker doll and stabs it. She trembles on first seeing the Rats, then helps the Nutcracker (Mark McCormack) defeat them. Her solos are beautiful to watch, with excellent lifts and spins, as are her duets with McCormack.
Mark McCormack plays the Nutcracker with an elegant power. His battle with the Rats is incredibly dramatic, with very nice swordplay; at one point, it looks like he might lose. His solo towards the end is lovely, as he leaps around the stage. His duets with Vasco are absolutely captivating, as he lifts her above her head and dips her low to the ground. He charms as Drosselmeier’s nephew and makes a pretty pair with Vasco; the two spend so much time together at the party that they must be separated.
Emily Sutton plays Fritz with a violent streak, holding Vasco with his sword and waving it dangerously close to the Gypsy Doll (Sabrina Schulbach). Drosselmeier has to pull him away and carry him off several times.
Al Kessler controls the stage as Drosselmeier. On his entrance to the party, he gets two guests to bow continuously to each other, like mechanical dolls, then vigorously shakes Fritz’s hand. Later in the performance, he makes magical gestures with his hands to bring the other dancers onstage, like a director of sorts. Several times he carries Vasco off and onstage.
Daliana Gutierrez exudes menace as the Rat Queen. She and the other Rats (Ryan Massey, Christina Jadra, Sommer Walker), are incredibly athletic, tumbling onstage and circling McCormack. Her death scene is drawn out for great comic effect, as she is ultimately lifted onto a stretcher. The other Rats make silly gestures as they enter and exit. As the Chinese Lead, Gutierrez is precise and controlled, spinning and lifting to the rhythm of the Chinese Sticks. As the Dew Drop Fairy, Samantha Lucas is sheer joy, moving effortlessly across the stage. Her twirls are a delight to watch.
Nicole Kelsch and Alexander Collen radiate elegance and grace as the Snow Queen and King. They glide across the stage, with beautiful lifts and twirls. As the Ballerina Doll, Kelsch perfectly captures the movements of a machine, while still being lovely to watch. As the Arabian Guy, Brock Fowler is lithe and flexible, seemingly stretching out across the entire stage, as are Cindy Case as the Arabian Girl and Anne Gutcher and Emily Brennan as their Sides.
Collen is pure power as the Russian Lead, leaping across the stage and ending his solo on his knees. Sabrina Schulbach and Isaac Martinez are sheer elegance as the Merlitons Girl and Merlitons Guy, lifting and spinning around the stage. Emily Hansbrough and Markella Gatanas dance ecstatically as the Gypsy Boy and Girl, while Ansley Mater dominates the stage as the Mother Gypsy, the Gypsy Corps emerging from and returning to her oversized dress.
The set, designed by Dianna Cuatto, adds color to the dancing. The beginning backdrop is an elegant living room, with a lighted Christmas tree in the middle, while the front part of the stage is temporarily set off for Drosselmeier’s workshop, with shelves and a table. Large, man-sized gift boxes are wheeled out containing the Gypsy and Russian Dolls. Later, the tree grows tremendously taller, while an oversized clock face slides out to the center. The backdrop for the Ice King and Queen is a winter landscape, with snow-covered trees, while the final scene is a bright, sweet backdrop with candy cane wallpaper and lollipop trees.
Costume Designers Karen Kralik and Alyssa Johnson-Taylor have made colorful costumes that distinguish each character. Clara begins in a blue and white dress, later changing into a pink nightdress, and adding a pink tutu. The Nutcracker wears a red military jacket and white pants, beginning and ending the ballet with a papier-mâché-like mask. Drosselmeier looks mysterious in his black cape with purple lining, black suit, and eyepatch. The rats and mice look intimidating, some wearing blue military jackets; the Rat Queen wears a long military jacket and white navy cap. The Snow Queen and King wear blue tops and skirts, while the Merlitons Girl has a pink and green dress and a straw hat. The Russian Lead wears a long white shirt, red pants, and a black sash. The Gypsy Girls have rainbow skirts, with the Gypsy Boy wearing a dark blue vest and black pants, while the Gypsy Mother has a long green dress.
Lighting Designer Stacie Johnson-Leske uses lighting effects to help reflect the changing mood. Red light bathes the party scene in the beginning, darkening slightly when Fritz and the boys charge the girls. A blue light shines over the Snow King and Queen. The lights dim with Drosselmeier’s entrance, adding to his mystery.
Dianna Cuatto does a wonderful job as Choreographer. The dancers easily navigate each other and the stage, creating lovely portraits in motion. They seem to be constantly moving, whether in solos, duets, or groups, intricate movements that bring Tchaikovsky’s music to life. Everything comes together for a wonderful ballet to start the holiday season, perfect for adults and children alike. Only three performances in Annapolis remain, so make sure you see it!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, including a 20-minute intermission.