Performing Arts: Washington Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

The D.C. ballet company brings back its rendition of the holiday classic, with local twists.

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The Snow Queen and Snowflakes in The Washington Ballet’s rendition of The Nutracker. (Photo courtesy of Paul Zambrana and The Washington Ballet)

There has been some chatter recently in the local press about the fact that this year’s production of “The Nutcracker” by The Washington Ballet doesn’t include a live orchestra. While live music undoubtedly enhances any ballet performance, should a company’s decision to eschew one for a soundtrack change your decision to attend? In my opinion—no. I found the pre-recorded music to be neither harsh nor distracting, and the ballet’s visual elements eclipse any audio fault finding.

Purists of the holiday classic should know before you go that The Washington Ballet’s rendition does always strays a tad from the original. The Christmas Eve party takes place in a tony Georgetown mansion in 1882; the beloved nutcracker takes the form of George  Washington; and instead of the Land of Sweets, Clara and her prince are transported via river boat to the Tidal Basin in springtime, awash in pink cherry blossoms. But it’s these and other modifications that render the show locally and historically accurate, not to mention à propos and fresh.

Not surprisingly, the audience was filled with children and their parents (I brought my own ballet-loving 8-year-old daughter). Artistic director and choreographer  appeared on stage before the start to give show-goers a little primer in ballet etiquette 101, i.e. no talking, clap if you see something you like, and feel free to call out bravo, brava and bravi liberally. The show runs an hour and forty-five minutes, with one ten minute intermission; by the end I did notice some squirming among the preschool and school-aged set (my daughter included), but there are certainly enough magical elements to keep most entertained throughout.

The “Snow Scene” at the beginning of Act II is a gorgeous winter wonderland. With a set bathed in icy blue, Snow Flakes in fluttery pale blue skirts, and ample snow gently falling from the sky, it’s a seasonal feast for the eyes. I found the performances of Snow Queen and Snow King to trump those of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier later on in the act. While the latter couple was technically spot on, they veered towards steel rather than velvet; just not as warm or captivating.

The set for Act II’s “Springtime Under the Cherry Blossoms” was pretty in pink, and the scene gave the largest opportunity for the cuteness factor, in the form of children costumed as mushrooms, butterflies, bees and woodland creatures. The Chinese Dance began with a Little Fisherman reeling in a large fish puppet, later on young women twirled in coonskin caps and frontier garb, and clowns emerged from underneath Mother Barnum’s big top carousel.

But most mesmerizing to watch were and as an Anacostian woman and man, dancing to the music reserved for the Arabian Coffee performers. Lythe and sensual, and just shy of risqué, I could have watched their contortionist acrobatics all evening.

and as the aforementioned Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier had their moment in the spotlight (and then some) towards the end, first dancing in several pas de deux, then separately, then together again, culminating in a curtain call / mini performance by all of the principals. Left alone on stage at the end is that George Washington nutcracker doll, placed there by Clara after awakening from her Washington, D.C.-inspired holiday dream.

The Nutcracker continues through December 23, 2012 at the Warner Theatre. For ticket information, go to washingtonballet.org.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, and on Twitter @kmagyarics.

 

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