American Ballet Theater’s (ABT) The Nutcracker is a journey of delightful moments when family, fantasy and magic connect to fill the viewer’s mind with bubbling imagery. The Segerstrom Center for the Arts opening night of ABT’s The Nutcracker on Friday, December 9th, 2022, had children in their seats and on stage, rejoicing in the spirit of the holidays! Some children stood up from their seats in awe while observing imaginative story scenes coming to life. The innermost youth in the adults giggled and some even cried holding in their glee. A little girl in her seat, at a silent instant, yelled out,” Yay!” as everyone chuckled. Some small children were prancing in their rows throughout the evening relishing the live orchestra provided by the impeccable Pacific Symphony. American Ballet Theater’s nutcracker is fun and suitably entertaining for the whole family, all the while making it an unforgettable night for everyone’s inner child.
Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky charmingly imagined this beautiful ballet into existence. It is a unique, simple yet recognizable narrative made for children. He uses a historic method of character introduction by providing a prologue in story and prelude in ballet. This beginning amusing Act I, Scene l is called, The Kitchen, and it is where Mr. Ratmansky introduces main characters Clara, Fritz, Drosselmeyer, and others. Poet Clement Clarke Moore wrote, “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Well, except for in Mr. Ratmansky’s Christmas eve night’s tiny little mouse who pops up buoyantly throughout the entire storyline. The cutest little mouse played by Francis Rosey was right on her cues and added a whimsical feeling to the narrative. The Party portion in the 1st Act, Scene 2, had many children taking center stage in this version which connected with the audience. The young Clara portrayed by a graceful long-limbed Katrina Carney and an exuberant feisty Indiana Foley as Fritz worked well together and carried out their charismatic parts. This interpretation of the Nutcracker story kept a genuine account and theme by including the adult dancing guest’s sections. In this version Drosselmeyer, performed by Roman Zhurbin, is much younger. Mr. Zhurbin was acceptable in the part but was missing some of the usual personality brought to the role. The Harlequin and Columbine doll danced by Betsy McBride and Tyler Maloney were satisfactory in their roles. The two other life-size dolls that followed were Luis Ribagorda as the Recruit and Erica Lall as the Canteen Keeper, which were both nice to watch.
The 1st Act, Scene 3, The Battle, felt like an Alice in Wonderland segment when Clara is placed high above the action in a large chair. Richard Hudson, responsible for set design and costumes offered an incredible multidimensional aspect to the enactment, so the audience could envision the soldiers and mice at their correctly usual size and ratio to other objects. The young Nutcracker boy interpreted by Carson Triplett was adorably brave, and his movements were always accurate for his character portrayal. The life-size dolls from The Party are injected into this version’s battle scene which added a continuity to a dream like state. The big moving Mouse King pupated by Duncan Lyle had four heads creating a multiple head illusion that resembled the seven-headed Mouse King in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”
The transitions between each domain did purposefully connect including character driven moments. The last scene change of Act l, number 4, is labeled The Snow. This version of the snow scene did not have a Snow Queen or King offered like in many productions, however the use of Clara and the Nutcracker prince related to the youthful crowd. The background of large auspicious covered white trees filled the stage and the snowflakes were the main highlight in this blizzard. These ladies were fast, fierce, strong, and proved that they could dominate the velocity of the music. The musical orchestration played by the synergetic Pacific Symphony led by conductor David LaMarche, of the original score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was noticeably faster all throughout the show. The quickness of the music is challenging for the dancers and musicians, but provides an excitement and a harmonious timing to the evening.
Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy is the second Act, with again a beginning prelude presenting the list of worldly characters. A joyous Sugar Plum, played by Zhong-Jing Fang, in this version is more of an acting role as she welcomed Clara and the Nutcracker prince to her land. Young Clara’s wish is to be all grown up and dance with her prince and she gets her wish. Clara loves her Nutcracker prince so much, spoiler alert, they get married. Clara, now a princess, due to the fact she married the Nutcracker Prince, dance the musical pas de deux and variations, in most versions, set for the sugar plum fairy and cavalier. This story makes sense with Devon Teuscher as Princess Clara and Joo Won Aun as The Nutcracker Prince. Ms. Teuscher is effortlessly strong in her legs and supple in her arms. She has a pretty smile and a fluidity to her style of movement. If there were any mistakes, she was a maverick at covering them up. It would, however, be nice to see her produce accents in the music, especially on completions. Mr. Aun has a luminous stage presence that is innate which he commands the stage as the prince. He seemed, however, a bit off in this performance not cleanly finishing his fifth positions. The families were smitten with these beautiful principal dancers and the story just to see Clara realize her dream.
The three Spanish couples were attractively authentic and performed well in the customary style by Sunmi Park, Sung Woo Han, Sierra Armstrong, Kento Sumtani, Kathryn Boren and Carlos Gonzalez. The women wore black pointe shoes a stylized choice that worked well with the look of the costumes. The next set were the Arabians and here the choreography felt awkward and out of place. In Mr. Ratmansky’s Arabian work, he chooses one male and a harem of four women. Arabian is usually one of the most beautiful pieces in The Nutcracker, but this choreography by Mr. Ratmansky felt as though it did not match the music in character or movement. The steps felt out of sync and piled through the melody. It felt that the dancers Eric Tamm, Courtney Lavine, Erica Lall, Hannah Marshall, Lauren Post did do the best with what they were given. An exuberant section, the Chinese couple, performed by Zimmi Coker and Joseph Gorak, were charming and playful. In her red pointe shoes and sweet colorful costume, Ms. Coker was articulate in her steps while Mr. Gorak partnered with ease – complimenting each other very well. The Russian portion, usually one of the highpoints, Mr. Ratmansky seemed to look for the laughs by fumbling the dancers on purpose, which does make some smile. However, a missed opportunity, traditional Russian dancing can be extraordinary and could have added value to the production. Since, Mr. Ratmansky is of Russian descent, he could have really shown the world established highlights of the craft.
The French, in little top hats, are represented by five lovely Nutcracker princesses danced by Breanne Granlund, Isadora Loyola, Betsy McBride, Chloe Misseldine and Katherine Williams. This is an amiable simple version, clean and unassuming. The pointework for all sisters was consistent with most Marzipan parts and Chloe Misseldine was a sparkling standout of the five. An exuberant and customary holiday moment is when amusing Duncan Lyle as Mother Ginger floats in with Polichinelles: Eden Bellouguet, Charissa Catanus, Nina Kabutcy, Trinity Mijares, Kiana Mitra, Charlotte Powers, Sophia Silva, and Ashley Sisneros. Not as many children as some stories, however this allowed the young dancers to be together and be front and center. The students in the entire production were chosen from both New York City and California ABT schools.
The fabulous flower sector which looked like roses or blossoms was the finest of the evening and the waltz of the flowers was a delight. The flowers were harmoniously together and on the music. Personally, I have never seen so many developpe a la seconds, but it seemed to work with the swaying of the long tutus. The male cavalier bees Jacob Clerico, Luigi Crispino, Andrii Ishchuk, and Joao Menegussi were just marvelous. They were all melodiously together as they whirled in-between the flowers. These men had beautiful legs and feet and were sinuous in their developpes, jumps and partnering. A favorite section was when Mr. Ratmansky has the bees partner the flowers by lifting them through a cross section. The lighting provided by Jennifer Tipton was on par in the first Act. It would have been nice to see some light changes during second act that reflected the acts such as flowers. An additional light change might add even more of a mood enhancement for the spectator.
The Nutcracker is usually an exciting time for ballet companies. It is a chance for the company members and students to play different roles thus giving them a chance to shine. This Nutcracker with sets and costume had almost a comic book feel to it. Since, Southern California has a strong Hollywood community of superhero movies, it fits right into the California vibe. Everyone in the audience faces lit up and were so overwhelmed with excitement to see such beauty. American Ballet Theater is the resident company of The Segerstrom Performing Arts Center and this wondrous energetic production fills the air with the essence of celebration. Take your gleeful inner child and captivate your children with ABT’s The Nutcracker still playing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through December 18, 2022.
For more information about the Segerstrom Center for the arts and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.
Written by Alice Alyse for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: The Nutcracker – The Snow from Act I of Alexei Ratmanksy’s The Nutcracker – Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.