On Sunday, December 10th, 2023, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa was bright with holiday decorations in every level of the lobbies. Adults and children’s smiles gleamed from ear to ear as they took pictures and danced around with delight awaiting the start of the show. This run of Alexei Ratmansky’s Nutcracker is better as every scene had been combed through with care. This past year’s newly appointed American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) Artistic Director Susan Jaffe, with the help of her artistic staff, cast, and company, has gone over every detail of the story jesters and jests. The audience could not help but laugh and giggle at the funny instants yet gasp at the utterly breathtaking moments. Ms. Jaffe brings in a momentum of experience, talent, and determination and it is exciting to see a dramatic change in the company. As the ABT Gellespie School starts to take shape, it is great to see the students partake in this glorious ballet December tradition. This holiday season you will definitely see American Ballet Theatre prospering under its new directorship and the company at its Nutcracker best!
The opening Kitchen scene is always such an amusing introduction, but this year the ballet pantomime was finely specified and theatrically detailed in direction. The little mouse played by Kotaro Kimura was adorable in his costume. He was a perfect choice in the role of a mischievous mouse that causes a stir throughout the ballet.
Drosselmeyer performed by Roman Zhurbin was very much improved this season as his character has developed a more animated approach, while his arm gestures were nicely broad and specific in assignment. The maids acted by Hannah Marshall and Courtney Shealy were on their comedic mark and added such a fun feeling to the party scene. The Butler presented by Cameron McCune was well acted and his timing worked fine in his scenes.
In anticipation of the Drosselmeyer dolls, the Columbine and Harlequin couple of Betsy McBride and Jake Roxander provided exact dedicated head accents and they both were wonderfully energetic and moved with ease. The second doll duet included Erica Lall as the Canteen Keeper. Ms. Lall has an extraordinary height on her stag jumps and she and her partner Carlos Gonzalez, in the role of Recruit, both had a wonderful sense of musicality. The Party scene in general was deliberate in intension and arm actions were suitably expensive. The Battle scene toy soldiers were tight and in unity. During Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography in the battle scene, the student soldiers taken to the floor by the mice delivers a fantastical visual of real life toy soldiers. Clara played by Eden Bellouguet and the Nutcracker boy, enacted by Callum Simanski, were both eloquent in their perspective parts.
In the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, second act, the Spanish included three couples who were stronger this year incorporating flair and torso leans. The couple dancing the Chinese divertissement were Léa Fleytoux and Garegin Pogossian who are a delightful match and wonderfully cast in these roles. Eric Tamm’s performance in the Arabian male lead is improved this year, as his persona was understated, serious, and sophisticated. The harem ladies portrayed by Claire Davison, Anabel Katsnelson, Hannah Marshall, and Lauren Post were all supple in their lifts and phrases, and they were funny while being chic. This representation functioned much better than last year’s sillier version.
Patrick Frenette, who’s dancing and persona was pleasantly spacious and gracious, was a standout of the Russian trio. In little top hats, the five Nutcracker Sisters in the French segment of the Nutcracker were all lovely to observe, though, Chloe Misseldine shined in this divertissement and her legs and feet are beautiful the watch. A superb addition to the flower sections are The Bees danced by Jacob Clerico, Luigi Crispino, Andrii Ishchuk, and João Menegussi who all collaborated to stay together and carried through the lifts effortlessly.
It is always a treat to listen to a live orchestra with such a premier company as the Pacific Symphony led by conductor Ormsby Wilkins. Mr. Wilkins slowed down the tempo for what is usually the Sugar Plum and Cavelier. In this section, Skylar Brandt is the grown-up princess Clara and Herman Cornejo is the mature Nutcracker Prince. Skylar Brandt flows seamlessly through the pas de deux extracting every step. She really felt the music inside showing a more heartfelt and human Clara. There were some missed moments between the two partnering in lifts and turns; nevertheless the audience was pulling for them. The ending fish lift was strong, striking, and confident and resonated through to finish the section of the music. Herman Cornejo is very likeable on stage and has an elegant stage presence. He exudes experience, grace, and is physically an attractive cavalier. His variation was not as difficult as most versions, however he followed through proud and prosperous.
The most iconic music in the nutcracker is Pyotr llyich Tchaikovsky’s Op.71 composition of the Dance of the Sugar Plum. Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography in this piece tends to travel through the music with tendu arabesque lunges that are more athletic feats than graceful ballerina steps. The original version from Marius Petipa is still prevalent in other adaptations such as George Balanchine, Peter Wright, and Lew Christensen’s ballets. These choreographic parts lend to provide delicate footwork and accented musical finishes on pointe. Mr. Ratmansky’s paces are not as flattering visually and it would be nice to see him rediscover this part of the music. Ms. Brandt held a nice extra-long arabesque balance in a diagonal section and fell out of the second one, however it is courageous to see a ballerina take risks. Usually the coda is assertive and has an achieved degree of difficulty in turns, balances, and/or jumps, In this portion, however, the difficulty was absent, even though Skylar Brandt was polished in personality, paces, and graceful agility throughout the final.
Yet on this Nutcracker day, the gorgeous corps de ballet stole the show! They were flawless and sparkled with every step. The ensemble was so together yet each dancer executed each step with precision and their own personalities projected outward with intensity. The snowflakes that deserve to be mentioned were sharper and crisper than previous years. The tenacity of attack was dramatic and invigorating to watch. The flowers equally in unison were exquisite to observe as they used more head gestures, smiles, torso, and arm sways then in previous years and their arm movements all followed the accurate flow of a waltz. The flowers were so picturesque that the audience appeared mesmerized with their accuracy and beauty, as one heard inhales and awes from the crowd.
There is a great amount of talent there and it will be exciting to see them in the years to come. The superb snowflakes were: Nastia Alexandrova, Sierra Armstrong, Leah Baylin, Elisabeth Beyer, Claire Davison, Teresa D’Ortone, Caila Ferrera, Kiely Groenewegen, Chaeyeon Kang, Anabel Katsnelson, Kanon Kimura, Erica Lall, Virginia Lensi, Isadora Loyola, Audrey Lynn, Abbey Marrison, Hannah Marshall, Ayaka Matsubara, Lauren Post, Ingrid Thoms, Olivia Tweedy, Aleisha Walker, Kotomi Yamada, and Remy Young. The fabulous flowers were: Nastia Alexandrova, Elisabeth Beyer, Lauren Bonfigilio, Madison Brown, Kyra Coco, Camila Ferrera, Tillie Glatz, Lilia Greyeyes, Kiely Groenewegen, Kanon Kimura, Erica Lall, Fangqi Li, Rachel Richardson, Ingrid Thoms, Olivia Tweedy, and Aleisha Walker.
This Nutcracker positively had a greater amount of nuances, theatrical expressions and ideal interpretations. As wonderful as last year was, it was a joy to see positive changes made. It is also magnificent to see families and friends make this their tradition year after year for the holidays and a delight to have American Ballet Theatre here on the West Coast. ABT’s Nutcracker will still be playing December 13th through to December 17th for seven shows. Happy Holidays!
To learn more about the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.
For more information about American Ballet Theatre, please visit their website.
Written by Alice Alyse for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: ABT – The Snow from Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker – Photo: Marty Sohl.