December 2, 2013

Review: ‘Nutcracker’ delectable with a bit of something new

There were new costumes, new dancers and some new choreography.

By Jennifer Brewer

Once again, Maine State Ballet is serving up a delectable pre-Christmas confection with “The Nutcracker,” presented at Merrill Auditorium with the Maine State Ballet Orchestra.

click image to enlarge

Dancers put on their toy soldier costumes after getting their red cheeks as they prepare to perform Maine State Ballet's "The Nutcracker" at Merrill Auditorium on Sunday.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Dancers do their hair and makeup as they prepare to perform Maine State Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” at Merrill Auditorium on Sunday afternoon.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

BALLET REVIEW

“The Nutcracker”

WHO: Maine State Ballet

WHERE: Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall

DATE REVIEWED: Nov. 30

WHAT ELSE: Continues through Dec. 8

This is a magical, child-friendly production, from its opening in Uncle Drosselmeyer’s toy workshop, to its centerpiece tableaux of a transformed party room and snowy forest, to its closing with a sleigh pulled by tiny (and well-rehearsed) reindeer and Father Christmas.

For someone who has performed in or watched dozens and dozens of “Nutcrackers,” here in Maine as well as in Boston, London and New York City, it’s wonderful when there is something new to be enjoyed within a familiar production like Maine State Ballet’s.

That was certainly the case Saturday evening at the Merrill. Although the production as a whole hasn’t been changed, there were new costumes, new dancers and some new choreography.

The new “Coffee from Arabia” was brilliant, starting with soloist Katie Farwell’s arrival on a curtained carry-chair. The new choreography is perfect for Farwell’s elegant musicality. All too often, this variation becomes a sinuous, but rather boring, series of gymnastic feats that can be out of step with the rest of the ballet. Here, Farwell exercised gorgeous restraint in a tasteful blend of “Arabian” flavor and utterly graceful ballet-based movement.

Perhaps the most exciting dancing of the evening was Rhiannon Pelletier’s rendition of the Dew Drop in “Waltz of the Flowers.” Much of artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele’s choreography is closely aligned with that of her mentor, the legendary George Balanchine. Thus, Maine State Ballet’s Dew Drop can be compared directly with the same role in the New York City Ballet.

With that in mind, Pelletier’s was among the best performances this reviewer has ever seen, anywhere. Pelletier used her strength and technical prowess for their true purpose: to support artistry and interpretation. One with the music, she floated and sparkled through Dew Drop’s various cameo appearances, each one over too soon.

As the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, Janet Davis and Glenn Davis performed the pas de deux with their usual precision and panache. Glenn Davis’ leaps and turns showed great elasticity and sustain. Janet Davis, in a luscious new rose-pink tutu, was gracious and delicate, with fabulous balances and turns. Their well-matched lines, smooth partnering and musical understanding were on display in the lovely adagio.

Ron Trell and Juliette Lauzier have been defining elegance for years now, as Judge and Frau Stallbaum in the first-act party scene. Both returned in the second act, Trell as the hilarious Mother Ginger and Lauzier with magnificent grace as a demi-soloist in Waltz of the Flowers.

James Herrera carried the role of Drosselmeyer well, with quiet glee and dramatic movement reminiscent of Jonathan Miele’s rendition. The first act was enriched by many wonderful young dancers, including Alyssa Bryan as Clara, Calvin Soule as Fritz and Sadie Schwartz as the tiny Porcelain Doll. Adrienne Pelletier and Nick Anderson were delightful as the Columbine and Soldier dolls.

Concluding the first act, the Christmas Tree Forest was breathtaking, with blue-tinted light, snowy trees and floor, and a steady fall of “snow” onto the stage. The corps de ballet danced “Snowflakes” beautifully.

Unfortunately, the snow scene lacked the traditional choir. Keyboardist Christopher Staknys took the choral line with vocal effect, which helped only somewhat. Surely, if the usual choirs were unavailable, the orchestra could have found another.

In her brief welcoming remarks, artistic director Miele noted that this “Nutcracker” was truly “made in Maine” – a fact certainly worthy of pride, considering the troupes of well-trained, polished dancers, Gail Csoboth’s delicious costumes and sets, the accomplished orchestra and the high level of professionalism in production quality.

Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.

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