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ELEGANT, SUMPTOUS, ECLECTIC TO A FAULT: Kansas City Ballet’s The Nutcracker opens to acclaim

One local holiday tradition that changes little from year to year is the Kansas City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, and that will be either good or bad news depending on whether you’re a traditionalist or an adventurist. At the opening performance on Saturday afternoon, December 6, I found myself not minding a bit that I was seeingRobert Fletcher’s handsome scenic and costume design again, though the Kingdom of Sweets décor does indeed look clunkier each year. I also found myself delighting once again in Todd Bolender’s choreography, especially that in Act 2, which feels fresh each year partly because of the company’s continual influx of gifted new dancers. Though its eclecticism can be jarring at time, at its best this Nutcracker is ballet in the grand Balanchine tradition.

Boldender built the production to utilize both the company’s professionals and the children from the Ballet’s School — nearly 200 this year — the latter always responsible for plenty of “Aw, aren’t they cute?” moments. The Party Scene ticked forward with its usual inexorability, precise and witty and well-oiled, with seemingly random perambulations that always fit neatly into the clockwork. The Drosselmeyer of the day was Logan Pachciarz, who imbued the shadowy figure with elegance and a sort of rakish insouciance that reminded me, oddly, of Eugene Onegin.Betty Kondo and Charles Martin gave fresh energy to the Mechanical Dolls, with a liveliness that did not stint on humor. The Battle Scene felt vaguely chaotic to me this year — perhaps it always has — but one could hardly fault the exquisite Snow Queen of Angelina Sansone, suave and muscular and drawing big applause.

Act 2 began with similarly auspicious solo work by Lisa Choules as the Sugar-Plum Fairy, as airy and feathery-light as whipped meringue, and firmly supported by Juan Pablo Trujillo as the Cavalier. (Casts vary throughout the run.) Stayce Camparo and Christopher Barksdale were solid in the Spanish Dance, and Nadia Iozzo and newcomer Marcus Oatis were cute but duly sensuous in the Arabian Dance, which looked more like Middle Eastern puppy love than the usual torchy vamping. Michael Eaton displayed eye-catching precision and command in the Chinese Dance, which was as tight as I’ve seen it from this company. Marty Davis was confident in the Russian Dance.

If there is a number that could use reworking in this production it is the Buffoons/Gingers/Mother Ginger bit, which always feels as if we’ve stepped into a big Broadway production number. Crazily-patterned jesters’ outfits, Gingers dressed in a gaudy hue, a drag Mother wearing a giant hoop skirt filled with cute kids, and balloons — it’s all a bit much, and nearly upsets the equilibrium of Act 2. But all is forgiven in the Waltz of the Flowers, one of Bolender’s most magnificently detailed numbers, in which Deanna Doyle was charismatic and savory as the Dew Drop.

Tchaikovsky’s music is always one of the great rewards of any Nutcracker, and despite my initial concern about the ad hoc “Kansas City Ballet Orchestra” announced in the program (instead of the Kansas City Symphony), it actually sounded pretty decent despite some ensemble problems. The band consisted of local professionals and musicians from UMKC, including some excellent soloists. What I missed most, though, was Tchaikovsky’s lush string sound, the achievement of which would have required far more players than one could fit into the Music Hall’s tiny orchestra pit.

As I drove home from the show past the site of the future Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, I couldn’t help pondering a future in which Kansas City no longer has to settle for less because of substandard performing conditions.

The Nutcracker runs through December 28 at the Music Hall, 13th and Central. For tickets call 816-931-2232 or go to www.kcballet.org.

To reach Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor, send email to phorsley@sbcglobal.net.

 

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.

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