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IN REVIEW: Kansas City Ballet’s freshened-up ‘Nutcracker’ looking long in the tooth but still rock solid

The Kansas City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker remains one of the city’s most refined holiday offerings, with Balanchine- and Robbins-influenced choreography by Todd Bolender, great dancing by the company members, well-trained kids from the Ballet School and a Christmas tree that grows to enormous proportions. At the December the 11th opening night performance all the elements were in place for a fine show, and except for a few jitters it came off as a classy production.

There were even a few innovations this year, some of which seemed questionable – but at least they gave us something new to look at. Nevertheless this Nutcracker has been going for 29 years, with new sets and costumes in 1998 but essentially the same choreography dating from the early 1980s – and each year I find myself wondering if it’s time for a whole new production.The upcoming move to the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts has everyone in the arts world thinking about renewal, and perhaps the Ballet will take advantage of that spirit, especially as Bolender’s version turns 30. Still, this Nutcracker remains one of the most solid in the country, and it’s still worth the trip downtown with the kids.

Among the highlights on opening night were company newcomers Arielle Espie and Alexander Peters as the tightly wound Mechanical Dolls, the Snowflakes (company members joined by students from UMKC Conservatory and the Ballet School),Aisling Hill-Connor as a captivating Sugar Plum Fairy, Nadia Iozzo’s vivacious energy in the Spanish Dance, Stayce Camparoas an warmly effusive Reed Pipe, and the fresh energy that Yoshiya Sakurai brought to the Russian Dance. (Casts change from night to night.) Kimberly Cowen was an extremely refined Dew Drop, and Rachel Coats was a sleek if subdued Snow Queen.Meg Esrey displayed grace but just enough playfulness as the young Clara, and Zachary Boresow as the Nephew/Prince demonstrated poise and a sort of aristocratic bearing throughout.

Several elements were new, or represented a sort of freshening-up. The Mouse King and Nutcracker were danced by company members, rather than students as before, and though it was nice to see them actually dancing they weren’t given much to do. The bed/buggy, instead of being “self-propelled” (in previous years a dancer would lay in the bottom and walk it around) was pulled,by a young dancer in an oddly off-putting horse costume. (This change seemed unmotivated; the self-propelled idea was rather more fun.) There were other bits that were danced instead of acted, and in Grandfather’s Dance, Grandpa didn’t ham it up as much as before. Ah, well. And as usual, the final number – where everybody parades out for one last smile – still seems a tad redundant, an anti-climactic showpiece.

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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