By Delia Cruz Kelly
‘Tis the season for holiday magic, and in that spirit, the Festival Ballet Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker” is nothing short of enchanting. “The Nutcracker” is running at the Irvine Barclay Theatre here on campus from December 9th to the 24th.
The first show on opening day brought in a large crowd ready for this merry event. The lobby of the Barclay Theatre brimmed with children and adults alike dressed in their “theatre best,” all anticipating a fantastical rendition of this beloved holiday classic. As soon as Tchaikovsky’s iconic score began to play at the start of the first act, a sense of wonderment blanketed the audience. The holiday spirit warmed the audience with every dance.
As is tradition, the first act portrays the marvelous Christmas party at Dr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum’s home introducing their wide-eyed daughter Clara and rambunctious son Fritz. To her brother Fritz’s disliking, Clara receives a wooden nutcracker as a gift from her mysterious godfather, Dr. Drosselmeyer. In his jealousy, Fritz breaks the nutcracker but Dr. Drosselmeyer swoops in to repair it. Clara loves her newly fixed nutcracker and begs to take it to her room when the party ends, but her mother makes her part with the nutcracker and sets it under the Christmas tree for the evening. Unable to stay away, Clara returns to the nutcracker in the middle of the night only to find an army of mice led by the Mouse King. Once again, her godfather comes to her rescue and uses his magical powers to bring the Nutcracker to life. In an epic battle full of jumps and jabs, the Nutcracker defeats the Mouse King and transforms into a handsome prince. As a show of gratitude, he takes Clara on a grand journey to The Land of Snow (although “Land of Tulle” would be just as descriptive). There, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are graced by the Snow Queen and her whirling, twirling Snowflakes before being sent off to the Land of Sweets. The Nutcracker Prince and Clara are treated to a multicultural celebration in their honor ordered by the Sugar Plum Fairy herself. Spanish dancers, Chinese dancers, Arabian dancers, and Russian dancers perform their unique routines wearing distinctly native costumes. As her final tribute, the Sugar Plum Fairy performs a special pas de deux with her Cavalier. In the final scene of the ballet, Clara is left wondering if this unbelievable journey really happened or if it was all part of a dream.
Simon Pastukh and Galina Solovyeva, heads of scenery and original costume design, must be applauded for their creation of the perfect winter ambiance with storybook-like backdrops and dazzling ensembles. If you get to see this production, you’re sure to remember Mother Ginger’s larger-than-life bustle and the miraculous growing Christmas tree.
Artistic director and choreographer Salwa Rizkalla had no small task as “The Nutcracker” is a company ballet with so many dancers and moving pieces in each scene, but she and the performers delivered a finely tuned routine each act.
The members of this company are technically flawless, and Clara (Lily Turner) looked as pristine as a spinning ballerina in a music box. Possible audience favorites were the couples in each cultural dance as their routines showcased less traditional and more daring moves, including flips. Some scenes of the ballet showcased nearly 50 performers at once, many of them talented young children, and this is where I believe the joy of the production shines. The children were adorable yet so professional and added to the ballet’s cheerfulness.
“The Nutcracker” is a family classic that inspires the future ballerinas and ballerinos in the audience, awakening in them a desire to be part of something like this, whether they are a little mouse, a beautiful fairy, or even a prince. At intermission, kids were practicing their pirouettes trying to match the elegance they saw on stage, proof of the show’s powerful influence.
There’s a reason “The Nutcracker” is still a holiday tradition today. After nearly 125 years since its original performance, its beauty transcends generations and brings out the winter spirit in even the Grinchiest of people.