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Macaroni Review: The Nutcracker

December 4, 2013
By: Sam McDade-Wray, Highlands Ranch-Parker-Castle Rock Publisher
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Photo by Mike Watson, courtesy of Colorado Ballet
For me The Nutcracker marks the beginning of the holiday season. With visions of Sugar Plum Fairies dancing in my head, I am revisiting a time not that long ago when my sister and I were back in Georgia with the Augusta Ballet at the Bell Auditorium in November, practicing all week for our own performance of The Nutcracker. It was a pretty magical time!

I still get excited about seeing this ballet. It never seems to get old and now I have a new little person to share this timeless tale with. Last weekend, my son and I took in Colorado Ballet's production, just the two us. And it was not his first Nutcracker production. It was his third time seeing it ... if you don’t count the Tom & Jerry cartoon version which he has seen a bazillion times! He knows the musical score and the storyline but this is the first big-time production of the ballet he has seen.

If you are not familiar with the storyline, The Nutcracker is set in the late 1800s in Europe. It is Christmas Eve and there is a big party going on in the Stalbaum house. All the family's friends are there, including the very eccentric and mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer who comes with life-size dancing dolls and a nutcracker which Clara Stalbaum’s brother Fritz promptly breaks. Drosselmeyer wipes Clara's tears and repairs the nutcracker. Clara is still obviously distraught, but it has been a long day and she falls asleep while clutching her patched up toy. During her sleep, her dream begins. This is a dream that imagines her Nutcracker as a human size toy that takes her on the adventure of a life time to the Land of Sweets and beyond.

As the curtain opened, we knew that this was a different performance than we had experienced before. There was a live orchestra. The scenery was stunning. The costuming was just right. And the dancers were delightful.

Caitlin Valentine-Ellis (who played Clara) and Kevin Gael Thomas (who played Fritz) were perfect for their roles as siblings with just enough closeness and sibling rivalry (I should say devilishness for Fritz, who I loved in this role) to make the party scene believable. My son and I both giggled at some of the antics during the party. I'm not sure if these were improvised or not but they were a nice touch of levity for the younger crowd! As the scene takes us from the party to the dream where the nutcracker comes to life, Jesse Marks portrays his character with strength and ease and was the best Nutcracker Prince yet!

I asked my son who he was most excited to see as the ballet entered Act II and the Land of Sweets. Smartly, he said that he would have to wait. Classic favorites are the Sugar Plum Fairy (Sharon Wehner) and the Cavalier (Viacheslav Buchkovskiy), mainly due to the traditional ballet we get to see. And they did not disappoint.

Between the Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, and Russian performances, it was hard to pick a favorite — although the male dancers once again hammed it up a bit, which was entertaining. They were all so well done. But if, we had to pick the kid factor, we would have to go with the Chinese and the Dragon, which was just plain fun!

It is hard not to recognize all of the leads; all of them did a remarkable job. And the most charming part of the whole performance was the full cast of pre-professional dancers from elementary age through college, who are sure to remember this experience for a long time to come!

As into Minecraft and Skylanders as my kiddo can be, he said that this was the BEST Nutcracker that he has seen. To say I was impressed is an understatement. From the live music, to the wonderful scenery, to the very talented cast, this was an amazing way to finish the Thanksgiving weekend and to kick off the holidays!

The 53rd season of The Nutcracker is playing now through December 28th at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Purchase tickets online at coloradoballet.org. Patrons can save 15% on any of the remaining shows with the promo code CLARA. This is valid on all ticket levels except for D seating.

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