December 5, 2010
Courtesy Image IU dancers perform the classic roles in “The Nutcracker,” including the Snow Queen, seen here. One more performance of the annual ballet is scheduled for 2 p.m. today.
The New York Times’ chief dance critic, Alastair Macauley, announced in mid-November that he would spend the following six weeks trekking the United States in search of productions of “The Nutcracker.”
He has followed up with reports of performances by the New York City, Joffrey, Moscow, Colorado, and Pacific Northwest companies, among others, stating somewhere along the way that he’s sorry that most “Nutcracker” presentations are reserved for the Christmas holiday season. If that were not so, he said, he could see a production most every day of the year and probably still not run out of opportunities.
Well, unless he came in secret as would a food critic checking up on a restaurant, IU Ballet Theater’s 52nd annual production of “The Nutcracker” was not on Macauley’s itinerary. But he certainly might have enjoyed what has been on view this weekend at the Musical Arts Center.
The local show was, as usual, eye and ear candy. C. David Higgins’ striking sets and costumes were back to give audiences familiar stage environments that cling to memory, particularly — to end act 1 — the mesmerizing Snow Scene, part of little Clara’s dream: the woods, blue and silver, a moonlit sky, and then the falling white flakes as the Snow Queen, Cavalier and Princess conclude their graceful routine of lifts and twirls. The wooden nutcracker comes to life full-bodied. Mice are human-sized. Sugar visually seems to drip as the stage turns into a Land of Sweets. And throughout, Michael Schwandt’s deft lighting accented the wished-for moods.
For the ears, there was, and is, the genius of a score that Tchaikovsky so masterfully shaped, with music that works its magic even when not attached to the ballet. This reviewer must admit to occasionally closing his eyes just to listen. The University Orchestra was in the pit, playing beautifully, thanks to a veteran and knowing guest conductor from Argentina, Jorge Mariano Carciofolo.
Ultimately, with a staged “Nutcracker,” the burden of finding success must fall to the dancers and what their choreographer gave them to do. On Friday evening, the chosen soloists revealed a sense of assurance that has increasingly become expectation for IU Ballet theater audiences. So, too, the corps of women, moving from one demanding scene to another, proved fully capable of executing their assignments. They were a pleasure to watch.
Michael Vernon’s choreography blends tradition with his own inventions. As head of the Jacobs School’s ballet department and as a pro with a wealth of experience in dance creation, he has a keen sense not only for the physical and technical capabilities of his dancers, the breadth and limits thereof, but also a realistic vision of what will be expected from students seeking to make dance their occupation. That understanding and careful preparatory work resulted in an evening of commendable dancing.
The opening night’s Clara, a lovely 12-year-old, Audrey Litten, commanded attention, performing with childlike agility and pliancy. And let it be known that the children from the Pre-College Ballet Program handled their assignments dutifully and delightfully. As Clara’s mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, he who delivers the toy nutcracker and prestidigitates Clara’s dreamy adventures, a tall and agile Iver Johnson filled the requirements to suave perfection. Christopher Lingner and Gregory Tyndall attracted attention as the come-to-life Nutcracker and King Mouse.
Jordan Martin, Jacob Taylor, and Megan Liberty added to the luster of the Snow Scene as Queen, Cavalier and Princess. In the various divertissements, among the standouts were Gabriela Johnson and Gregory Tyndall, who brought cheers for the sensuous and acrobatic delivery of their Arabian routine, and Vincent Brewer who, in the Trepak, leapt to athletic heights and stretched his long legs to parallel the stage floor several feet up in mid-air.
Friday’s Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, Caitlin Kirschenbaum and Paul Dandridge, were particularly strong. Her maneuvers on pointe, his vaults and in-place whirls, their balanced teamwork, and the extension of their lifts were admirable, even awe-inspiring for young dancers just on the threshold of their careers.
The production has been a sell-out, but one performance remains this afternoon at 2. With luck, perhaps you can snatch a ticket.