DALA’s ‘Nutcracker’ brightens the season

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By The Staff

Los Alamos Dance Arts’ 2008 production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” demonstrates why the ballet is a beloved part of every holiday season. DALA’s version is the most ambitious and well-done amateur production of the traditional Nutcracker that you are likely to see this year.

At the curtain’s opening, the entire stage is filled with gorgeous sets, colors and lights and with costumes (many of them new) so perfect that they must inspire the dancers inside them. What little girl wouldn’t love to wear those shiny satin dresses with the ruffled bloomers?

On Friday night, the adult party hosts and guests danced gracefully, and the well-rehearsed children all knew their places and moved to the music without once looking offstage for cues. Jeff Favorite gets better each year as Drosselmeyer.

It’s not easy for children to learn all their steps and places and still keep smiling, but everyone in the cast showed their smiles throughout the program, and it added greatly to the audience’s enjoyment. Artistic Director Valerie Silks deserves kudos for the high quality of this and the other details of the production.

“The Battle,” scene was completely charming. Who can resist the nasty little mice? Here we meet the first guest artist of the evening, the Nutcracker Prince, Ruben Rascón of the National Dance Institute of New Mexico. Rascón’s gymnastic turning leaps made me wish he could onstage dancing for more of the production.

His partnering of Jenna Erickson (Clara) was tender and gallant. Erickson, a sixth-grader, is a strong young dancer who uses her body and face very expressively. In the “Snow” scene, Snow Queen Shelby Stringer gave an athletic interpretation of Christin Severini’s lovely new choreography.

The six demi-soloists on pointe and the 16 “snowflakes” on half pointe moved gracefully and beautifully together, as is essential in a corps de ballet piece. In Act II, the angels show Clara and her Nutcracker the “Land of Sweets,” where they are entertained with the famous Nutcracker divertissements.

First Caroline Wurden, flirty, sharp and sassy in her signature role, led the Spanish dance with four other dancers. Bethany Letellier’s Arabian dance followed, lyrical and visually intriguing with the use of stage-wide scarves handled by another four dancers. Shelby Stringer led four dancers in the Chinese piece with a performance so sharp you wish it weren’t so short! Lauren Burr, who followed with six other dancers in the Peppermint section, shows great promise, a dancer to look forward to seeing again and again as she develops her talent.

Erin Burr and Emily Silks danced as mirror images of each other in the Mirliton section, only to be swept away by the Mother Ginger scene. I think the Mothers Ginger (Curtis Terrill on Friday, Morrie Pongratz on Saturday and Ben Neal on Sunday) must be competing for “most outrageous.” They’re great fun, but you mustn’t fail to watch the 10 little clowns, who do a great job and have costumes that shine like jewels.

As the music builds toward the finale, Nicole Silks as the Rose Queen leads a dozen dancers in the Waltz of the Flowers, followed by the Grand Pas de Deux with guest artists Ayano Kimura as the Sugarplum Fairy and Joseph Torné Tarragó as the Cavalier. Both are presently with the Washington School of Ballet, and it is evident that they are frequently partnered because of the grace and ease of their lifts. It’s bravura dancing—her spins and his leaps bring a thrilling end to the production.

Don’t miss this production of the Nutcracker. It plays one more time at 2 p.m. today at the Duane Smith Auditorium. Your holiday season won’t be complete without it!