‘The Nutcracker’ brings magic to the stage

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By The Staff

Dance Arts Los Alamos’ 2009 production of “The Nutcracker” gives many dancers an opportunity to shine. A cherished local tradition, this is DALA’s 14th production of the ballet in its 19 years of providing dance training to the community. This year’s presentation is sure to be a sweet treat to audience members. The exquisite sets, splendid costumes and skillful choreography provide a beautiful showcase for both regional and visiting talent.

The ballet, composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is based on the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” written in 1816 by E. T. A. Hoffmann. The ballet opens with preparations for a Christmas Eve party held in the home of the Stahlbaum family: Clara, played by Shayna Mallet; her brother Fritz, played by Lacario Chavez; Frau Stahlbaum, played by Michelle Donahue; and Mayor Stahlbaum, played by Steve Stringer. The butler (Tom Burr) and maid (Lynn Finnegan) are trying to get ready for the arrival of party guests while the excited children impede their progress.

The highlight of the night is the arrival of Clara’s Godfather Drosselmeyer, played by Jeffrey Favorite, with magical toys and dolls, and gifts for all the children. Clara’s special present is a wooden nutcracker prince.

When the party is done, Clara falls asleep holding her nutcracker.

She is woken by a troop of skittering rats and mice led by the villainous Rat Queen, played by Claire Singleton. Toy soldiers and a now enormous Nutcracker Prince, played by Jacob Maestas, a guest dancer from National Dance Institute-New Mexico, arrive to battle the mice. The Nutcracker Prince is transformed into a handsome young man. Clara and the Prince dance together as a snowfall begins, and Clara is led by guardian angels through an enchanted forest to the Land of Sweets.

Clara meets the Sugarplum Fairy, played by guest artist Brittney Feit of Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program, and her Cavalier, played by Andrew Silks a Los Alamos native now with Ellison Ballet. The Sugarplum Fairy’s subjects, sweets and flowers, dance for Clara before it is time for her to return home.

In the cast are several featured dancers and ensemble groups who add an extra spark to an already dazzling production. Both Feit and Silks give masterful performances and are stunning to watch in their guest roles. They are clearly assets to the cast.

The Party Parents know their choreography well and are enjoyable to watch because they are able to concentrate on their characters while their dance steps seem to come naturally.

All of the children party guests, including the four young party tots, are completely convincing in conveying their fear of a disguised Godfather Drosselmeyer when he first arrives, their excitement at the toys he brings and at the party in general. Favorite is a talented actor and provides fun and levity between many of the dances. Mallet and Chavez as Clara and Fritz are quintessential squabbling siblings and left many parents in the audience chuckling in recognition of the bickering. The three magical dolls Drosselmeyer brings to the party not only dances well but are stiff and mechanical just like real wind up dolls.

The dancers who were mice and rats perfectly portray a swarm of little rodents. Singleton as the Rat Queen is very intimidating and an excellent dancer, while Maestas as the Nutcracker is magnificent in both his comportment and abilities.

The snowflakes and Snow Queen are so graceful that they seem to mimic drifting snow. Each of the lead dancers in the Sugarplum Fairy’s court are really well cast. Their movements are precise, sharp and clean, their hands always posed and their posture well balanced, without a wobble to be seen. The Chinese dancers are so well synchronized they seem to be moving as one. Mother Ginger is very humorous and really fun. The clowns are darling and know their choreography well.

Four major strengths of this production are the direction, the choreography, the sets and the backstage management. All the dances are interesting and fun to watch and well suited to the skill levels of the dancers. The dancers all clearly enjoy their performances and do well because the choreography shows their strengths, while allowing them to stay in character. The steps and movements are very well matched, not just in timing but in feeling. The overall vision for the ballet binds what could be a series of pretty dances into a cohesive story.

The set is impressive and versatile. The transition from the party to the Winter Forest to the Land of Sweets is enchanting and nearly flawless. The winter forest is so magical it feels like the world has fallen into a fairy tale.

The light design adds to the effect casting shadows to make the forest look deep and full of mystery. The Land of Sweets really does look good enough to eat, with a giant cake that looks as though it is decorated with real frosting flowers.

The stage crew, though almost unseen, does an amazing job. With so many performers and props, backstage management must be a major effort.

But all the transitions, entrances and exits, and scene changes flow so smoothly, that the backstage crew must be not only very competent, but working very hard and deserve plaudits.

“The Nutcracker” is a well-staged show, and a feast for the senses. It is always fun to see familiar faces on stage, but it is exhilarating to see friends and acquaintances participating in a high quality production, which leaves the audience smiling in satisfaction. The cast and crew of “The Nutcracker” have much to be proud of. The final performance of “The Nutcracker” will be at 2 p.m. today at the Duane Smith Auditorium.