For the professional dancers who endure countless iterations and performances of The Nutcracker over the courses of their careers, the production can become a bit of drudgery that must be endured throughout the holiday season. While the rest of us are on our merry way, Christmas shopping, having elaborate holiday meals and decking our halls, dancers everywhere are schlepping to rehearsal through snow and bitter temperatures, going through their daily routine of taking class and waltzing across the stage on aching feet and hips. It would be easy for them to simply go through the motions whilst caught up in the bustling nature of the season. Colorado Ballet’s dedicated dancers, however, bring the holiday favorite to life with bright faces, elevated extensions and energetic jumps that sprinkle the audience with cheer.
On the production’s opening night, Nov. 25 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the company brought their boundless energy to the stage. Drosselmeyer, the mirthful mad genius inventor portrayed by Gregory K. Gonzales, guides the audience into the lavish party scene through grand gestures and magic tricks well suited to the character.
The evening’s Clara, danced by Emily Speed, was sweetly brought to life while Chandra Kuykendall portrayed Frau Stahlbaum as a warm and tender mother. Sean Omandam was a perky and humorous Fritz, comfortably acting a role that requires a fair amount of mischief. Kevin Gael Thomas, dancing the Soldier Doll, flew through a series of entrechat six, double tour, and triple pirouettes impressively. He maintained pinpoint accuracy of his fifth position, a challenge for the most skilled dancers in the world. The children of the Colorado Ballet Academy were a highlight of the party scene, perfectly on count and in sync with one another, while smiling adorably and charming the audience.
Grand sets and backdrops, including festive life-sized toys and rocking horses, ushered viewers through the storyline as a lively battle raged between the humorous mice and the tightly choreographed soldiers, complete with shadowy lights and pyrotechnic highlights. The dramatic death of the Mouse King, Christophor Moulton, gave way to the festive and iconic snow scene as the snow corps filled the stage with grand jetes and rapid turns. The normally near-perfect Colorado Ballet Orchestra, directed by Adam Flatt, here seemed a touch fast, as the crystal dancers were unable to complete their double pique turns in the tempo allotted. Clara and her prince, Ariel Breitman, were able to keep up quite well, completing brilliantly fast pirouettes. Clara skillfully maneuvered indulgent balances en pointe, creating dynamism within the pas before flying to the rafters in a magically lifted sleigh.
The poised and elegant Sharon Wehner as the quintessential Sugarplum Fairy welcomes Clara and her prince into Act Two’s Land of Sweets, lifting her face to project light to the highest seats of the opera house. The grace and velvetiness of Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano as the Arabian divertissement brought the audience to a trancelike state with creative promenade lifts and extended legs. As the Russian dancers, Thomas and Omandam thrilled the audience to rowdy cheers with their display of split jumps and multiple pirouettes. Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles were a laughter-inducing crowd favorite, while the academy students’ execution of their choreography was a testament to their training. Waltz of the Flowers was a lovely feast for the eyes, the multi-colored costumes resembling petals floating in the breeze. The corps executed the difficult choreography brilliantly.
The coup de grace of The Nutcracker is the grand pas de deux of the Sugarplum Fairy and her cavalier. Wehner always succeeds in making her characters look effortless, and her Sugarplum is no exception. Her dainty and elegant walks en pointe in her variation are the epitome of the graceful fairy. Her cavalier, Yosvani Ramos, wowed the audience with his turns a la seconde and his powerful jete en tournant (leaps traveling in a circle across the stage). As a pair, their chemistry was perfection, the timing and execution of their lifts and whip turns impeccable. Make an effort to see this pair if you can, as it will be Wehner’s last season with the company and your last chance to see her sparkling as Sugarplum. If you’re looking for a the perfect version of this classic holiday production, set your sights on Colorado Ballet’s lavish and thrilling The Nutcracker.
Briana Selstad Bosch is a Denver native. She trained in classical ballet with the late Karen Williamson of American Ballet Theater, Kris Kehl of Colorado Ballet, and Carla Parks’ Academy of Classical Ballet. She went on to train at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Colorado State University with Melissa Corr and Jane Slusarski-Harris, While at CSU, Briana obtained her degree in Technical Journalism. Following her undergraduate study, she went on to achieve her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of California – Irvine, while training in dance at the Maple Conservatory and working on the brand management team at Disney. Following graduate school, she returned to Denver, where she danced with Ballet Ariel for four seasons and performs guest artist work.
Briana founded Ballet5280 in 2017, a ballet company that strives to create a healthful and supportive environment for dancers. They are in their first season.