The Nutcracker is a familiar holiday favorite for many, with recognizable music and a well-known storyline. However, like the snowflakes that waltz across the various productions, each one is slightly different. Denver Ballet Theatre (DBT) brings several fun twists to its version of the classic ballet, which were executed with great aplomb and festive cheer during its evening performance at the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts on December 22, 2017.
The ballet opens with a fun introduction to Herr Drosselmeyer, played by an animated Jeoff Horgan, as he shares his plan for his surprise entrance to the Christmas party with several of Clara’s friends, danced by DBT academy students. It should be noted that the majority of the dancers in this production were students of the DBT academy, though most would never know it: the students showcased great acting ability, with bright eyes and excited facial expressions that could be seen from the back of the large Newman Center house. The children in the party scene, which sometimes can get out of hand with raucous ankle-biters running underfoot, were rather a nice complement to the scene rather than a distraction. However, several scenes were somewhat occluded by children who stood in the way of the action rather than fanning out to the sides to avoid blocking sightlines.
The first act felt happy and festive, with grand sets to frame the action and elegantly appointed party guests. A mischievous Fritz, danced by Sierra Swensen, bounced about with boyish excitement and elevated jumps. The Columbine doll, danced by Joanna Toft, had impressive technique while maintaining the mechanical quality needed for the life-sized dancing ballerina doll. In another DBT twist, the Moor doll costume featured a sparkly bra top on a dancer wearing a moustache, an interesting combination which was triumphantly danced by Tomasin Corrente.
During the Battle Scene, the corps of soldiers marched together like solid infantry. The Nutcracker Prince, Zac Bigbee, seemed to be offstage for a great deal of the action, but when he was onstage he showcased nicely stretched feet and a strong chest. The Mouse King, Xilin Zhu, rallied his young mice, but was bested in the end by Clara and experienced dramatic death.
Following the battle scene, the Nutcracker Prince (now danced by Chris Mitchell) and Clara joined together for the Snow Pas de Deux. The evening’s Clara, Emily Lai, had pretty footwork and convincing acting; the pair displayed very nice synchronization. The snowflakes flitted and floated across the stage in mesmerizing choreography and complex patterning, and despite a range of levels and abilities harmonized to send the audience happily into the Land of Sweets.
Act 2 was the usual lighthearted parade of divertissements. The Cavalier, danced by Alexandru Glusacov, was a demonstration in clean classical technique, with wonderful ballon, rapid chaine turns, and stretched legs. His turns en l’air and clean beats drew audible gasps. The Arabian Dancers Raul Orozco, Zac Bigbee, and Elliana Flieder were a highlight of the second act, with sultry acrobatics (the female dancer popping out of a hookah!) and smooth partnering that lulled the audience with entrancing movements. The Russian component was a refreshing version, respecting the traditional dress and character dance, which is far harder than it looks to the untrained eye. The Polichinelles were well rehearsed and seemed to enjoy their time onstage, and Mother Ginger didn’t overpower the children as tends to happen in many productions. The Chinese Tea soloist, Lauren Wagner, accomplished several lovely pirouettes from fifth, a technical feat, and the Waltz of the Flowers dancers lit up the stage with their light and effortless movements.
The final display and highlight of any production of The Nutcracker is its Sugarplum Fairy. Gabrielle Gates assumed the responsibility with the clean technique and sparkle the role demands. The grand pas de deux of Gates and Glusacov indicated a strong and trusting partnership, with strong lifts and quick partnered pirouettes. While it seemed a slick floor was to blame for a few bobbles, Gates redeemed herself, flying out during the coda with flashy fouette turns. Thanks to lovely costumes and sets, dedicated dancers, and well-rehearsed acting, the DBT artists successfully transported the audience to another world of festive holiday cheer.
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.