When it comes to The Nutcracker ballet, Colorado Ballet always does it right! This year’s 56th annual presentation of the magical holiday tradition opened at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on November 26th and will close December 24th , with a final Saturday 1pm matinee, just in time for Christmas Eve with your loved ones. Shows are Thursday and Friday evenings at 7:30pm with two shows on Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. As a dancer and dance critic, I can say that Colorado Ballet’s The Nutcracker, presented by Key Bank, never disappoints and is a source of great pride for the Denver dance scene.
“According to German folklore, nutcrackers were given as keepsakes to bring good luck to your family and protect your home. The legend says that a nutcracker represents power and strength and serves like a trusty watch dog guarding your family from evil spirits and danger. A fierce protector, the nutcracker bares its teeth to the evil spirits and serves as the traditional messenger of good luck and goodwill”.
Nutcrackers have long been a symbol of the Cycle of Life, or the Eternal Cycle; a talisman of abundance and nourishment present at feasts of harvest. The legend and magic of the whimsical nutcracker became popular in the US in the 1950’s when GI’s coming home from Germany during World War II brought the figures of power and protection home for their families. In the ballet, the eccentric character Herr Drosselmeyer, danced at the December 4th matinee by Gregory K. Gonzales, has given his niece, Clara Stahlbaum, danced by Emily Speed, a nutcracker for Christmas and a magical adventure ensues.
The Nutcracker sets on the Ellie Caulkins stage are elaborate, ornate, and awe inspiring, as are the costumes. One immediately escapes his/her own holiday hustle to join the Colorado Ballet cast in bustling down icy sidewalks on the stage. We are welcomed from the cold winter night into the Stahlbaum’s warm home where they are preparing for a Christmas party as Act I ignites with color, cheer, children, and friends. The enchanted dolls that come to life by the hand of Herr Drosselmeyer, danced by Mackenzie Dessens and Sean Omandam, offered variations so well performed that young audience members watched, wide eyed, not sure if the dancing dolls were fantasy or reality. The characters’ movements were crisp and precise, and the audience shared excited and joyful whispers in the dark.
The dazzling party scene descends into night and the overgrown Christmas tree turns dark as an ominous toy shop is revealed. The costumes for the overgrown and bumbling mice and their king are another source of wonder for the youngest of theatergoers. They watched with marvel as the larger than human mice and the live toy soldiers battle for Clara’s honor. They asked in small voices if the Nutcracker soldier, danced by Ariel Breitman, would be ok and they cheered as he rose victorious. Snow fell and the Crystals and Snowflakes danced flawless patterns in the hushed theater as spirits lifted and Clara and her prince were wondrously transported to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The Act II divertissements were dazzling this year. There was a fresh energy on stage as Clara and the Nutcracker prince were welcomed by dancers from around the world. The Spanish was danced by Mackenzie Dessens, Sarah Tryon and Kevin Gael Thomas; the Arabian pas de deux was masterfully partnered by Shelby Dyer and Luis Valdes; Sean Omandam soared atop a pole in the Chinese variation; the cheeky Marzipan male Kevin Hale flirted with the ladies, Tracy Jones and Melissa Zoebisch; the Russian trio was danced by Kristine Padgett, Bryce Lee, and Tyler Rhoads; and Ian Santiago was the silly Mother Ginger.
The Waltz of the Flowers, led by the radiant Dew Drop Fairy, Morgan Buchannan (shout out to Morgan who graces my classes as a guest instructor now and then!) surround Clara and her Nutcracker prince to celebrate the Land of Snow and all its gracious offerings. At this December 4th matinee, the Sugar Plum Fairy was danced by bright eyed, brilliantly smiling Sharon Wehner. Her sense of authentic joy grew as the variation progressed next to her debonair Cavalier, the handsome and captivating Domenico Luciano. The participants throughout the show from the Colorado Ballet Academy brought the bright spirit of The Nutcracker to life and filled the opera house with hope and joy for the season and the new year to come.
After four decades of watching, dancing, and choreographing The Nutcracker, I am still a diehard fan who can’t get enough of a good presentation of this holiday classic. If you haven’t seen the Colorado Ballet dance The Nutcracker, you are missing a Denver institution and one of the most joyful celebrations of this end of year holiday season. The little girls in their red and white dresses with curls in their hair, the boys in slacks quaffed and standing tall, the parents with grandparents in tops and tails; generations of families will be there with you. Tickets are available so go see it!
Shelly Chapple Clements was raised in rural Pennsylvania, in Amish Country. She was drawn to the city of Pittsburgh through dance at the young age of 9 and never looked back. Her dance education took her from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, to the National Academy of Arts in Champagne-Urbana, IL. Shelly returned east and graduated from the renowned Pittsburgh High School for Creative and Performing Arts after which she enjoyed a professional modern dance career in San Francisco from 1990-2002. She is a master instructor for young dancers and currently teaches ballet in Littleton and Highlands Ranch and is the Artistic Director of Youth Programs for DAMAGEDANCE. Shelly has been a Colorado resident since 2002 and holds Bachelor’s Degrees in Spanish Interpretation and Translation, Hispanic Literature, and Theatre Dance from Colorado Mesa University, and attended the master’s program at the School of Education and Human Development at University of Colorado Denver. Her passion for writing gives voice to the dancer who speaks not on the stage.