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Rita Kohn
Performance Reviews
Ballet
Musical Arts Center - Indiana University
United States
Indiana
Bloomington, IN
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Dancing into Dreams: Indiana University Ballet Theatre's The Nutcracker

by Rita Kohn
December 2, 2011
Musical Arts Center - Indiana University
101 North Jordan Ave
Bloomington, IN 47406
(812) 855-7433
Choreography and dancers with a distinctive sense of musicality in concert with a live orchestra and meticulous technique transformed into in-the-moment performance mark all of Indiana University Ballet Theatre's productions. Those qualities were particularly noticeable in drawing attention to the company's The Nutcracker production during a holiday season filled with Nutcracker productions throughout central Indiana.

Michael Vernon's choreography - after Marius Petipa's adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's famous tale - allowed the audience to relax during the overture before the curtain rose on a Vienna street scene with two urchins begging from a passersby.

A hint of magic occurred in the opening scene as a family prepared for guests who then arrived in family groupings, not in a rush all at once as is often done in other productions. A kindly yet mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer entertained the children with sleight of hand tricks and life-size dancing dolls. When he revealed a wooden nutcracker, the children were bored by it except Clara who appeared enchanted and cradled the useful toy. Her brother Fritz then became jealous of her and the toy and caused it to break. Drosselmeyer fixed the nutcracker and Clara cradled it again as the party guests danced a final dance at party's end.

After the guests departed, the family went to bed and the tired maids retrieved two hidden wine goblets, toasted themselves and skipped out as Clara entered to retrieve the nutcracker.

The scene shifted to Clara asleep on her bed cradling the nutcracker. Suddenly child-sized mice scurried around. The bedroom became a battleground as Clara tried to escape them and larger mice. Drosselmeyer rescued her as the battle spilled into the parlor where the family's Christmas tree grew to gigantic proportions. Tin soldiers battled mice and Clara's nutcracker grew to life size and took command of the soldiers, only to be overpowered by the Mouse King until Clara distracted the rodent by throwing her slipper at it.

That action imbued Clara with the power to create her own dream and destiny as the bedroom scene disappeared into a pine forest with Drosselmeyer and Clara starting on a journey into the Land of Snow. Vernon's choreography here is totally delightful in replicating a real snowfall, as first one dancer floated in as a precursor snowflake, followed by another, then two, and three and a swirl of dancers shimmered into a snowfall swiftly dispersed by a gust of wind as the the Snow Queen entered. It's a breathtaking scene equally for audience and Clara, who was whisked up and away into the realm of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her court of levitating angels and thence into a place adorned with sugary deliciousness.

Drosselmeyer urged the shy Clara to relate her story of saving herself and the nutcracker by her quick thinking to throw her slipper at the Mouse King and thus be rewarded for her heroism. Clara was then crowned, given a seat of honor and entertained by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier dancing to the ethereal tinkling sound of the celesta, and in succession by dancers depicting smooth Spanish hot chocolate, sultry Arabian coffee, sprightly Chinese tea, high-springing Russian candy canes, delicate Danish marzipan and teasing gingersnaps. The Waltz of the Flowers evolved from a palette of pastels, becoming a bouquet honoring The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier who were exquisite in their partnering and in solos.

As the dream wound into itself with a review of the sweets and the return to bed, Clara and the audience are left to sort out what was real, what was imagination and what was truly magical. Vernon's grasp of childhood and the power of ballet to uplift, touch and imbue us with wonderment are shared by his dancers and production team, resulting in a lovely, cohesive rendering of this seasonal favorite. Even at the closing performance of a three-day run with five performances, the energy was high, the dancing crisp and clean, and characterizations and pantomime thoroughly engaging.

The Nutcracker was first performed December 18, 1892 at the Marinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

Dancers included Indiana University undergraduate students in dance and students of the IU Pre-College Ballet Program.

More at: http://info.music.indiana.edu/web/page/normal/16418.html

Note: Of particular interest to a reviewer based in Indianapolis is the appearance in the program of two IU ballet majors associated with the Indianapolis School of Ballet, Christopher Lingner and Michelle Meltzer. I have followed them since they began dancing at a young age, much as sports writers follow atheletes. Watching them grow and mature into our next generation of dancers is the most rewarding aspect of being a dance critic.
Alison Koroly as the Snow Queen and Christopher Ligner as the Snow Cavalier in Indiana University Ballet Theater's 'The Nutcracker'.

Alison Koroly as the Snow Queen and Christopher Ligner as the Snow Cavalier in Indiana University Ballet Theater's "The Nutcracker".


Matthew Rusk as the Mouse King and Tyler Rhoads as the Nutcracker in Indiana University Ballet Theater's 'The Nutcracker'.

Matthew Rusk as the Mouse King and Tyler Rhoads as the Nutcracker in Indiana University Ballet Theater's "The Nutcracker".


Austin Dowdy as the Nutcracker in  Indiana University Ballet Theater's 'The Nutcracker'.

Austin Dowdy as the Nutcracker in Indiana University Ballet Theater's "The Nutcracker".


Gregory Tyndall as the Cavalier in  Indiana University Ballet Theater's 'The Nutcracker'.

Gregory Tyndall as the Cavalier in Indiana University Ballet Theater's "The Nutcracker".


Elizabeth Martin as the lead Mirliton in Indiana University Ballet Theater's 'The Nutcracker'.

Elizabeth Martin as the lead Mirliton in Indiana University Ballet Theater's "The Nutcracker".

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