PBT's 'Nutcracker' worth a visit
A scene from the 2011 Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's "Nutcracker" performance.
The dress rehearsal finale of the 2011 Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's "Nutcracker" performance at the Benedum Center.
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Tradition is part and parcel of the holiday season. We come to expect a familiarity with our surroundings, most often nestling in what might be called our comfort zone. We relish having our family members around us or we decorate in the same style. And we bake a pumpkin pie with a recipe that has been handed down for generations.
"The Nutcracker," which opened its ninth season at the Benedum Center, has that same pedigree for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers. They start revisiting Marie's fanciful dream during the fall season, where the dancers enter their own comfort zone, whether it be a live doll or a snowflake ... or both. After all, multiple roles are the norm and some of them have been performing in various "Nuts" since childhood.
Artistic director Terrence S. Orr tries to keep things fresh in his glamorous Pittsburgh-inspired production, with minor "tweaks" (as he likes to put it) to the choreography. And occasionally he tosses out new roles to sweeten the mix for certain dancers.
But the real adventure is to find the brio inherent in those accustomed and, yes, familiar steps and parlay the risk from the usual into the unusual. That attitude was reflected by the opening night cast throughout Friday night's performance.
Not that much risk is involved in the opening party scene, filled with games and social dances, childish pranks and a little magic here and there. But from the start, the dancers cast a heightened celebratory atmosphere. Onstage chatter was more animated and the children well-focused, even to the little girl who intently chose crayons to color in her book.
It was all luminously reflected in Alexandra Kochis' winning Marie -- she continues to grow and glow with each succeeding role -- and her palpable onstage relationship with nephew/Nutcracker Christopher Budzynski.
That choice expansiveness could likewise be found in many of the solos, where the dancers seemed ready to take some chances. Joseph Parr (Harlequin), who has remarkable curvilinear legs and arched feet, showed a new power and control, and the oozing Arabian couple (Eva Trapp and Alejandro Diaz) seemed a little more sultry, the Russian trio (Luca Sbrizzi, Nicholas Coppula and Yoshiaki Nakano) flying higher. Even Stephen Hadala, usually an accommodating Drosselmeyer, had a dark sophistication as he swirled his cape.
With the retirement of principal dancer Erin Halloran just prior to the opening, it remains to be seen which of the women will garner that same artistic ease and authority onstage. Julia Erickson made a strong bid. Her Snow Queen had a crystalline technique, and her stunning sweep across the stage (kudos to Snow King Robert Moore) had real star power.
Soloist Christine Schwaner, who most likely replaced Ms. Halloran on opening night as the Sugarplum Fairy, had a real opportunity to showcase her talents for the first time in a big way.
Ably supported by cavalier Nurlan Abougaliev, who continues to increase his technical prowess, she reveled in the excitement of the occasion, something that carried over into a surprisingly assertive attack on her balances and turns.
There were a couple of glitches in the second act. Despite some nifty solo turns by Alexandre Silva, the Spanish dance still fell short, swallowed by the voluminous women's dresses. And the petite Gabrielle Thurlow was swallowed by her much taller Shepherdesses Ashley Wegmann and Danielle Downey (a height differential that also showed up in the Snowflakes and Flowers).
But on the whole this was as engaging a PBT "Nutcracker" as I've seen in some time, with an athleticism and audience connection that warrants a return visit.
First Published December 5, 2011 12:00 am