The matinee on Sunday drew the expected crowd of party-dressed little girls, their beaming parents and grandparents, and some little boys, also dressed up and enjoying themselves. In addition to State Street Ballet’s professional company, the cast was rounded out by young dancers from Gustafson Dance.
This Nutcracker marked a change from recent years, when the company’s production was a witty version set in a 1930s Hollywood movie studio. The new production, created by company director Rodney Gustafson, employed all of the beloved traditional trappings, including the Russian country house where the story begins.
Charlotte Brace was beguiling and ardent as Clara at the Sunday matinee, with acting skills on par with her dancing. Jack Stewart was her hero, the dashing Nutcracker Prince, and the two were backed up by the company’s fine romantic and character performers.
This production seemed lighter and more streamlined, in spite of the emphasis on tradition. The first act battle between the Prince’s forces and the rats was exciting, with Alyson Mattoon leading her company of fighting rats: Bayaraa Badamsambuu, Sergei Domrachev, David Michael Eck, Steven Jasso and John Christopher Piel. These guys were tough, but ultimately gave way to the prince and his men.
Pivotal figure Herr Drosselmeyer, who presents the Nutcracker doll to Clara, was dashingly limned by Gary McKenzie, the company’s ballet master and co-creator of the choreography with Gustafson. Jennifer Rowe was a lovely Snow Queen, paired with Stewart for the traditional pas de deux.
In act two, the ballet moved to the enchanted land of Clara’s imaginings, featuring the colorful divertissements to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s enduring score. Victoria Luchkina was a lovely Sugar Plum Fairy, partnered by the new danceur noble in the company, the masterful Jose Edwin Gonzalez.
Stewart reappeared to dance the Spanish solo, and the Chinese characters were Ezlimar Dortolina and David Michael Eck. The familiar favorite Arabian pas de deux was performed by Leila Drake and Bayaraa Badamsambuu.
Badamsambuu and Sergei Domrachev are State Street Ballet’s splendid Russian-trained imports, both having been schooled at the Perm Ballet Academy before coming to the United States. Domrachev was a terrific Mother Ginger, his hilarious antics augmented by his customary bravura technique.
After the familiar Waltz of the Flowers, the Grand Pas de Deux was danced by Luchkina and Gonzalez, who once more showed his strong partnering skills and artistry. Then came the finale, with the entire company receiving the full-voiced gratitude of the audience.
No summation would be complete without giving kudos to costume designer A. Christina Giannini, set designers Daniel Nyin and Yurli Samodurov, and production and lighting designer Mark Somerfield.
The only real complaint: This year as last year, State Street Ballet and the Santa Barbara Festival Ballet presented their productions on the same weekend, with the festival performance at the Arlington Theatre a block away from The Granada. The community is so supportive of the arts that it should be possible for the two companies to choose separate weekends and not go up against each other.
— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.