Tuesday, August 14 , 2018, 12:53 am | Overcast 67º


Liam Burke: State Street Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ — Brilliance Within Tradition

The Granada Theatre is transformed into a magical and mythic 19th-century fairytale

The story by German romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann written in 1816 and titled The Nutcracker and the King of Mice has now lived, seen and survived three centuries. This has happened most prolifically, of course, through the art of dance’s The Nutcracker. Should the great romantic Hoffmann be looking down at this time of year as you imagine he would, he would be mighty proud to see State Street Ballet’s spectacular offering of his most treasured story, particularly inspired in the First Act, which so often is loathed even though it is the most popular ballet in the world.

Rodney Gustafson’s opulent production reminds us what a night at the theater is all about. With more beautiful sets and costumes than you see in a whole year in most cities, Gustafson also presents details of the original Hoffmann story that most Nutcrackers around the world don’t.

If you think you know The Nutcracker, then think again, because this one captures the Slavic history of the ballet, too, reminding us that the first ballet version premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892. Gustafson and co-choreographer Gary McKenzie create a new voice in an age-old traditional while keeping a modern theatrical approach. The result is, you want to see it again and again.

What is so striking about this production is the original history of The Nutcracker permeating through the dance itself and reminding us of a slice of humanity that we don’t see. In the three dolls that arrive to entertain the Stauhlbaum family on this Christmas Eve, the choreography catapults back three centuries in the way it comes off. Danced by the entertaining John Christopher Piel, the Harlequin doll is like an old Czechoslovakian puppet on strings thwarted by his reliance on his strings.

Then comes the spectacular Rukako Takahashi as Columbine, turning on a dime and hitting a regimented and insanely high arabesque with the attitude of a Russian gymnast. The last doll known as the Soldier doll is danced brilliantly by Sergei Domrachev, who almost frightens us with his execution of the most effective choreography I have ever seen for this solo. His multiple turns and side-splitting jumps with a stoic and German expression throughout has this weirdly, fantastical, frightening brilliance. Throughout the solo, his lower arms swing like a pendulum, jointless from the elbow, puppet-style, capturing so completely the spookiness of an era when that was the extent of what dolls could really do.

So, when dance steps capture the 1800s but are executed with the contemporary aesthetic that the art form of ballet has developed into, then one must applaud the mastery of the choreographers. Gustafson and McKenzie truly understand what dance is all about.

The young dancers from the Gustafson School are polished just like professionals and have the technical ability that you only see in the top classical ballet schools of the world. In the snow scene, some of the older students smudge the line between student and professional, making the dance all the more exciting for the volume of wonderful dancers.

There has to be mention of Emma May Nelson as Clara, a girl who has the assurance of step and ethereal quality that you usually see in dancers twice her age. She is quite breathtaking in a role that requires a lot of a young dancer in such a setting. And speaking of settings, the Land of Sweets holds more surprises than you can imagine.

State Street Ballet’s The Nutcracker continues this Saturday at 2 and 7.30 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Granada Theatre.

Noozhawk contributing writer Liam Burke covers dance and has been published in Dance Magazine, Dance Australia and The James White Review. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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