Monday, December 31, 2007

Jack Neal's Review of A.V.A. Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker

Dance Reviews
Dec 15, 2007 - The A.V.A Ballet Theatre and the Reno Philharmonic's "Nutcracker" delights
By Jack Neal

It’s Christmas time. In a world filled with Tchaikovsky’s magical “The Nutcracker Ballet,” it’s wonderful to have a hometown “Nutcracker” as enchanting as the one being presented by the A.V.A. Ballet Theatre in collaboration with the Reno Philharmonic. A large, near capacity audience cheered this year’s “Nutcracker,” when it opened Friday night (12/14/07) at Reno’s Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. Credit must go to choreographer and A.V.A. artistic director Alexander Van Alstyne and co-director Miriam Allen for gluing together a lavish production that has all the elements of the classic “Nutcracker” presentations found in America’s larger metropolitan centers. Only a grinch would point out a few choices that would make this seasonal show even better. Money and time are not in abundance for most ballet companies, and that is certainly true for a company in Northern Nevada. Resources make a difference in what artistic directors can produce.That having been said, “The Nutcracker” works best when Clara looks like a pre-teen girl and her Nutcracker Prince no more than an early-teen boy, not a young woman and young man - even good looking ones. At 17, Jessica Evans is a lovely Clara and an exceptional dancing talent. If Judy Garland can play Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” at 17, why not Evans as Clara? She’s here and she’s excellent, so why not? Excellent, too, is Peter Brandenhoff, who’s a dashing Nutcracker Prince. There comes a time when child stars, no matter how gifted, must move up to ingénue and matinee idol roles. Precision, if one demands a more absolute precision, comes with time and only money buys time. From principals to the corps de ballet the production is in fine fettle and so close to an absolute-in-precision bar, it’s nitpicking to ask for more. It’s a compliment to this year’s A.V.A. “Nutcracker” that it’s so good, the very best is within grasp. The Reno Philharmonic’s 41-piece ballet orchestra is in grand shape. Barry Jekowsky conducts. He knows how to elicit a full-bodied sound from a smallish ensemble crammed into the smallish Pioneer Center orchestra pit. Conducting ballet is an art unto itself and for the most part Jekowsky is good at it. Dancers need to see a conductor’s eyes for the assurance and communication that leads to transcendent performances. In ballet, maestros (including Jekowsky), need to be more in sync with the needs of dancers and less involved with prompting from the score. Snow Queen and King, Mayo Sugano and David Fonnegra are an elegant pair. Sugar Plumb Fairy Lauren Main de Lucia and Sugar Plum Cavalier Jekyns Pelaez are solid dancers who bring a virtuosity to “Nutcracker’s” grand pas de deux that dazzles as it must, when it must. William Pizzuto is a Dosselmeyer of warmth, who – thankfully – doesn’t chew scenery holding his own doing magic with a bunch of cute kids. (Thank God, there are no dogs!) Kelly McCafferty-Rubero and Michael Heredia are standouts as Mechanical Doll and Mechanical Toy Soldier. Standouts, too, are the company’s Snowflakes corps de ballet and a host of dancers dancing Tchaikovsky’s exotic vignettes as Spanish, Arabian (a lithe Nicole Shutt), Merlitons, Chinese, Russian (a terrific use of athletic young male tumblers who come close to stealing the show), crowd-pleaser Mother Ginger, and Flowers who waltz. Next in-the-stroke-of-genius department is the brilliant management of children: delightful party girls, fun-loving boys, charming mice, daring riflemen, darling Ginger Girls, and a bevy of angelic angels. Designing the costumes, sets, and lighting, jack-of-all-trades Van Alstyne is the host with the most for this delightful “Nutcracker.” Bravo to all involved for this exciting adventure into Yuletide dance and music. Other than an opening evening curtain at 7 p.m., rather than 8 p.m., to accommodate families with youngsters, who could ask for more? The A.V.A. Ballet Theatre and Reno Philharmonic’s “The Nutcracker Ballet” can be seen Friday, December 14 and Saturday, December 15 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 16 (2007) at 2 p.m. For information about tickets and other A.V.A., Ballet Theatre events call 775-686-6600 or 775-762-5165.

No comments: