The Nutcracker @ The Saenger Theatre
review by Dorian Hatchett
In the far distant darkness of our past, long before we had Die Hard or even Miracle on 34th Street, there was ballet for Christmas. First scored in 1891 by Tchaikovsky, this classical ballet remains New Orleans second favorite Russian export (the first, vodka, is of course significantly less family-friendly.) Productions of The Nutcracker remain the the industry's most faithful box office draw to this day internationally, in part to its appeal to children and adults alike.
To that end, my date for the evening was my ten year old son, and whether by a trick of genetics, or simple lizard brain appeal, we both found the same notes of interest in our post- show debriefing. His exclamations of "It was very sparkly!" And "The hoop guy was so cool!" Were the same takeaways I myself had noted (though perhaps in slightly different phrasing in my mind).
This particular staging was by Ukranian Principal Artists with accompaniment by local partner studio Arabesque Ballet Theater International of Mandeville. The costuming was indeed "very sparkly", giving the whole production a bit of burlesque flavor that is near and dear to the NOLA performance zeitgeist.
Paired with flawless lighting, it felt like a spectacle, drawing the eye around the stage to the cast with such rapidity that no single pairing of dancers stood out most of the time, and contributing to the feeling of dreamlike disorientation that elevated the ballet from its usual 'a-little-too-precious' tone, to something more frantic. No show at the Saenger Theater exists in a vacuum, and the beauty of the room always plays an important role in the experience, enhancing the action on stage.
The shining stars of this production, aside from the rhinestones, were the acrobats. Several movements in the second act were punctuated by acrobats (a dancer in emerald operating a cyr wheel never failed to elicit both applause and a smattering of delighted exultation) and the Arabian and Slavic dances were both embellished by feats of strength and skill. The Arabian dancers' slow motion contortions and balancing acts contrasted with the wild gyrations and high- jumps of the Slavic scene.
Special note needs to be made of the puppeteers, who in each themed set of the second act played background characters, and whose bumbling antics stole the show occasionally from the refinement of the principals. The children in the audience responded to these in particular, even my usually stoic kid laughing out loud at the giant bear refusing to yield the stage to the next group of dancers.
As an avowed Christmas hater, I went into this show with mixed emotions - the last show I saw at this theater was Viking ghost metal. My gruff expectations, though, were betrayed by the joy of the production; an unexpected warmth and a feeling that they got this one just right.
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