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Snowflakes and Peppermint Candy

Symphony Hall
12/12/2014 -  & December 13*, 14, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 2014
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Ilir Shtylla (Herr Drosselmeyer), Frances La Bianca (Clara), Sasha Vincett (Frau von Stahlbaum), Randy Crespo (Herr von Stahlbaum), Collin Bridge (Fritz), Amber Lewis (Grandmother), Myles Lavallee (Grandfather), Jillian Barrell (Sugar Plum Fairy), Julius Gorton (Prince), Roman Zavarov (Harlequin Doll), Michelle Vagi (Columbine Doll/Dew Drop),Tzu-Chia Huang (Snow Queen), Astrit Zejnati (Snow King), Kaelyn Magee & Roman Zavarov (Chinese Tea), Fan Shi & Annier Navarro (Russian Trepak), Sasha Vincett, Rochelle Marks, Jessica Phillips (Danish Marzipan Shepherdesses), corps de ballet & students of School of Ballet Arizona
Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Russell (Conductor)
Ib Andersen, after Marius Petipa (Choreography), Carey Wong and Ib Andersen (Set Designers), Fabio Toblini (Costumes Designer), Michael Korsch (Lights Designer)

(© Rosalie O'Connor/Ballet Arizona)

This is Ballet Arizona’s same production of Tchaikovsky’s inescapable Christmas favorite that was reviewed here in 2010. From December 12th through the 24th, The Nutcracker rings in the holiday season and packs Symphony Hall with a merry audience that encompasses at least three generations. The lavish staging takes the spectator to a scintillating winter wonderland in the pure tradition of a classical, old-fashioned Christmas. Glorious sets and costumes, outstanding dancers combine to create a grand-scale production that explodes with holiday charm and wonder.

With former New York City Ballet first dancer Ib Andersen at the helm of Ballet Arizona since 2000, this company has staged many a memorable production; some modern: 1052, 2B, Indigo Rapsody, Sueños; some in the classical canon: Coppélia, Giselle (read here), Don Quixote (read here), Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, or La Bayadère bringing this versatile company to the forefront of what the United States has to offer as regards dancing.

It is not easy to tell how yesterday’s cast compares with 2010. Ballet Arizona’s dancers are homogeneous in quality, so much so that they rotate lead roles in every run. All bring their own charm, style, and refined technique. Thumbs up for Tzu-Chia Huang and Astrit Zejnati who danced a graceful and flowing pas de deux, with confident lifts, amazingly clean pirouettes, and spectacular leaps.

The corps de ballet shows meritorious technique, as always. Their apparition for the "Snowflakes" number at the end of Act I, in vaporous tutus, gliding on the stage with delicate unnaturalness, is simply arresting. Lines are remarkably straight, fluid, and cookie-cut in ensembles. Equally worth mentioning are the Danish Marzipan Shepherdesses, cutely dressed for the occasion as peppermint candy, who garnered appreciative applause.

The Phoenix Symphony is a fine orchestra but the delivery fell flat today, with lack of focus and a few sloppy entries, particularly in the brass section. On the podium, Maestro Russell battled to keep his forces under control but this refined score failed to receive the treatment it merits.

There were children on the stage, who danced a delightful gallop, and there were children in the audience who expressed, one way or the other, their excitement. But what can one expect on a December 13 matinee of The Nutcracker as the holiday euphoria will soon be reaching a climax? Yes, it was all there: the humming, the talking, the mimicking of the conductor, the clapping in the middle of a variation, the laughing… you name it. This otherwise uncompromising writer when it comes to theater etiquette would have thrown a tantrum in any other circumstance. This time, he did not mind a bit those conspicuous youngsters spontaneously embracing Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. It is Christmas time after all…

Christian Dalzon



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