For the sake of transparency, let’s just get this out in the open: This critic’s favorite production of “The Nutcracker” is by far George Balanchine’s. No contest. There is nothing more magical than when Marie’s (Balanchine’s version of Clara) bed flies through the air and takes her to the snow-filled forest. And, Balanchine’s Land of the Sweets is so colorful — with “tea” from China, candy canes that perform the Russian dance with hula hoops, the Dew Drop fairy who leads the Waltz of the Flowers, and especially when the Sugar Plum Fairy is pulled across the stage by her cavalier in an arabesque en pointe (special effects not to be revealed!).
Despite being partial to Balanchine’s production, Robert de Warren’s version of “The Nutcracker” is quite lovely, indeed, and kudos to the Sarasota Ballet for reviving the holiday classic this season. There’s nothing quite like a growing Christmas tree to get you into the spirit.
The members of the Sarasota Ballet were extremely precise and sure of themselves in this production — from the corps de ballet to the principals. From the party-parents group dances to the snowflakes, the dancers were always together and maintained lines and formations, which made it a pleasure to watch.
Equally impressive was the student cast from the Sarasota Ballet School and Dance — The Next Generation. Performing roles from the party guests, soldiers and mice in the first act to bon bons and Chinese in the second act, they were obviously well-rehearsed and performed with great exuberance.
Coupled with the nice sets and colorful costumes by Bill Fenner, the show was an all-around, first-rate production.
Highlights from the Act I party scene included the stately Jamie Carter and Tracey Tucci as Herr and Frau Stahlbaum. Logan Learned astounded audiences, when, as Fritz, he disguised himself as a doll and performed straddle jumps, which went past 180 degrees, and barrel turns. Alexei Kondratyuk, who danced the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer, was terrific in the mysterious and magical role, which he performed with clean technique.
When the toys came to life, Simon Mummé did an excellent job performing as the Nutcracker. He executed grand jetés and jeté en tournants with ease while in battle with the Rat King, which Carter performed with the right amount of comedy. Leading the snowflakes as the Snow Queen was a regal Amy Wood.
Stealing the thunder from almost every dancer in Act II were Learned and Miguel Piquer in the Russian dance. Undoubtedly a crowd pleaser, the two performed multiple jumps, turns and leaps that defied gravity.
Learned’s unbelievable straddle jumps were back again, while Piquer pirouetted in between double tours en l’air. Rita Duclos did a standout job as the lead Merliton, garnering much laughter from the audience and applause after a series of fouetté en tournant.
But the show truly belonged to Kate Honea and Octavio Martin. The principal couple headlined every act from the party scene to the Land of the Sweets. Honea paired her girlish demeanor with mature dancing in her role of Clara, as she pulled off a perfect triple pirouette. Martin was the perfect partner — from Drosselmeyer’s nephew to prince. The pair only faltered once in the snow scene, when Martin landed late from a double saut de basque only to grab Honea in the nick of time for a lift that, in turn, made him late for a diagonal that included side-by-side soutenu turns that ended in à la seconde en l’air.
But the pair redeemed themselves in the Sugar Plum Fairy grand pas. From overhead arabesque lifts that turned into fish dives to partnered pirouettes, which Martin performed with one hand, the pair performed flawlessly. They dazzled as they danced their variations, in which Honea performed a piqué turn manèges and Martin performed perfect pirouettes à la seconde. In the coda, the pair executed their own feats: Honea — multiple fouetté en tournant; Martin — coupé jeté en tournant; and finished with side-by-side, fast-moving tour jetés.
The only thing that was disappointing about this performance is the fact that the Sarasota Ballet only performed three shows. Let’s hope the long runs of “The Nutcracker” performances are in the Sarasota Ballet’s future.
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