This may have well been exactly what was said last year, but it still rings true: There’s nothing like “The Nutcracker” to get you in the holiday spirit. Not only do the familiar Tchaikovsky tunes ring with holiday joy, but the young families and children dressed in their seasonal best also bring a warm merriment to the entire evening itself. It’s a wonderful tradition enjoyed most wholeheartedly by this critic.
The Saturday evening production of Robert de Warren’s “The Nutcracker” was an all-around excellent rendition of the classic. The dancers, who included both Sarasota Ballet company members as well as students from the Sarasota Ballet School and Dance — The Next Generation, were in top form.
The students were especially great —with ear-to-ear grins from the party-scene children; on-the-beat marching and flawless formations from the soldiers; perfect hip-wiggling by the tiny mice in the battle scene; and show-stopping flips from the Bon Bons.
In De Warren’s “The Nutcracker,” Dr. Drosselmeyer tells the whole story by weaving in and out of every scene from the first act through the second. And there could have been no one better cast in this role than George Birkadze. He was mysterious yet amusing and managed to make the somewhat disjointed and awkward choreography for Drosselmeyer look effortless.
Nicolo Centocchi, a new member of the company, shined as Fritz. Though lacking a bit in the acting department — which made us miss Logan Learned’s comedic talents as Fritz (although Learned wowed as the Nutcracker this performance — more on that later), Centocchi awed us with his pleasing lines and perfect facility, especially during his solo as a harlequin doll when he demonstrated a flawless jeté en tournant manages.
Learned ruled the role of the Nutcracker with his never-ending extension a la seconde, which was exhibited in straddle jumps that were one bigger than the other, switch-kick leaps and temps de fleche.
Jamie Carter expertly danced the Nutcracker’s rival, the Rat King, and hilariously demonstrated rigormortis after Clara knocked him dead with her pointe shoe.
The snow scene lacked cohesiveness, which is understandable after one of the snowflakes took a fall — an inevitable instance with slippery snowflakes blanketing the stage. This may have rattled Snow Queen Amy Wood who usually exudes confidence in her dancing.
The Land of the Sweets was utter excitement when the Russian dancers, Learned and Miguel Piquer, took the stage. This duo dazzled the audience with barrel turn jumps from Learned and never-ending pirouettes from Piquer. The Arabian dancers were the appropriate combination of allure and elegance with incredible extensions from all three dancers: Emily Dixon, Wood and Abigail Henninger. And the Merlitons were all sweet with piqué turns and fouetté turns from Elizabeth Sykes. Though, again, we missed last year’s especially funny Rita Duclos as the lead Merliton.
Principals Kate Honea and Octavio Martin reprised their roles as Sugar Plum Fairy and The Prince (and Clara and Dr. Drosselymeyer’s nephew in the first act). Last season they enchanted the audience; this year they nailed their performances. Dripping with a contagious confidence and stable technique, the pair was flawless in the first and second acts and most definitely during their athletically challenging pas de deux.
Martin was the ever-perfect partner. And, Honea was the ever-poised princess with perfect port de bras during attitude-turn sequences that ended in an arabesque promenade. Echoing the other male performances of the evening, Martin nailed his pirouettes and executed a grand jeté en tournant manages, while Honea rounded out the evening with a series of 16 perfect fouetté turns. Their final fish pose had the audience cheering nonstop and delivering a well-deserved standing ovation to the pair.