In what they hope will become an annual holiday tradition, the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra and the Piedmont Dance Theatre presented, for the second consecutive year, two performances of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) ballet The Nutcracker in Keppel Auditorium on the campus of Catawba College.
Tchaikovsky composed the music for The Nutcracker, and the ballet premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia, on December 18, 1892 in the Mariinsky Theatre, with Marius Petipa as the choreographer. The first complete performance of the ballet in the United States was presented by the San Francisco Opera Ballet in 1944.
Choreography for this production was done by Rebecca Massey Wiley, founder and artistic director of the Piedmont Dance Conservatory and Piedmont Dance Theatre. As I noted last year, this version is much more lively and interesting than the original or even Balanchine's version for the New York City Ballet.
What a difference a year makes! In the performance I attended, the large (fifty piece) orchestra, under the baton of Music Director David Hagy, was rock solid, and coordination with the dancers was almost flawless. The dancers themselves showed a maturity and polish that was in its developmental stages last year. As I said then, "This is a young dance company, and most of the dancers, even the principals, are young. Their expertise, however, belies their youth." Now, they dance with an air of self confidence and assuredness, seemingly knowing that they are on their way to professional greatness.
Jennifer Drake danced the principal role of Sugarplum, and Daniel Wiley, Co-Artistic Director of Piedmont Dance Theatre, the Cavalier. Ms. Drake brings an elegance and grace to the part, and Mr. Wiley provides strength and athleticism to his role.
The corps de ballet is a large group, with a wide range of ages, obviously both students of the Piedmont Dance Conservatory and professionals from the Piedmont Dance Theatre. All portrayed their roles with excellence.
In an era when major ballet companies in the United States are either cancelling their performances of "The Nutcracker" or are using recorded music in order to save money, Salisbury, and the central Piedmont region are indeed fortunate to have two wonderful organizations such as the Salisbury Symphony and the Piedmont Dance Theater come together to perform this beloved holiday program. We look forward to many more years of collaboration in presenting exciting music and dance.