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Although there is generally good choreography and usually some fine dancing in any version of the Nutcracker, part of the pleasure of this annual Christmas-time presentation in any city is the sheer spectacle of it. In this respect, NC Dance Theatre's version, choreographed by company artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, ranks very high. While not so satisfactory musically despite the good efforts of the Charlotte Symphony under Alan Yamamoto (Tchaikovsky's score has been meddled with to suit the dance), NCDT's production is visually stunning and dramatically pleasing.
This year Bonnefoux's cast includes nearly 100 — many of them children from the NCDT School of Dance and the community, along with the professionals and the dancers of NCDT2. Some of them don't have that much to do, and some, like the tiny angels, can hardly be said to dance, but it is just plain fun to see that many bodies in motion on the big stage of the Belk Theater of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. To see them moving in the truly magnificent set by Steven Rubin, which is enlivened by Nate McGaha's excellent lighting, is really a treat. And to see the professionals dancing with the pre-professionals and the students is a rather wonderful opportunity to understand the former's high level of achievement, without in any way diminishing the achievements and potential of the latter. (The program repeats December 21-23 with variations in the cast; the cast from the 15th can be seen in the 7:30 p.m. performance on the 22nd.)
Patterson Floberg and David Morse, both of whom danced these roles last year, appeared on the 15th as Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, and it was marvelous to see how much they had grown as dancers. Floberg seems to be taking NCDT's bold Nicholle Rochelle as her model, and gave a very sassy performance as Clara, well balanced by Morse's increased size, strength and control. He was charming miming a re-enactment of the grand battle with the Mouse King for the admiring multitudes at the behest of the Sugar Plum Fairy. He seems to be striving for the authoritative grace and dash of Sasha Janes (Herr Drosselmeyer), a very worthy goal. Among the younger students, the eight who danced as Mother Ginger's children were remarkable for their poise and the neatness of their ensemble work. They were very pretty.
Rebecca Carmazzi is a splendid Sugar Plum Fairy, blessing Clara and us all with her gracious smiles and sparkling dancing. It was thrilling to see her with Andre Teixeira as the Cavalier, return to the stage after a too-long hiatus from an injury. She is so warm, and he is so explosive that their pas de deux threatened to melt the scenery in the Land of Sweets. Also particularly hot were Kara Wilkes and Randolph Ward in Bonnefoux's wonderful Coffee duet. I think there was some Kahlúa in that Coffee, it was so intoxicating. In contrast, Mia Cunningham was coolly serene (and perhaps a little too remote) as the Snow Queen, accompanied by her graceful Snow King, Addul Manzano.
Company newcomer David Ingram stood out in several roles, especially that of the Mouse King, in which you can't even see him for the costume. He was invisible, but his dynamic dancing cannot be unrecognized. Ian Grosh jazzed up the Candy Canes with his unusual style, and the versatile Seia Rassenti demonstrated yet more of her range of talent as Tea. The lovely Anna Gerberich and the ever-amazing Traci Gilchrest both danced beautifully, leading the ensembles of Marzipan and Roses, respectively. It was in these dances especially that one could see the striking qualitative difference between the professional dancers and those not as far along the path.
In the dark of the year we need all the hope of regeneration we can get, and in addition to its more obvious pleasures, the NCDT's Nutcracker gives us that. While we feast on visions of sugarplums, we also see Ballet feeding itself. This legion of young dancers reassure us that as the seasons and years cycle by and older dancers leave the stage, others will fill it, and the grand and happy spectacle of winter's favorite dance will continue.
Note: Dance fans along the rail corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte may want to consider taking the train. The timing is perfect for a day trip to see the matinee.