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With an artwork so well known and as often seen as The Nutcracker, one could easily slip into the petulance of ennui, picking at minor details and missing the large joy of the work. One of the many merits of the Carolina Ballet's annual production is the company's ability to remain freshly charming in its presentation of the timeless, dreamy story, rendering slight faults inconsequential.
On Friday, December 17, with the North Carolina Symphony under Alfred Sturgis beautifully playing the imaginative music Tchaikovsky wrote in 1891 specifically for Marius Pepita's dance scenarios for the Nutcracker story, the Carolina Ballet gave another lovely performance of Robert Weiss' inventive choreography of the classic dance. One way the troupe stays fresh is through multiple casting of the major roles; over this run, there are three different Herr Drosselmeyers, five Sugar Plum Fairies, and half a dozen Northwinds. Of course, this keeps the work fresh for the audience too, over the years of viewing, as the different dancer combinations subtly change the dance with their varying personalities and interpretations.
In certain roles these differences are particularly striking. In the very beautiful Land of Snow scene that closes the first act, the Northwind has a piece that showcases the glories of the male dancer, in this performance newcomer Cyrille de la Barre. He was magnificent in the role, with a chilly, slightly ominous grace that set off the playful Snowflakes who enter in his wake. They, led by Heather Eberhardt, seemed even lighter and more delicate in contrast to the wintry weight conveyed by de la Barre. The Snowflakes' dance is the very model of a purely pleasurable ballet — it is all for beauty. The music, the attitudes, the movements, the lovely costumes, the lighting, and the wonderful set all combine to create moments of unalloyed happiness for the viewer.
The second act is pretty much one long sugar rush, with one confection of a dance following another. In this performance the Sugar Plum Fairy was danced by Hong Yang with her exquisite and customary combination of the ethereal and the crisp. Her Cavalier was Attila Bongar, who has become an assured dancer and who makes an excellent partner for Hong Yang. Their final dance is unadulterated romance, and you feel your heart swell with it, just as Clara's must as she gazes down at it.
This year's Clara (actually, one of four) was Kiara Felder, and she made me particularly regret that Weiss has given the role so little dancing. This girl looked like she probably danced her first steps rather than walked, and has never slowed down. She is buoyant, barely tethered by gravity, her timing is good, and her hand movements are unaffected and lovely. If we are lucky, maybe we will see her as a company apprentice in a few years. She treated her Nutcracker Prince (Pablo Javier Perez) with just the right combination of astonished adoration and queenly aplomb.
Also notable was Margaret Severin-Hansen reprising her role as the Butterfly, a perfect character for her, with her rather amazing ability to flutter through the air. Caitlin Mundth makes a splendid Calico Cat, and Christopher Rudd, as always, is a knockout as the Toy Soldier.
I prefer to see the Rat King played a little darker, and Herr Drosselmeyer a little lighter and more droll, and there was a clunky moment when the Nephew/Nutcracker Prince changes places with the Northwind, but overall it was another glorious performance by this fine company. It was made complete by the fantastic costuming, sets and lighting, and made great by the accompaniment of the first-rate orchestra. Far from being a boring old chestnut, this Nut is something to look forward to each year.