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April 19, 2014

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REVIEW:

Nutcracker’ in ritual finery

Nevada Ballet Theatre stages a charming version of holiday favorite

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Leila Navidi

Racheal Hummel-Nole and Zeb Nole perform as the Snow Queen and Snow King during Nevada Ballet Theatre’s dress rehearsal of “The Nutcracker.” Sold-out performances, which are nearly guaranteed, of the holiday classic provides ballet troupes across the country with profits that help finance their seasons.

Behind the Scenes: The Nutcracker

A behind the scenes look at the Nevada Ballet Theatre's production of The Nutcracker. The popular ballet features choreography by Bruce Steivel and performances from 80 local children. Read Joe Brown's review and find ticket information.

The Nutcracker

Nevada Ballet Theatre's dress rehearsal of Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • What: “The Nutcracker” performed by Nevada Ballet Theatre; choreography by Bruce Steivel
  • When: Through Dec. 28 (see Web site for dates and times)
  • Where: Judy Bayley Theatre, UNLV campus
  • Admission: $45-$85; www.nevadaballet.com
  • Running time: Approximately two hours, with intermission

Sun Blogs

“The Nutcracker” puts the company in ballet companies. The annual holiday juggernaut attracts the largest audience of potential customers for ballet troupes across the country, and the dependably sold-out weeks of performances pay for the more inspired and stimulating stuff they stage rest of the season.

The “Nutcracker” offered by Nevada Ballet Theatre at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre is certain to bolster the troupe’s bottom line. It’s perfectly charming and cheering, generous with the eye candy and ear candy.

Bruce Steivel’s choreography offers a pleasantly traditional take on Tchaikovsky’s fairy-tale ballet, with an emphasis on pretty. Nevada Ballet augments its attractive ensemble with more than 20 adorable and admirably disciplined young dancers. Andre Vassiliev’s settings glow like pages from a children’s pop-up book, and his luxe costumes will leave young girls (and maybe a few young boys) coveting sparkling tulle, tights and tiaras.

In a brief prologue, villagers frolic on a snowy village street (which was amusingly familiar to Wednesday night’s opening crowd, which valiantly braved the surprise snowstorm to make the curtain). Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the entrance of a surprise celebrity. Different celebrity guests are scheduled for some of the shows — at Wednesday’s opening night it was Clint Holmes, and he sleighed ’em.

Act One’s Christmas party scene is more mimed than danced, but there’s lots to look at as grown-ups gossip and gavotte, young girls dance with their dolls, and a mischievous posse of little boys creates amusing disruptions.

Enter Drosselmeyer, a caped man of mystery who conjures life-size dancing dolls and a toy soldier. Before the party ends, he presents Clara (on Wednesday, it was Natalie Zhang, poised and graceful) and her younger brother Fritz (proud and impish Ernest Constantine Reynolds) with gifts — a wooden nutcracker soldier doll for her and a stuffed Mouse King for him. After sneaking downstairs to preview their presents, the children fall asleep and enter a dream — a battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, a rousing skirmish between order and chaos.

The second act is where the ballet’s famous and familiar musical themes come in. A kitschy world tour of musical exotica — Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian — is personified by a pageant of dancing coffees, candies and flowers. The menu of divertissements includes pastel poppies in hues of peach and mint who whirl delicately through the Waltz of the Flowers; Cameron Findley earned the evening’s most enthusiastic cheers as the Russian (and as the first act’s Toy Soldier) with a series of heroic toe-touching leaps.

The Nutcracker by this time has been transformed into the Cavalier, dashingly danced by Grigori Arakelyan, who was born to play handsome princes. He partners the Sugarplum Fairy, the always elegant Yoomi Lee, in a picturesque pas de deux.

Steivel’s 25-year-old choreography has been capably staged by ballet mistress Clarice Geissel-Rathers, who knows her way around a “Nutcracker”: Before the show, she estimated she had herself danced more than 400 performances of the ballet. She brings out distinctive characters in the crowded first act party, and coaches impressive performances from the corps of children, some of whom are quite tiny. More than 80 children from across the valley perform in the rotating casts.

A nibble of a quibble: Act Two is an extended dream of coffee and candy, but the dancing was occasionally somewhat less than crisp and exuberant — it could use another shot or two of all that sugar and caffeine. Perhaps the dancers’ energy and momentum were constrained by Bayley’s relatively small stage (which, on the other hand, ensures that everyone has a good seat); certainly they were missing the extra jolt of warmth that live musicians would provide.

Still, children who visit this “Nutcracker” will be enchanted by the imagery and action onstage and by watching their peers perform, while grown-ups can look forward to relaxing, non-taxing entertainment.

That’s not to say that parents will get away with the mere price of a ticket: Nevada Ballet cannily provides an intermission with plenty of time for patrons to pose for photos with ballerinas, shop the cleverly-stocked boutique (mouse puppets and tiaras and several “Nutcracker” books), and visit the bar, set up with hot chocolate, coffee and spiked eggnog.

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