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Festival Ballet Theatre

'The Nutcracker'

by Kathy Lee Scott

December 12, 2009 -- Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine, California

A rainy day failed to dissuade people from attending Festival Ballet Theatre's December 12, 2009, performance of "The Nutcracker," held at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, California. The three-quarter full audience saw a delightful performance from the semi-professional troop. The show featured FBT's nine company dancers, as well as students from Southland Ballet Academy and professional dancers from American Ballet Theatre.

Irina Dvorovenko charmed the audience with her version of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Ably partnered by her husband and fellow principal from ABT, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Dvorovenko lightly pricked the floor with her pointe shoes, twirled in time to the musical emphases and swept her facile body through the traditional movements.

Beloserkovsky leaped and turned effortlessly during divertissements, proving why he earns principal pay from ABT. Only the sweat on his brow indicated how difficult the sequence was.

The pair blended together in the partnered sequence, he guiding her to poses with ease. Dvorovenko extended her limbs until they reached toward the sky whether she was earthbound or in the air.

Many of the smaller solo roles were double and triple cast. For this performance, Christina Harward danced Clara to Tyler Nelson's Nutcracker. While performing well, Harward should practice thinking beyond the tips of her fingers and toes when she stretches her limbs. The energy seemed to break at her wrists and ankles.

She also seemed to forget to use her body to hold herself up in her pointe shoes, falling off pointe during one supported turn. Despite that, she gave a nice performance as the young girl.

Several girls played boys during the party scene, although they tied their long hair back in ponytails instead of hiding it under caps. Additionally, all the toy soldiers danced in black pointe shoes and fought other girls dressed in cute mice costumes that seemed to be designed for a different production. The people at the party wore eighteenth century style outfits, as did the second act magical characters with some modification for their specialties (like the Arabians).

Chuck Johnston gamely portrayed the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer, swishing his cape with a flourish. However, his gestures seemed foreshortened, especially when he waved on his animated dolls or to gather the children.

As the Porcelain Doll, Natalie Matsuura showed strength in her hops on pointe and attitude devant pirouettes. Interestingly, Artistic Director Salwa Rizkalla used the growling music often reserved for the male doll for the Harlequinette doll, performed this evening by Megan Yamashita. Yamashita attacked the "lame duck" pirouettes and fouettés before winding down.

The first act traditionally features less ensemble dancing and more acting by the performers. Rizkalla used it to establish Clara's disappointment in not receiving a doll when Dr. Drosselmeyer distributes them. He consoles her with the gift of the Nutcracker.

Rizkalla had the younger brother, Fritz (Devyn Lovett), sautéing for his sister's gift, as well as interrupting her time with Dr. Drosselmeyer to pirouette for him. She included a small foreshadowing of the upcoming fight between the Nutcracker and his soldiers against the mice when one boy swung a play sword at another boy in a mouse mask.

All the girls reacted the same way during the baby doll dance after the boys loudly interrupt their lullabies to the dolls: They all curled over their dolls protectively. To add variety, couldn't one have scolded the boys, another maybe chase after them?

In full-headed mice masks, Tyler Donatelli and Mariah Vega performed a simple pas de deux. Vega brought personality to her role, reacting to the action on stage like she hadn't rehearsed it multiple times. The pair could have done a bit more advanced moves than the rest of the mice, such as adding a battu or doing the same steps in demi-pointe. Otherwise, why give them more elegant costumes to wear?

The huge head Nelson wore hindered him a bit, as did the gigantic head that Maco Doussias wore as the Mouse King. In this production, Doussias wasn't given much time to "die" after the Nutcracker stabbed him. He was unceremoniously pulled off stage by the mice.

Both Nelson and Doussias could have pointed their feet harder during their fight scenes, unless Doussias purposely flexed his feet, which would have added a fun dimension to the character. As it was, they just looked sloppy in their technique.

The mice could have been more menacing toward Clara when they circled her.

As the Snow Queen, Hannah Schiller led a well-rehearsed corps of snowflakes during Act I's final scene. One snowflake, Bridgette McNulty, expressed her love of dancing with a sincere smile. She seemed to feel the melodious music and incorporate it into her movements, rising above the concern for steps.

Act II introduces the specialty dancers, all of whom performed with enthusiasm. The Spanish pas de deux (Yamashita and Edgar Nikolyan) featured high extensions by the former. All the dancers wore beautiful, chocolate-brown outfits with bronze highlights. The Chinese dance brought back Yamasaki with Art Zakarian, who executed a series of giant split jumps. Consequently, when Scott Weber did the same move during the Russian dance, his seemed routine.

Lisa Ushino paired with Doussias in a more lyrical Arabian pas de deux than the sensuous piece is normally interpreted. Most impressive was newcomer Devyn Lovett, who partnered Donatelli and Vega as the Merlitons. Lovett displayed excellent technique for a young dancer. His assemblé battu were clean, as well as his entrechats during the Merlitons dance. He pointed his feet on the sautés, which gave him additional ballon. If he can learn to act, he will be formidable in coming years.

It's too bad Rizkalla dressed him in such a frilly, feminine top that detracted from his movements. She needs to nurture him and encourage him to stay with dance.

Naturally, the youngsters under Mother Ginger's skirt thrilled the audience of family and friends.

Elizabeth Chasteler shone as the Dew Drop Fairy during the Waltz of the Flowers, phrasing her moves to the music. Her battement devant to attitude derrière were spot on. The cavaliers (Alex Fost, Weber and Zakarian) attained good ballon during their tours.

Rizkalla followed traditional choreography for the most part. The company performed to a recording of Tchaikovsky's music before backdrops originally created for Ballet Pacifica by Simon Pastukh and Galina Solovyeva. Brock Cilley lit the production.

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