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Los Angeles Ballet

'The Nutcracker'

by Kathy Lee Scott

Decemeber 26, 2009 -- Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Redondo Beach, California

A subdued Los Angeles Ballet performed "The Nutcracker" a day after Christmas at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Redondo Beach, Calif. All the dancers were there, but they seemed to want to be home.

Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary set this "Nutcracker" in 1912 Los Angeles with a clear plot to the ballet, using recorded music. Siblings Clara (Anna Barnes) and Fritz (Billy Shaffer) bicker before the party guests arrive, who stream across the stage before the scrim. The groups of families did a good job having stories among their members so each one seemed unique.

The rivalry between girls and boys culminated in a pre-party tug of war that the girls lost. Once in the main area of the party, when Dad Staulbaum (Adam Lüders) turned on the Christmas tree lights, the whole room lit up. Luders gave an engaging performance as the father of Clara and Fritz, urging the boys to cause trouble, escorting his wife in the dance.

Andrew Brader exuded energy as Uncle Drosselmeyer. In this version, Drosselmeyer is young and sharply dressed, courtesy of Mikael Melbye's costuming. His long fur coat over a dark green outfit gave him a dashing quality that he used to advantage. No wonder the Staulbaum children fought for his attention.

Whenever Drosselmeyer spent time with Clara, Fritz would interrupt to turn the spotlight onto himself. He even asked Drosselmeyer to intervene about receiving a tricycle for Christmas. Fritz was too old for such a baby toy.

Not only did Drosselmeyer bring energy to the show, he also brought three dancing dolls (Katrina Gould, Craig Hall and Sergey Kheylik). The first two partnered together although Gould needed to be more stiff and robot-like in her moves. Kheylik, as the Cossack Doll, gave an exuberant performance that included one-handed cartwheels, split jetés and à la seconde turns with an added jump passé.

Christensen and Neary choreographed a cute sequence for the Nutcracker (Harrison Coll), Clara and Fritz. After carried on, the life-sized doll became another item for Fritz and Clara to fight over. Except this Nutcracker involved himself by punching Fritz sneakily in the nose. Then the doll whispered to Clara to keep quiet when Dad came over to investigate.

Clara tests the Nutcracker's arms, waves her hand in front of his eyes, but he's unresponsive. He remains still until the mice appear, awakening to lead the toy soldiers into battle. The mice had fun waggling their long fingers, swinging their tails and fighting the soldiers. Their costumes replicated real mice. After climbing from a hole in the floor, Drew Grant as the Mouse King played up the role. He gave a funny but not overdone death scene.

During the transition between the fight and Act 2, Clara and the Nutcracker trot to the snowy woods where they briefly throw snowballs at one another. Neither Barnes nor Coll is charismatic enough to captivate an audience by themselves at this time. Fortunately, their self-conscious scene was interrupted by the Snowflakes flitting across the stage. All ladies danced with good energy and smiles. The choreography for the snowflakes repeated bourrées, sautés and arabesques, but it didn't let them swirl among themselves as real snowflakes do in the wind.

In this version, Clara and the Nutcracker travel to the Palace of the Dolls, where all the usual specialty dancers perform their divertissements. Here, it's Marie (Melissa Barak), the live ballerina from Clara's toy collection, with her Prince (Eddy Tovar) as the main couple. Spanish dancers (Kelly Ann Sloan, Lucy Van Cleef, Matthew Dowsett, and Alexander Forck) performed energetically.

Katie Tomer danced the Arabian, partnered by Grant. She stretched her limbs but needed to slow some of the envelopés to extend the time at the peak of her developés. Grant expertly manipulated her around, over and under him. However, Tomer appeared less sensuous than other ladies doing this role.

No Chinese; instead, Gould and Hall reprised their first-act roles as Harlequin and Columbine dolls, even to the choreography. Kheylik joined Justin Liu and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp to perform the explosive Russian piece with high leaps, aerials and barrel rolls. Always a crowd pleaser.

Ann Haskins played Mother Ginger, with eight Hansels and Gretels inside her mobile gingerbread house. Nancy Richer led the Sunflowers in the "Waltz of the Flowers." She showed strong balance on her fouetté attitudes and relevé arabesques. The flowers gave a lyrical performance with lots of bourrées and balancés. They did interweave, making lovely patterns in their white with green striped dresses and golden headpieces. Richer's bright pink and leaf green outfit seemed to belong to a different bouquet.

During the final pas de deux, Tovar had trouble keeping Barak on pointe during turns. But his double assemblés and tours were high and impressive.

For a post-Christmas show, Los Angeles Ballet presented one with polish if not sparks.

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