The Nutcracker, presented by State Street Ballet. At the Lobero
Theatre, Sunday, December 17.
Reviewed by Molly Freedenberg
For dance lovers, The Nutcracker is as
central to the Christmas tradition as Miracle on 34th Street or
Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” In fact, it was seeing my hometown
Nutcracker as a kid that inspired me to become a dancer. The story
was mesmerizing, the costumes beautiful, the music captivating, and
the dancing exquisite — so seemingly effortless, so
Of course, I also saw it every year for nearly two decades, so
it became quite boring. I can understand Rodney Gustafson’s desire
to give a new spin to this age-old — and, for many dancers,
tiresome — classic. Unfortunately, State Street Ballet’s “1930s
Hollywood” version of The Nutcracker didn’t quite work.
The pastel-colored, ’30s-inspired sets were creative but lacked
the majesty and richness of traditional sets. The juxtaposition of
jazzy movements alongside classical ballet felt more contrived than
inspired. And few of the ’30s-styled costumes flattered the dancers
or their movements.
The biggest problem, though, was the use of the music.
Tchaikovsky’s score gives very definite cues: in the “Dance of the
Dolls,” percussion indicates the dolls are being wound up, for
example, while the crescendo in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”
indicates an escalation in the dancing. Gustafson’s choreography
mostly ignored these cues, missing opportunities for emotional and
visual impact. But some moments were inspired. The Arabian dance
was sensual and gorgeous. The maid and butler (dancing to the
traditional Russian song) were fantastically funny. And Gustafson’s
take on the dance of the children (replacing the giant-skirted
woman with a man dressed as Mae West) was downright hilarious. It
was also an interesting twist to see a woman cast as the Rat King,
though the choreography didn’t make full use of her talent. Terez
Dean was a sweet, graceful Clara, maintaining a sense of innocence
and romance in her well-matched duets with the Nutcracker Prince
(Raydel Caceres). Leila Drake nearly stole every scene she was in.
And the men were especially amazing, particularly Ryan Camou (the
charismatic uncle) with his turns, leaps, and scissor kicks, and
Ming Chang, who seemed to float rather than dance.
The production was interesting and beautiful, but it lacked
magic. Still, the dancers clearly have remarkable talent, and the
children around me seemed to be delighted. I only hope someday
their parents take them to a traditional version, too.