Ib Anderson's NutcrackerBallet Arizona
Posted 06 January 2009 - 06:58 PM
The party scene was once again incredibly elaborate from the set, to the costumes, to the hair and mannerisms. All three Clara’s were spectacular but Gina Fickera showed a certain something that left me with chills. She looked like an experienced performer. She made it easy to connect with her character. The toy soldier coming out of the box was a true delight. Daniel Marshalsay, Roman Zavarov, and newcomer Slawomir Wozniak all played this part. Each had their own interpretation. Marshalsay looked like a broken toy the way he moved as he collapsed. His turns and jumps were solid. Zavarov’s most memorable moment was the very first steps out of the box; he closely resembled a teetering toy. Wozniak’s was strikingly similar to Zavarov’s, the pair’s choreography was a little riskier and more challenging.
Roman Zavarov’s grandfather also really stood out as believable yet very funny. The butler, Russell Clarke, left me in stitches when he downed the last of the wine at the end of the party.
The battle scene again this year was fantastic. The mice are hilarious and the mouse king’s death is truly a comedy, right down to when he waves goodbye while being dragged off stage, by his sorrowful subjects.
The snow scene is enchanting. The customary praise must go to Astrit Zejnati and Paola Hartley for their pas de deux, each time I watch them they still surprise me with their exceptional quality of movement and there charismatic connection.
While Ross Clarke left me wanting so much more out of him. Clarke’s posture was distracting. He was a great partner for the tallest leading lady Kenna Draxton, who on pointe towers over him. Draxton's limbs are beautiful and graceful.
The choreography for the corps is brilliant, it flows beautifully. This was one of my favorites to watch.
The angels appeared as if they came in floating on clouds. And their costumes were exquisite. And when the little ones came on stage the cute factor went through the roof. And then, the purple curtain dropped to reveal the Sugar plum fairy. There was a moment of hush and then cheering.
Spanish with Zavarov and Wozniak was a stunning pair. I would love to see more of the both of them dancing together and separately. Their feet and their technique are perfection.
Tzu-Chia Huang was by far the most beautiful and sultry Arabian dancer. Her technique glimmered more than her costume, and that’s no easy task.
Chinese also improved the cute factor. Hartley stands out among the rest in this one.
The Marzipan dance is unfortunately the one I have the hardest time recalling. Yet in the finale when they blew the audience a kiss on closing night it was quite charming and sad. It was as if they were reminding us that the show is coming to an end until next year.
The Russian dance is another staple in the Nutcracker. All casts have that spirit of the dance but my favorite pair was Marshalsay and Zavarov. Their tricks and turns left me speechless.
Joseph Cavanaugh’s Mother Ginger is the funniest I have seen. So much so, I forgot to watch the bon-bons.
Michelle Mahowald was also a favorite. Her dew drop interpretation was absolutely gorgeous. The way she accentuated her turn-out in every fouette was phenomenal.
The Waltz of the Flowers corps had stunning costumes with port de bras to match.
The Grande Pas de Deux varied greatly with each cast. Marshalsay with Hartley was a treat the both of them are bundles of energy and passion.
Natalia Magnicaballi was just as I expected her high points being technique, passion, and beauty. Kanako Imayoshi was also perfect as expected. Huang gets the prize for most improved, her Sugar Plum was inspiring, and her grace and strength left me in awe. She far out shined her partner Ilir Shtylla whose variation was clearly simplified.
All in all I love, love, loved the show!!!
Posted 07 January 2009 - 11:50 PM
It's a shame that the company could not keep the live orchestra for the whole run. Live vs. taped affects the experience in so many ways.
Now, on to the rep season. I hope you will again report in!
Posted 24 January 2009 - 09:31 PM
Trapped in a hotel room by a weather-related flight delay, I recently turned on the television to find a bio of a renowned basketball coach. One person after another remarked on his energy, including his own high-school coach who said that, as a player, he “had legs,” by which was meant that the more he played, the more he ran, the more energy he seemed to have.
In the final evening of a 3-week “Nutcracker” run, Paola Hartley showed she has legs. In the final performance, she danced both Snow Queen and Chinese Tea as though it were the beginning of the run, rather than the end -- this, after she had danced Sugar Plum at the matinee the same day. Ms. Hartley, who always knows how to bring it, never missed a chance to connect the choreography with the music and to use her face, especially her big, dark eyes, to compliment emotion and line. Chinese Tea is lots of fun, though it includes discomfiting stereotype poses. The best of it, however, has nothing to do with chopstick fingers, but with humor and companionability. Tossed high in the air, by partner Daniel Marshalsay, legs parallel, bent knees toward her chest, then caught just in time to be pushed up from behind into pas de couru, feet out in front of her, arms waving, the audience “ooooh”ed as we, too, caught that roller-coaster feeling. Swung like a bell, side-to-side from under the armpits, alternating legs winging out and up (a more extreme version of the movement done ad nauseum in Balanchine’s “Clairinade”), Ms. Harley was the daredevil on the playground, urging “higher, faster, more!”
In fact, there were a number of daredevil moments in this run. Ross Clarke and Kenna Draxton, as Snow King and Queen, made me understand, for the first time (despite having previously noticed the clouds projected on the stage floor) that these rulers of winter are flying -- dancing on the air among the clouds. They are a handsome pair, both with long legs and nicely-arched feet, developing a nice go-for-it chemistry. She is a blonde-haired and pale Glamazon, while he is dark-haired, but similarly tall. Mr. Clarke also did me the favor of clarifying the logic of the choreography in Arabian. As is commonly done, Arabian in this production is a seductive pas de deux. One of the man’s solo portions has always seemed a bit awkward and out-of-place in what is otherwise a languid, mesmerizing piece. This portion consists of a stylized walk, in parallel passé with plie, arms bent like a football goal, hands flipped open. Mr. Clarke changed the stress of the movement, emphasizing the “down” of the plie, adding a hesitation between them to delineate individual steps. Others have done it smoothly, but Mr. Clarke’s choice elucidated the music and made more visual sense.
Ross Clarke was wonderful, too, as “Russian,” with Ian Poulos, who is also about 6 feet tall. While I expected the smaller Daniel Marshalsay and Roman Zavarov to show us those wonderful split jumps (and they did; Mr. Zavarov also did the Russian folk dance knee-walking), I was particularly impressed by Mr. Clarke and Mr. Paulos. There is something special and surprising in seeing men this big taking on the super-athletic, competitive jumps this part requires. Mr. Clarke (I think; a couple times I lost track of the back-and-forth) also threw in a series of near-aerial dive cartwheels – nifty tricks perfectly in keeping with the bravura competitive role. The audience loved them.
The audience also appreciated Ian Poulos as Drosselmeyer. With strong stage presence, Mr. Poulos was mysterious and remote, in contrast to the more avuncular Sergei Perkovskii and Ilyar Shtyla. Poulos’ Drosselmeyer works nicely with the ambiguity suggested generally by Anderson’s production. Drosselmeyer appears in the drawing room amidst a cloud of smoke; however, his entrance occurs near the fireplace. Was it magic, or just a bit of tree sap? The smoke re-appears in Clara’s dreams – wisps of cloud for the Snow King and Queen, then, for the angels arrayed in floor-length gold gowns, as billowing fluff and rolling fog.
Several people in the audience said “Snow” is their favorite among the second-act dances. The women’s flying grandes jetes are reason enough. Killian Stephens begins as a single snowflake, running on to pose center stage releve sous-sous, arms vee’d overhead. She was rock-solid, every time I saw her, both in the establishing move also in the perfectly-timed, beautifully-placed arabesque balance created next. Among the Snow dancers, she continually connected her eye to her hand, extending her line. She has a beautiful smile to enhance an engaging and growing stage presence. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.
On a bit of the sad side – Robert Dekkers is very much missed! While others do a nice job as Harlequin, none have quite achieved his sense of the comedic timing with Columbine, which brought a laugh every time as he kissed the air, just after she pulled her hand away. He and long-time company member Kendra Mitchell were particularly in sync in this duet, getting it just right, both there and in the bit of peek-a-boo that follow. According to its website, he is now dancing with ODC Dance in the San Francisco area.
On the other hand, it was wonderful seeing Kendra Mitchell back onstage, returning after breaking an elbow as the result of a fall during last year’s Nut. She was a radiant Dewdrop – a lovely role to allow this small dancer to display her secure classical technique among larger flowers.
There was just too much that was good in this production to mention. “Bravo” to all the dancers, who maintained their technique and character (and their sanity, I hope) throughout what must be a brutal run. Dancers performed multiple roles in compressed time periods, and several of the women danced demanding soloist/principal roles and performed in the corps (sometimes Snowflakes *and* Flowers) during a single performance. They then put up with the recorded music at the end of the run -- a recording that was greatly different in emphasis and tempi from the live versions.
Increasingly, this is a company in which dancers immerse themselves in even the simplest of characters, providing rich detail. They will soon have ample opportunity to show us how far they have come, performing Romeo and Juliet over Valentine’s/Presidents’ Day Weekend. Hope to see you there!
Posted 25 January 2009 - 09:57 AM
I always look forward to reading your reviews. Just for future reference, it's Poulis. ;)
I am still trying to figure out who you are. At one point I thought I did, but then alas you are not. Oh well, the mystery continues!
Posted 25 January 2009 - 02:44 PM
And, some mysteries just aren't meant to be solved.
Posted 25 January 2009 - 05:24 PM
I'm curious about the January performance dates. Most companies have packed the Christmas tree and toys away. Was performing after Christmas a conscious decision of the company? Did it have to do with availability of their theater? And what about the students performers? Or were they all in school?
(I'm sorry if this matter has been addressed elsewhere. If it has, I missed it.)
Posted 26 January 2009 - 09:32 AM
While this is a tourism area, out-of-towners come to play golf, rather than attend the ballet. The audience is quite local, for the most part -- very different from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and others. I note that a local studio (run by Polish dancers Slowomir and Irena Wozniak, parents of AZ Ballet dancer Slowomir Wozniak) held their performances at the Spanish Baroque Revival venue, the Phoenix Orpheum, in early January. Another student company, Ballet Etudes, holds theirs closer to Thanksgiving in the east valley.
I'm just musing here, having no information from Ballet Arizona on this strategy.
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