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Dance review: Flawed ‘Nutcracker’ staging overshadows dancers’ efforts

Sunday, December 12, 2010
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— In this region, there is a legion of “Nutcrackers” to choose from. But if your children are not dancing in Adirondack Ballet Theater’s version of this holiday treat, then you should probably buy tickets to another.

It’s not that this production, a byproduct of the Dance Center of Queensbury, is unworthy. On the contrary, the adorable children and the earnest efforts of its advanced dancers make for a pleasing diversion. Yet this pre-professional company’s staging has some issues, which dilute the Tchaikovsky ballet’s grandeur. “The Nutcracker” is lush, not quaint.

Part of the problem is the stage, the Charles R. Wood Theater, on which the small troupe performed this past weekend. It lacks depth, making it very difficult for the snowflakes to swirl and the flowers to blossom.

It was most distressing for the guest artist, David Freeland, who performed the role of the Cavalier. As he circled the stage in a series of grand jetés, he looked like he might leap off the stage, into the arms of the audience, to maintain his momentum. Instead, he did his best to shorten his step, which dampened the collective euphoria of his flight.

Of course, Adirondack Ballet Theater cannot do anything to enlarge the stage. But there are things that the co-Artistic Directors Caroline Beaty and Diane LaBruzzo can do to spruce up its “Nutcracker.” Much has to do with production values. They should add a tree that grows and it should be snowing in the Land of the Snow. (Both are essential to “Nutcracker” magic.) Just adding these two elements, which can be costly, would up the cachet of the production.

The costumes were lovely, especially those for the snowflakes, the flowers and the first act party scene. With the dancers well dressed, the look was elevated. And some of the dancers did look very good.

Emilee Stockman as the gymnastic Chinese Tea personified perfection. Cathy Flores as Dew Drop flitted among her flowers beautifully. Also outstanding were the slinky, exotic Joelle Connor and Marissa Perrone as Arabian Coffee. Unfortunately, some of the choreography for other roles was a stretch for its student dancers, which made the dancers look awkward. Simpler steps that enhance the dancer’s look should always override the flashier, more difficult moves that can make a dancer stiffen.

Needless to say, the guest artists, Freeland and his Sugarplum Fairy, Amanda Smith, performed the final grand pas de deux with elegance and ease. They were both lovely. And the audience cheered when Smith flew up on the shoulders of Freeland and when he swooped her down into a swan dive. The praise was well deserved.

One final note: The directors toyed with the Tchaikovsky score a bit too much. It’s fine to shorten it, eliminating repeats, as children in the audience have difficulty watching one scene for more than 20 minutes. But rearranging it, as the directors did by patching first act music into random places, is sacrilegious. There are reasons why “The Nutcracker” remains wildly popular. One of them is the score. It’s perfect as it is.

 
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