writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

The Season's Last Nutcracker

The Nutcracker
The Washington Ballet
Warner Theater
Washington, DC
Sunday, December 28, 2003

by George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson

On the last day of its run this year, Mary Day's The Nutcracker attracted family. Not only did persons from the dance world attended but, by and large, the general audience, too, knew what to expect. Even the children regarded it as something of a holiday habit. It seemed they had been to Miss Day's show before or had heard of it as cherished lore. By the time they left the theater, the not-so-young and the not-that-old alike had feasted their eyes and ears a little. The juniors may also have learned to pay attention and had the chance to practice their manners by not talking during the dancing and not applauding out of turn.

The production is a traditional Nutcracker with original touches. It is modest in an American way and has roots in a Washington that was still innocent of Kennedy Center. In the memories of old timers the images of certain dancers in certain roles flicker persistently, no matter how vital the current cast. There's a Favorite Aunt at the first act's Christmas party who always makes me think of Chelsea Clinton. Her hair swept up in young Eleanor Roosevelt style, she knew just how to call attention to herself in order to move the action along. She also knew how to withdraw from the limelight graciously without totally disappearing. I saw Miss Clinton do the part just once (it was also a final performance of the run) and remember becoming aware that the man sitting a few seats away and gazing at her intently thru binoculars was her dad. In the Snow Scene that concludes Act 1, Bonnie Moore's cool regality is as hard to forget. So is the warmth and graciousness in Act 2's Kingdom of Sweets with which Amanda McKerrow's Sugar Plum Fairy received her niece, Jenna McKerrow as Clara. Going further back, I see a Nutcracker Prince with James Canfield's features long before he and Pat Miller became the Joffrey Ballet's principal couple and he had taken to choreorgaphing, wearing leather and sporting tattoos. At the time, Canfield was also trying his hand at writing about dance. Didn't Choo San Goh do Candy Cane? That was before Miss Day asked him to make the Chinese Dance we see today, the one in which twin girls on pointe unfurl long red ribbons.

The Washington Ballet put some of its most prominent dancers into the December 28 matinee. Jared Nelson with his long blond hair was dashing as he, yes, dashed through more than one role—Party Guest, Snow King, Candy Cane. He brings excitement to the stage, even when he forces the choreography. One can see him think and do—signs of a budding choreographer. As his Snow Queen, compact Brianne Bland had the neatly old fashioned trait of sculpting something tangible out of thin air wherever she paused. That ability to create places to inhabit on stage is lacking in the newer breed of dancers who let themselves dissolve into space. Michele Jimenez, as Sugar Plum Fairy, made someone sitting nearby comment that she's a dancer of Kirov caliber. Jimenez in motion is rich as cream. A single impulse informs her whole body. She was partnered by Runquiao Du, who has learned to wear courtly manners easily, in a way that becomes him and the scale of the production. Jason Hartley, leading the Mirlitons, knew it would be wrong to tackle a classical role as gymnastics. Choreographically this passage of the ballet is in the Meissen porcelain manner of Ivanov, musically it is in Tchaikovsky's Mozartian mood. So, Hartley danced wisely, with a restraint that was free of strain. Drosslemeyer, as John Goding mimed the story's instigator, was as an interplay of light and shadow. Like the fire in a fireplace, he was welcoming but with hints of danger. As his Nephew who is transformed into the Nutcracker Prince, young Matthew Dowsett displayed precision in his dancing and in his bearing a right blend of spontaneity with polite manners. Natalya Sverjensky's Star did sparkle. That the Christmas party was a tad stilted on this occasion didn't affect the subsequent scenes.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 1
January 5, 2004

© 2004 George Jackson




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last updated on December 29,, 2003