The Joffrey Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ at The Kennedy Center by Ramona Harper

Who said it’s too early to start putting up Christmas decorations? After seeing The Joffrey Ballets enchanting Kennedy Center Friday night performance of The Nutcracker, I’m headed straight for the attic to search for my favorite holiday baubles.

Kara Zimmerman and Fabrice Calmels. Photo by Herbert Migdoll.
Kara Zimmerman and Fabrice Calmels. Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The beautiful Nutcracker ballet is a timeless tale of dreams and fantasies that awaken the holiday spirit. The Joffrey Ballet’s gorgeous presentation of this classic yuletide tradition takes you on a magical journey into the Kingdom of Sweets where sweet dreams come true for young and old alike.

Tradition matters. It’s what we are all searching for this season of the year. We yearn to create and hold onto those fond holiday memories filled with youthful images of Christmas goodies and good times. And what better way to draw out those warm, cozy sentiments than the wonder and excitement of The Nutcracker. The Joffrey Ballet adds all the right elements to create an experience that dreams are made of—the fanciful pageantry of days gone by and the innocent present moment majesty of childlike exuberance. The sheer joy of dancing shines through every head-spinning pirouette, elongated arabesque, and soaring sauté of the talented Joffrey Ballet; and their joy becomes infectious.

The brilliant choreography of founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino tell E.T.A. Hoffman’s original storyline of the The Nutcracker and The Mouse King with lively energy, passion, grace, and beauty:

The parlor scene opens to a lavish Christmas party in the palatial home of the Mayor and Mrs. Stahlbaum in an American city in the mid-1800s. The Victorian era is elegantly depicted in grand drawing room scenery (Oliver Smith) complete with ascending staircase and glowing candle-lit Christmas tree. Petticoat gowns and waistcoat tuxes adorn the men and woman. This is a party with a purpose. And if you thought you knew line-dancing, the guests at this party sashay in a way that tell you where the tradition must have started. The Stahlbaum’s two children, Clara and Fritz (Caitlin Meighan and Elivelton Das Gracias) are among the little ones at the party who all receive Christmas toys and gifts. However, the most special present of all is the Nutcracker Doll. Dr. Dosselmeyer (Fabrice Calmels), a dazzling 6-foot-6 mystical figure who seems to sprinkle sparkle dust whenever he appears, gives the Nutcracker Doll to Clara, his goddaughter. Fritz, an ebullient young lad, breaks Clara’s new toy to her dismay; but Dosselmeyer comes to the rescue and bandages it.

Later that evening after all of the guests have gone, Clara sneaks downstairs to comfort her Nutcracker Doll and she falls asleep. She awakens in another realm to a Magical Battleground scene where dancing mice led by a Mouse King (Matthew Adamczyk) are attacking the Nutcracker Doll and the toy soldiers who’ve come alive from under the Christmas tree. Clara becomes the heroine as she saves the Nutcracker Doll from the Mouse King.

Dr. Dosselmeyer, whose dashing caped presence hovers over just about every scene in this version of the ballet, with the flap of his cape, a snap of his wrist and a puff of smoke magically makes a life-size Nutcracker Prince appear before your very eyes. Dosselmeyer then leads Clara and the Nutcracker Prince into the Land of Snow on a beautiful golden carousel horse sled. There they meet the Snow Queen (Christine Rocas) and King (Rory Hohenstein) and the Snow Prince (Elivelton Das Gracias). Clara and friends then travel on to the Kingdom of Sweets where Clara is welcomed to receive her just due for helping the Nutcracker Prince return to this rightful place in the kingdom. The subjects of the Kingdom of Sweets are the dolls from under Clara’s Christmas tree, come to life. They dance in her honor.  Clara’s Christmas dream comes to an end when she and Dr. Dosselmeyer, who is beginning to look more and more like The Wizard, ascend in a golden balloon a la Oz.

Under the masterful direction of Music Director Scott Speck, The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra assisted by a talented group of musicians from the Arlington Children’s chorus, enliven the energetic lyricism of the Joffrey dancers to the familiar melodious score of Peter Tchaikovsky.

Technically gifted, theatrical, and dancing as light as a snowflake, the Joffrey troupe brings the Christmas tradition alive with sparkling grandeur. You can tell that the dancers are enjoying every minute of their performance. Dancing through glittering falling snow, the Snow Queen and Snow Prince’s Pas de Deux at the end of Act I is beautiful enough to bring tears to your eyes.

The Divertissements in Act II in the Kingdom of Sweets are particularly delicious bon bons, delectable in execution and scrumptious to behold:

The Spanish chocolatier dances with sass and verve (Erica Lynette Edwards); the Arabian coffee dolls’ duet is sinewy and sensuous (Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein); the Chinese tea dolls’ bobble headed buoyancy is pure fun (Anastacia Holden, and Aaron Rodgers).The Russian nougats’ high kick high jinks (Joanna Wozniak, Raul Casasola, Aaron Smyth, and Shane Urton), the Marzipan shepherdesses gloriously flowing moves (Elizabeth Hansen, Jacqueline Moscicke, and Alexis Polito), and Mother Ginger’s (Francis Kane) wide hooped skirt, with many polichinelles (Gabrielle Cramer, Anna Guttman-McCabe, Anna Hurley, Dylan Lee, Clarisse Lukban, Millicent Parker, Jessica Reider, and Sarah Stillman) prancing to and fro underneath her, create magical moments to savor and to enjoy.

In the Land of Snow, the eerily lovely pine forest scenery opens up to a fairy-tale countryside of dancing snow winds and delightful snow tree angels.  Here, a host of talented local tykes add youthful loveliness to the magic of The Nutcracker.  Dancing flower bouquets complete with falling flower petals seem to burst out of nowhere to fill the courtly air.

Photo by Herbert Migdoll.
Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The final Grand Pas de Deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Yumelia Garcia) and the Nutcracker Prince (Ogulcan Borova) capture the pure essence The Nutcracker tradition with awe-inspiring splendor, spirited grace, technically perfect precision and spectacular beauty.

No wonder the Joffrey Nutcracker rite, for more than 25 years, continues to live on in global appeal.  It’s what traditions and dreams are made of.

… and visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.

Running Time: Act I and Act II are 50 minutes each, with a 15-minute intermission.

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The Nutcracker performed by the Joffrey Ballet plays through tomorrow – Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. in The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or purchase them online.


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