Now in its 33rd year, the Manhattan-based non-profit ballet company Dances Patrelle (dP) celebrates the 25th anniversary of founding artistic director and choreographer Francis Patrelle’s The Yorkville Nutcracker with a weekend of four performances at Hunter College. The annual family-friendly holiday tradition has been re-envisioned and reset in 1895 NYC by Patrelle, whose body of work includes over 50 original ballets choreographed in a wide range of styles for his eponymous company.
The dP’s reworked staging of the 19th-century two-act Christmas staple takes audiences on a magical tour through New York, with stops at some of its most familiar landmarks – Gracie Mansion, the lake at Central Park, and the Grand Conservatory of the Bronx Botanical Gardens – to enjoy the iconic characters of the 1892 Russian classic, along with real-life figures from New York’s past, a large of assemblage of dignitaries from around the world, and people from different countries and a wide range of ethnicities, representative of our melting-pot culture, dancing to Tchaikovsky’s beloved score. It’s a unique combination of narrative ballet with a lesson in NYC history, including such well-known personages as Mayor William L. Strong and his family, Theodore Roosevelt (then President of the Board of Police Commissioners), and the Babcocks (owners of Gracie Mansion before it was sold to the City, later to become the official mayoral residence), as explained in the extensive program notes by Steven Burns and Robert Dorf.
In keeping with Patrelle’s mission of nurturing and celebrating dramatic ballet, inspiring and encouraging aspiring dancers, and making the art accessible to all, the production contains a large ensemble of young children and students from eleven participating ballet schools who want to learn and have been given the invaluable opportunity to appear on stage with seasoned members of the troupe and special guest artists.
This year’s outstanding roster of principal dancers features Abi Stafford (who recently retired after 21 years with the New York City Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tyler Angle as her Cavalier (appearing courtesy of NYCB), freelance artists Maximilien Baud as the Snow King and Graceanne Pierce as the Snow Queen, and Christopher Charles McDaniel as the Snow Prince (courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem). Their consummate skill, grace, strength, and agility in superb solos and seemingly weightless pas-de-deux not only dazzled the audience, but surely provided the perfect role models for their up-and-coming cast mates. Other highlights included Shannon Maynor performing the Arabian Divertissement with exquisitely elegant extensions and the corps de ballet’s light and beautiful Dance of the Flowers, with delightful demi-soloists Tanja Whited and Miranda Berlin.
The performance is enhanced with painted scrims and backdrops (by resident set designer Gillian Bradshaw-Smith) and lavish costumes (by resident costume designer Rita B. Watson) that evoke the era, style, and locales of Olde New York, and lighting that captures the progression of the hours, both outside and indoors, on Christmas Eve (by resident lighting designer David Grill). At the matinee I attended, there was a technical glitch in the sound system’s pre-recorded music that caused a brief delay, but the intrepid artists completed the scene and returned to the stage once it was remedied. It was another important lesson for the young ballet students – the show must go on, and it did.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 50 minutes, including an intermission.
The Yorkville Nutcracker plays through Sunday, December 12, 2021, at Dances Patrelle, performing at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, East 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues, NYC. For tickets (priced at $69, with extended family, group, student, and senior discounts available), visit the box office, call (212) 772-4448, or go online. Prior to entering the venue, all audience members must provide proof of vaccination along with a photo ID and must wear a mask upon entering the building and for the entire time inside.