Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s production of The Nutcracker is a treat of lovely dancing. Artistic Director Nicole Kelsch, who has guided the company so well in these challenging times, finding alternative, creative performance spaces when Maryland Hall was closed due to the lockdown, spoke on opening night of the joy in returning to their home stage. The audience shared in this pleasure. And with technological advancements, all performances will also be live-streamed. With choreography by Dianna Cuatto, Tchaikovsky’s beloved holiday classic comes to vivid life.
Emily Carey brings a youthful innocence to Clara. She floats across the stage at the party, charming everyone. When Fritz (Sarah Hoffman) stabs the nutcracker doll, her anguish comes across powerfully, as does her joy when it’s repaired. Her solos are gorgeous to watch, as she spins, twirls, and extends her legs beautifully.
Isaac Martinez plays the Nephew with great charm, gliding effortlessly at the party. He gives a refined power to the Nutcracker Prince, leaping and jumping in his solos. With Carey, he provides a solid support, holding her as she spins and carrying her in his arms.
Richard Link gives a magical ease to Drosselmeier. He directs much of the action, carrying the Ballerina Doll (Lindsey Bell) offstage and placing the Cookies (Ella Cochrane, Cassandra Gebbia, and Marissa Weller) onto the stage. Near the end, he waves everyone off by moving his hands.
Sarah Hoffman brings a mischievousness bordering on toxic as Clara’s brother Fritz. She waves a sword around and rushes with it towards Carey several times. While probably not intentional in this production, it is interesting that what was considered “boys being boys” in the 19th and 20th centuries today seems threatening.
Lindsay Bell gives an elegant precision to the Ballerina Doll, while Catherine Welch and River Byrd bring high energy to the Tarantola Doll and Russian Doll, Byrd jumping and tumbling across the stage.
Amanda Cobb plays the Rat Queen with a powerful grace. Her swordfight with Martinez is great fun, especially her comically extended death scene.
Lindsey Bell and Ryan Massey give an elegance to the Snow Queen and King. They dance beautifully together and during their solos, spinning, extending, and lifting each other. Caroline Anderson and Ryan Massey give great flair to the Spanish Girl and Guy. Victoria Siracusa and River Byrd bring incredible flexibility to the Arabian Lead and Guy, as do Clara Molina, Hannah Hanson, and Marjorie O’Hearne as the Arabian Sides, writhing and folding into each other. The Chinese Sticks (Gabriella Femia, Markella Gatanas, Gabrielle Gross, Krystina Lilly, Shivan Mutreja, and Chloe Myers) beat out a rhythm as Chinese Lead Cassandra Hope and Sides Amanda Cobb and Mia Kohshansky jump and spin across the stage. Russian Lead Michael West and Sides Anne Gutcher and Madeline Pautier give full athleticism, leaping and jumping tremendously.
Brenna Mazzara and Aaron Bauer give a lightness to the Merliton Girl and Guy, gliding across the stage. Elizabeth Shin and Ana “Gisele” Gooz as the Tambourine Girl and Boy, along with the Tamburelli (Isabel Damian-Lopez, Lara Dugdale, Kendeal Fowler, Charlotte Jones, Sarah McCone, and Benta Owino), captivate the stage with their tumbling, leaping, and tambourine shaking. Madeline Jones is a visual hoot as Mother Tarantola, spinning around in a giant dress (with Richard Link controlling the bottom). At the end, the dancers disappear under the skirt. Cindy Case plays the Dew Drop Fairy with a quiet, careful grace.
Dianna Cuatto’s set design emphasizes the ballet’s fantasy elements, with the backdrop a gorgeous ballroom, complete with a Christmas tree and grandfather clock that both grow to tremendous size. In the first scene, the front part of the stage becomes Drosselmeier’s workshop, with tools and shelves. The Snow King and Queen’s realm has snowy woods, while candy cane wallpaper and lollipop trees fill out the later scenes.
Costume Designers Karen Kralik and Alyssa Johnson-Taylor have created colorful outfits that help distinguish the many characters. Clara begins in a blue and white dress, later changing into a pink tutu, while the Nephew starts in a tux and dons a red military jacket for the Nutcracker. Drosselmeier looks like a sorcerer in a purple-lined cape and black eyepatch. The Tamburelli and Tambourine Girl wear blue tops and orange and yellow skirts, while the Mother Tarantola is in a long green dress.
Lighting Designer Stacie Johnson-Leske adds to the feeling of magic. A spotlight covers Drosselmeier in his workshop, while the lights remain low for the party in the background. As Drosselmeier enters the party, blue light bathes the stage. Blue light also covers the Snow King and Queen’s dancing.
Dianna Cuatto’s choreography, after the Christensen brothers and Petipa’s staging, creates scenes of beautiful movements. The dancers work well together, navigating one another and the stage while dancing with high energy. While some missteps and spills are inevitable in live performance, they quickly bounce back. This production captures the spirit of the season, a joy to watch in person or online. Only one weekend remains, so catch it while you can!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 20-minute intermission.
The Nutcracker plays through December 19, 2021, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street, Annapolis, MD. The performances are also available to be live-streamed. For in-person tickets ($47 adult, $28 senior/child/student, $38 military) and virtual tickets ($28.16), visit Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s website.
COVID Safety: Audience members are required to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status at Maryland Hall performances.