The Nutcracker x Three

By Hal de Becker


There was a time not too long ago that when one alluded to a local performance of the ‘Nutcracker’ ballet it was usually Nevada Ballet Theatre’s production that came to mind. Now, however, when referring to a ‘Nutcracker’ presentation one needs to ask, “Which one?”

I saw three this past holiday season and found them all entertaining and artistic.

This was the third time NBT has presented Peter Anastos’s version of the ballet at the Paris Theater.It was also the last time.

Next year, James Canfield, NBT’s artistic director, will choreograph a new ‘Nutcracker’, his first full length work for the company.

The Houssels Family Foundation is donating one million dollars for the new production which will have its world premiere at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Nancy Houssels is NBT’s co-founder and ‘guardian angel’.

Despite brilliant costumes, sets and lighting, the Anastos rendition has never been one of my favorites.This year, however, with some staging and choreographic improvements, plus excellent dancing by the company, it was more appealing.

The opening party scene possessed more familial warmth and no longer suffered from gaps of empty spaces; Waltz of the Flowers had an increased sense of real ‘waltzing’; the program’s sequencing was well-paced; and the production was infused with a greater sense of joyousness.

The adult ensemble looked more mature this season and possessed better uniformity of size and skill.Conspicuous were the men’s larger techniques and trimmer figures.

At the performance I attended, Leigh Hartley and Grigori Arakelyan, As King and Queen of the Snow Kingdom, danced beautifully.They complimented each other with mutually slender lines, technical assurance and lyrical styles.

The Grand Pas de Deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier was performed by Sarah Fuhrman and Jeremy Bannon Neches.

Ms. Fuhrman, a dancer I’d previously associated with speed and crispness, executed the role’s slow, extended passages with appropriate grandeur, grace and graciousness.

As Drosselmeyer the Magician, Marcus Bugler’s clearly projected mime and dramatic movement were exemplary.

Teenager Zachary Hartley drew cheers for his flair and virtuosity in the Russian Dance and, to her credit, Amy Von Handorf in the Arabian duet rose above ungainly partnering and weak choreography.

Photo by Virginia Trudeau

Among many other noteworthy dancers was Betsy Lucas as Clara, Preston Swovelin the Nutcracker Doll, Jusoe Calderone as Fritz, Demetria Schlondager, Griffin Whiting and, of course, all the adorable and talented children.

In 2010, two of NBT’s former principal dancers, Yoomi Lee and Kyudong Kwak, aka Mr. and Mrs. Kwak, founded the not-for-profit Las Vegas Ballet Company of which they are principal dancers and co-directors.

Aside from the Kwaks and occasional guest artists, the troupe is composed of 25 youngsters mostly in their teens.Because LVBC frequently mounts performances of the classics many of these youthful dancers already perform like seasoned professionals.

In the past, LVBC’s ‘Nutcracker’ consisted of the second scene of Act I, the Snow Kingdom, along with all of Act II. However, this year the production also included almost all of Act I with Clara’s dream of nasty mice, heroic toy soldiers and of being escorted by the Nutcracker Prince to the magical Kingdom of Sweets.

The high point of Act II, especially when performed by Ms. Lee and Mr. Kwak, is the Grand Pas de Deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince.

The role of Sugar Plum requires not only multiple fouette turns and hops on pointe but also unique grace and lightness and, because she is dancing for Clara who is a long way from home, a suggestion of maternal warmth. Ms. Lee delivered it all.

Mr. Kwak’s performance was distinguished by his elegant partnering and soaring leaps.The polish and professionalism of this couple is always gratifying to behold.

On opening night Clara was portrayed with technical aplomb by Isabella Schleiker.In the“Snow” adagio she was partnered by Mr. Kwak as Nutcracker Prince.

Alexandra Keft as Dew Drop Fairy in Waltz of the Flowers was a standout as was Miranda Jackson.Space doesn’t permit noting all the outstanding performers in the divertissement of classical and national dances, but there were many.

The newest entry into the galaxy of ‘Nutcrackers’ was an elaborate production performed by students of Nevada School of Dance, a division of Nevada Arts Academy.

The school was founded last April by Luz Morante together with (again) two former NBT principal dancers who arealso ‘Mr. and Mrs’: Sergey Popov and Ella Gourkovathe renowned ‘Miss Ella’ who taught at NBT’s academy for more than a decade.

With only a few short months to cast, choreograph, rehearse and costume the ballet they succeeded in mounting a high quality production that filled two performances at the 800 seat Chapel Auditorium.

Nearly 100 youngsters and guest artists participated.Organizing such a huge cast was an impressive feat, the result of which was a smooth and delightful presentation of the ballet’s fives scenes with all the ensemble and solo numbers.

The youthful dancers not only performed well and knew their roles, they also knew their music.

Just a few of the outstanding soloists I saw on opening night were Valeria Cruz-Colon partnered by talented teenager Ivan Kalinin in the Grand Pas de Deux; long-lined Izabella Tokev, Mark Quero, Victoria Vuong, Brittany Kriechbaumer and Guest Artist Kelly Roth. There were many more – too many to name.

With this, their first ‘Nutcracker’ performance, NSOD is off to an excellent start.