Ah, The Nutcracker—once the first notes spring from the orchestra and the curtain rises on the first scene, we are enchanted. With so many versions of the classic Christmas story, Minnesota Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker Fantasy is easily the one to see in the Twin Cities. Everything announces its preeminence: the jewel-toned, deeply detailed sets and costumes; the exciting light changes; the skilled orchestra conducted by Philip Brunelle; the well-trained and perfectly rehearsed dancers; the audience’s ohhs, ahhs and spontaneous applause. From start to finish, this Nutcracker never lifts its spell.
What happens in The Nutcracker? You probably know the story: Young Marie, her strange uncle or godfather Drosselmayer, the nutcracker doll, the Christmas tree growing, et cetera. But what is all about? A girl on the edge of childhood proves her courage and her ability to love by saving a young man (the transformed nutcracker). As her reward, she’s taken to the kingdom of a beautiful princess, where she watches dances from various nations. It’s a coming of age story. But what’s more unusual, is that it is a girl’s coming of age story, full of mystery, power, love, and kindness. MDT’s version, choreographed by Loyce Houlton, showcases this aspect of the ballet. In the Sugarplum Fairy’s kingdom Marie meets characters from her own real life—most notably her mother transformed into an alluring Arabian dancer, who promises Marie that she too will have this strange power when she grows up. The Snow Queen, rising in a flawless lift a moment after Marie’s smaller lift, signifies Marie’s adult strength and beauty. At the same time the ballet is full of children—past, present, and future, all knit together.
I saw some wonderful performances on opening night (casting varies). Mathew Janczewski makes a happy, friendly Drosselmayer, his apparent pleasure in the role spilling into the audience. Kylie Potuznik was an outstanding Rat Queen, her needle feet and skyscraper extensions truly frightening. The Spanish dance, with Eve Schute and Maxamillian Neubauer, might have been the best of the very good divertissements, with Schute and Neubauer both hitting every single step and Neubauer throwing off some flawless tours (spinning jumps). Flower Queen Elayna Waxse’s musicality and the corps de ballet’s technical excellence made the Waltz of the Flowers especially lovely. I wish I’d seen MDT’s own Caitlyn Fitzpatrick and Sam Feipel as the Sugarplum and her Cavalier, but not because guest artists Leticia Guerrero and Gleb Lyamenkoff were anything less than stellar.
The Sugarplum’s grand pas de deux—it always makes me cry. For me it’s the essence of ballet. It’s beauty and perfection on stage, with Tchaikovsky’s haunting music full of foreboding, reminding us of what we already know—life is never like this. But the fact that we can rise in the midst of our mortal trouble and make such a picture of happiness—it’s heartbreaking and wonderful.
And then it’s over for another year. Carnival music succeeds, there is laughter, applause, and we go home. It’s just as well, we can’t take too much of this rich experience. But, for a few hours at least, what a holiday present it is.
Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy continues at the State Theatre through December 24.