Excitement and anticipation runs through the crowd as the lights dim in preparation for the show to start. The orchestra begins playing Tableau I softly at first, building to a strong finish as it sets the tone for a magical evening. A familiar tingle, a smile, and suddenly a rush of happy memories return. The Nutcracker is a time-honored holiday tradition for many, including myself, and Alexei Ratmansky’s production featuring some of American Ballet Theatre’s very talented performers is not one to be missed.
For those unfamiliar, The Nutcracker Ballet is based on the story “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” written by E.T.A. Hoffman. The current version of the ballet with which most are familiar is Alexander Dumas’ adaptation of the story set to music by Tchaikovsky, originally choreographed by Marius Pepita and premiered a week before Christmas in 1892.
The story centers around a young girl named Clara (Annabelle Eubanks) on Christmas eve where she is presented with a Nutcracker (Lorenzo Dunto) from her godfather, Drosselmeyer (Roman Zhurbin), who is a skilled toy maker. The Nutcracker comes to life as the clock strikes midnight and a fierce battle ensues between the Mouse King (Thomas Forster) and the Nutcracker. As the Nutcracker and his army are overwhelmed by the Mouse King and his mice army, Clara makes a daring charge and throws her slipper at the Mouse King dealing a fatal blow. Victorious, Clara and the Nutcracker boy are transported to the Land of Snow where they are greeted by dancing snowflakes. They then find themselves in the Land of Sweets where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy (Zhong-Jing Fang) who rewards them with a celebration of dances from around the world upon hearing of the defeat of the Mouse King. Clara then awakens Christmas morning to find it was all a dream. The story’s theme is composed around one’s awakening to a wider world outside of home and family and, of course, romantic love.
The set design in itself is fairly simple but brilliant in its clever use of space, forced perspective, and lighting. It allows for the audience to fully immerse themselves in Tchaikovsky’s classically familiar music and the intricate movements of the dancers on stage instead of being distracted by elaborate side details. The simplistic backdrop used for the Land of Snow combined with the blue and white lighting made the falling snow look almost magical and the snowflake dancers appear as if they were shimmering as they danced around young Clara and the Nutcracker boy.
This basic design principle was also incredibly effective during the performances by Clara, the princess (Gillian Murphy), and the Nutcracker prince (James Whiteside). The focus was solely on Tchaikovsky’s brilliant score and the noteworthy choreography. The two principal dancers were mesmerizing as they moved across the stage with the gracefulness and strength that can only be found in the beauty that is the ballet.
Tchaikovsky’s compositions are familiar to most and music from the Nutcracker can be heard throughout the holiday season. The live orchestra conducted by David LaMarche was beautifully played and expertly carried the emotion from scene to scene. Without this strong performance, the entire show would have been lacking. Long after the bright lights and colorful costumes fade from memory, the beautifully played music will continue to lead us into our dreams with sugar plum fairies dancing in our heads.
Tickets for American Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker start at $29 are now available online at
SCFTA.org, at the Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa or by calling (714) 556-2787. For inquiries about group ticket discounts for 10 or more, call the Group Services office at (714) 755-0236. The show runs until December 18, 2016 in Segerstrom Hall. Get your tickets now before they sell out.