December 23, 2010

"Nutcracker": Peninsula Ballet Theatre

     'Tis the season, and Nutcracker productions are everywhere. Families all over the U.S. make this ballet part of their annual holiday tradition, attending Nutcrackers performed by small community groups and large companies alike. As you can imagine, the large companies attract most of the top soloists and have astonishing production values with sophisticated projections, lighting, scenery, and stage illusions. But the basic story is good and the music is so gorgeous that even the smallest productions pull the audience into Clara/Marie's party and subsequent dream. 
     With San Francisco Ballet, the Bay Area is home to the first, and one of the best, Nutcrackers in the country. Unfortunately, not everyone lives in the City or has the time it takes to drive into town --- but they have local choices. One of the best was just south of the airport in San Mateo. 
     This year, Peninsula Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker, while retaining the sets and most of the costumes from the past version, featured choreography by new Artistic Director Bruce Steivel. A straightforward Nutcracker --- family party, dream battle with mice, Sugar Plum Fairy --- Steivel's accessible and charming choreography manages to propel the story while showcasing beautiful dancing. 
     This production is a true community affair, as local volunteers are cast as the adults in the Party Scene. The adults, as well as the children, were well-rehearsed and made this a true gala evening. Soloists executed their assignments with a high degree of professionalism, especially the Snow Queen and King (Anna Carnes & Nathan Cottam on opening night) and the three couples in the Waltz of the Flowers; the Snow Scene corps de ballet kept the aerobic momentum, making it seem as if they were truly flying through the snow.
      The orchestra (yes, a real live orchestra) securely executed its assignment. Ably conducted by Chris Christensen, it added an extra energy to the performance. And I loved the orchestration that took up the normally sung line in Snow.

     In Spring 2011, Peninsula audiences will get the chance to see Steivel's Peter Pan. A few years ago, I saw this production in Las Vegas, and fell in love with it. Steivel has a gift for narrative, and the ballet is easy to follow. No program notes needed. Plus, it is exciting to see the characters actually fly through the air --- it is so much fun!

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