Choreographed by: Karen Gabay
Featuring: Cast list
When: Through December 23, 2012
Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Boulevard, San Jose
Tickets: $21-$105; Visit Ballet San Jose
With festive sets, elegant costumes, a familiar story and Tchaikovsky's well-known score, "The Nutcracker" ballet has been an audience favorite and a holiday tradition for decades. Ballet San Jose's new production adds humor, complexity and some stunning new choreography that should keep audiences coming back for years to come.
The San Jose Center for the Performing Arts was bustling on Sunday afternoon as hundreds of families took a break from holiday preparations to enjoy Ballet San Jose's production of the holiday classic, "The Nutcracker."
This production features an expanded storyline and new choreography by Karen Gabay, who is also a principal dancer with the ballet company. The story is quite complex, so luckily the program includes a synopsis (written in rhyme by Gabay) to help fill in some details.
Before the curtain rises, the audience is treated to a short overture by the excellent Symphony Silicon Valley, led by conductor George Daugherty. Then the lights come up on an animated party scene at the home of heroine Marie Stahlbaum's parents. Marie's godfather, Drosselmeier (Raymond Rodriguez) arrives with gifts, including a large, mysterious box for Marie (Maria Jacobs-Yu), which is revealed to contain a nutcracker doll.
Drosselmeier invites some actors to the party to tell the story of the Nutcracker Prince. Here would be a good time for viewers to consult the synopsis poem to figure out what is going on, since this play-within-a-play is often missing from other productions of "Nutcracker."
In short, a magic Mouse King (Francisco Preciado) casts a sleeping spell on a Princess (Mirai Noda), and any suitor who can crack a hard nut with his teeth will break the spell and be rewarded with the Princess' hand in marriage. One young man succeeds, but before the two can be wed, the Mouse King, angry that the spell has been broken, turns the suitor into a nutcracker. It sounds a bit grim, but the tale is conveyed by the actors with plenty of humor and melodrama.
Gabay brings other nice touches of humor to the party as well. Marie's brother, Fritz (Thomas Baker) is portrayed as a high-energy lad, teasing and showing off and generally expending lots of good-natured energy. During the adults' dance, there are a couple of cute, comical breaks where Drosselmeier dances crazily with the Grandmother, petticoats showing and gray hair flying.
After the guests have gone and the household is asleep, Marie sneaks downstairs to take another peek at her gift. She dances a little solo to the famous "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" tune, and falls asleep on the floor near the Christmas tree.
At midnight, Marie finds herself in a waking dream, as the furniture seems to grow taller around her. She witnesses a battle between an army of mice and the Nutcracker Prince (Ramon Moreno) with his tin soldier troops, and then the furniture recedes and a forest appears, where snowflakes dance in swirling eddies. The snowflakes' dance is a masterful piece of choreography, the pulse of the music setting off dancers in cannon in fast-changing formations, and it is danced beautifully by the corps de ballet.
Act Two reprises the snowflakes, and then moves into the familiar divertissement section, beginning with children from the Ballet San Jose School as adorable dancing flowers. The traditional Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian variations follow, danced by soloists from the company. Though beautifully performed and featuring familiar and beloved music, these "national" dances seem a little less fresh than the rest of the production, perhaps a little stereotyped for modern eyes.
Mére Maxine (Maximo Califano channeling Eric Idle) arrives, like a clipper in full sail, in a vast skirt which she literally hauls up with ropes, revealing children hiding underneath who scamper out and join the dance. The beautiful Waltz of the Flowers follows.
The scene climaxes with a lovely pas de deux by Marie and her Prince (danced with gorgeous virtuosity by Moreno and Jacobs-Yu) and ends as the forest fades away and Marie finds herself back in her living room by the Christmas tree. A lively finale gives the audience a chance to applaud the dancers one last time.