For dance fans the holiday season officially opened last night with Maryland Ballet's "The Nutcracker" at the Lyric Opera House. Phillip Carman, artistic director for the company, deserves kudos for bringing together a production that has all the magic and wonder of the season.
"The Nutcracker," on a two-week run, is a light-hearted ballet, and this highly talented pick-up troupe of dancers Mr. Carman has assembled from American Ballet Theatre, The Dance Theatre of Harlem and other companies is sure to delight dance fans.
With the accompaniment of a live orchestra, colorful sets and costuming, "The Nutcracker" is a full-blown production. The first act, with its lively pantomime, is just long enough to create the right level of anticipation for the second act and its series of divertissements. Yet, Mr. Carman allows the story to unfold, and Christen Schultz as the heroine, Clara, handles her role with mature understanding and above-average technique. The brilliant performance of Tai Jimenez and Rodolphe Cassand as the Snow Queen and King highlight the first act.
"The Nutcracker's" divertissements are the core of the ballet. The "Coffee: Arabian Dance," with its sultry and sensuous score, is always a dance to watch, and the audience certainly paid attention when dancers Shannon Chain and Carld Jonassaint performed their steamy duet.
Amir-Tsaidi turned in a spirited "Tea: Chinese Dance" and Laveen Naidu danced "Candy Canes: Russian Dance" with a particular vigor. Anna Marta Salta in "Waltz of the Flowers" gave a fine performance that demonstrated the sense of momentum she brings to her dancing. Yet it was Julie Kent as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Alexander Ritter as her consort who won the hearts of the audience.
Ms. Kent's dancing is simply first rate. She has a delicacy yet a firm command of the stage. Her wrists and hands are particularly expressive, her dancing relaxed. She doesn't push the movements, rather they seem to flow naturally. Mr. Ritter received considerable applause for his stirring round of leaps and jumps. He is a stalwart and steady partner, who is gracious in his dancing.
It wouldn't be "The Nutcracker" without the children, and this production shows them off wonderfully. From Herr Drosselmeyer's helpers, to the tiny prancing mice, to the children who cartwheel and scurry out from Mother Ginger's voluminous skirt -- they are all precious.