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'The Nutcracker' still a holiday must-see

Published December 5, 2004 12:28 am

R e v i e wBallet West's production doesn't disappoint
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

'The Nutcracker'

l Where: Ballet West's production is at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City.

l When: 7 p.m. Dec. 9 to 12; Dec. 14 to 19; Dec. 21 to 23; and Dec. 28 to 30. Matinees are Dec. 11, 12, 18, 19, 23, 26 and 31 at 2 p.m., with a special Christmas Eve matinee at noon.

l Children's event: Immediately after matinees (except on Dec. 24 and 31) Ballet West Guild hosts onstage Sugar Plum Parties where children from the audience can join the Sugar Plum Fairy and other characters from the ballet for refreshments and a special treat.

l Tickets: $10 to $60; Sugar Plum Party tickets are $5. Call 801-355-ARTS.-

By Celia R. Baker

The Salt Lake Tribune

Just try to think of any other snatch of music so laden with joyful anticipation as is the opening phrase of “The Nutcracker” overture. Tchaikovsky's famous TUM, TUM, ta-TUM-TUM-TUM defies the child in each of us not to dream of parties, presents and holiday magic.

Year after year, Ballet West's lavish annual production, which opened Friday at Salt Lake City's Capitol Theatre, makes it all come true. Still and ever, it is Utah's holiday must-see.

Kids love the dark magic of Dr. Drosselmeyer, the comedy of the giant mice, the high-kicking Russian dancers and the chance to see friends their own age on stage in a professional production. Meanwhile, balletomanes get their own fix watching the treacherous partnering of the Snow pas de deux and virtuoso solos of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Willam Christensen's “Nutcracker” choreography is a lovable mixture of cheesiness and high culture set amidst the splendor of Ariel Ballif's swiftly changing sets and David Heuvel's glorious costumes. Decades of repetition have polished this show to a high sheen - it runs with the smooth precision of a Swiss watch.

Rotating casts of children from area ballet and gymnastic schools drew hordes of doting relatives to Capitol Theatre Friday night, and the moms and grandmas could be excused for bragging. The children, under the direction of Jane Wood-Smith for the first time, danced cleanly and looked like they were having fun. The boisterous Christmas Eve party and the fantasy war between enchanted soldiers and mice were much as they always are - perfectly goofy and perfectly charming.

Chelsea Keefer danced the role of Clara in Friday's cast, bringing a mixture of confidence and innocence to the role. Her Nutcracker Prince was portrayed for the first time here by Ross Clarke. Although the role isn't a technical showcase, Clarke's dark good looks and animated pantomime style made it interesting.

A better-than-usual degree of ballet skill among the adolescent dancers who portrayed royal pages was notable Friday. Among the young dancers, though, it was the prancing of the tiny “buffoons” that got the biggest reaction from the crowd. The other second-act divertissement that impressed was the Arabian Dance, in which Jason Linsley and Kate Crews exhibited impressive stage presence.

Maggie Wright and Christopher Ruud danced beautifully as the Snow couple - he rock-solid during the many difficult lifts, and she as delicate as any snowflake. Myriad ballerinas in ice-blue tutus and snow drifting out of the rafters make the Snow scene one of the ballet's loveliest - though the chorus of live voices from years long past is missed.

The Sugar Plum grand pas and its variations were elegant and full of personality thanks to the near-magical dancing of Kristin Hakala and Hua Zhuang. Under the adroit direction of Terence Kern, the Utah Chamber Orchestra played with verve, minor intonation troubles notwithstanding.

True, “The Nutcracker” holds few surprises after playing here each December for nearly five decades, but there are plenty of reasons why people keep coming back. That inner tingle that happens when the music starts up is only the first one.