Review: This year's 'Nutcracker' picks up the pace
Published: December 23, 2011 09:50AM
Updated: December 15, 2011 01:48PM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ballet West performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Val Browning Center in Ogden Nov. 23.

So how is this year's production of "The Nutcracker" by Ballet West, now playing at the Capitol Theatre? The Tribune's dance writer, Kathy Adams, gives her appraisal:

Changes in Ballet West’s 2011 “Nutcracker” all serve to pick up the pace and sharpen the edges of this year’s seasonal performance. Fine-tuning the comedic timing through more specific choreography in the party scene, several new costumes, and the quicker musical tempo made the performance tight and crisp.

For the Dec. 14 cast, a Drosselmeyer with an attitude and the marvelous Tilton brothers (Rex and Ronald) as the disembodied head and feet of Mother Buffon contributed to the liveliness of the entire evening. Act I is the set up for Act II, so it’s always surprising that the first act is more engaging than what follows -- although it’s pretty hard to compete with adorable children and jesting giant mice.

The Waltz of the Flowers section in Act II was strong both choreographically and in performance. Dancers Elizabeth McGrath and Christopher Anderson gave a genuine performance with a beautifully lyrical, personal interpretation. The artists of Ballet West swirled around them in sparkling, supportive movement.

The Sugar Plum Fairy performed by the delicate Sayaka Ohtaki -- with Thomas Mattingly as her Cavalier -- captivated the audience.

Sayaka’s natural balance and exact sense of line allow her to easily slip into near-perfect balletic positioning. Mattingly displays his generosity as a partner, lifting and maneuvering Syaka’s feather-light body in almost a protective manner. Mattingly’s (and Anderson’s from the Flower’s pas) leaps and landings were soaring with soft, exact landings.

Dancing the role of a fairy, especially the powerful Sugar Plum Fairy, requires a magical interpretation, beyond mere mortal dancing. Sayaka needs to find that internal mischievous sprite to fill out the role. But when Mattingly and Sayaka become more comfortable, it will be glorious.

New costuming in Act II had its ups and downs. The pink and gold for the Sugar Plum Fairy is over the top, and all the women’s crowns are too large. McGrath’s tutu is stubby in comparison to her body and would be more elegant if it were larger. Where the new Act I costumes add to the story and enhance the choreography, in Act II they are distracting.
Associate conductor Jared Oaks held the baton on Wednesday solidly synchronizing the dancers with the Utah Chamber Orchestra.

- Kathy Adams