As the days grow shorter and streets bustle with holiday shoppers, the children begin to grow restless. Christmas is just around the corner promising momentous events, and excitement simmers in young hearts.
Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky felt this excitement, too, and no one has ever captured the feelings associated with this special time of year as brilliantly as he did in his score for “The Nutcracker.” New Jersey Ballet opened a run of “Nutcracker” performances on Friday at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, unwrapping its annual holiday gift to audiences; and once again the spirit of “The Nutcracker” held sway.
As the orchestra took up the overture, under the baton of Gary S. Fagin, we could hear the children skipping as they played, and when the tempo quickened we could feel their breathless, almost unbearable anticipation. The games and small tragedies that unfold as the “Nutcracker” family celebrates under the Christmas tree … the solemn rituals of the elders … the mystery of long winter nights … the sparkle of icicles … and finally the spread of joy and contentment —they’re all in the music, only waiting for an enterprising ballet company to bring them to life.
New Jersey Ballet does a fine job animating this glorious tradition, with youngsters and lively adults joining in the galloping fun of the party scene. Allison Ivan was Clara, leaping nimbly in her solo and then falling asleep, exhausted, on a divan. An exploding petard, right there in her living room, awakened Clara as Mice and valiant Toy Soldiers scurried in a high-stakes battle. What a relief when the Nutcracker was saved!
In the following scene, Albina Ghazaryan brought style and clarity to her role as the Snow Queen, though solo Snowflake Catherine Whiting seemed more at home dancing at a brisk tempo. The Act II divertissement shone brilliantly, with Kotoe Kojima-Noa and Albert Davydov making light work of Spanish Hot Chocolate, while Andre Teixeira was the understated but sultry lead in Arabian Coffee. Musical Iori Araya stood out among the three Mirlitons, and Ruben Rascon danced a daredevil Trepak. The smile with which Gabriela Noa-Pierson greeted the audience as the spotlight shone on her foretold her serene performance as Dew Drop, leading the Waltz of the Flowers.
Yet as always, it was the gracious dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy that crowned the evening, fulfilling viewers’ hopes with its lightness and antique delicacy. As the opening night Sugar Plum, Mari Sugawa distinguished herself with the elegant drape of her arms, while the footwork of her variation had a whispery softness and intrigue.
The Mayo Performing Arts Center will also present “The Nutcracker” Dec. 18, 22 and 23 at 7 p.m., Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 20-21 at 1 and 6 p.m., and Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. Visit mayoarts.org.