‘The Nutcracker’ is a gift that keeps giving

Iori Araya and Andre Luis Teixeira in the New Jersey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

Iori Araya and Andre Luis Teixeira in the New Jersey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

Dance being what it is, a great deal may pass by unremarked. Viewers don’t often have the luxury of seeing the same piece over and over until they notice all the details that a choreographer, working like a scrimshaw artist, has painstakingly etched into the design.

“The Nutcracker,” which opened a two-week run at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Friday, is the exception.

Returning year after year, this holiday perennial comes so packed with characters and incidents, particularly in the first-act Party Scene, that audience members are almost guaranteed to discover some article of stage business that looks new to them. At the same time, the ballet is reliable enough that old “Nutcracker” hands can look forward to encountering their favorite bits.

New Jersey Ballet has been performing “The Nutcracker” for 45 years now, and more than 5,000 dancers and children have appeared in it. Yet this production, choreographed by Joseph Carow and George Tomal, has lost none of its freshness. Sumptuously decorated and excitingly danced, it is a dramatic treasure-house that continues to offer surprises alongside familiar delights.

The better one knows the story, of course, the freer he is to let his gaze wander. While enjoying the skill with which that dapper old coot, Herr Drosselmeyer, performs his magic tricks and the mechanical dolls execute their dances in the Party Scene, for instance, one may also receive a sudden burst of pleasure from noticing the child who brings up the rear of the all-girl band. Cheeks puffed out and rosy with effort, she mimes playing an impossibly large instrument. And while tender-hearted Clara is the star of Act One, the tiny boy who falls asleep behind the Christmas tree comes close to stealing the show. As his father prepares to carry him home, the still slumbering tot allows his arm to fall emphatically (“See, how dreadfully exhausted I am!”), without relaxing his grip on his beloved hobby-horse.

To adapt an old, theater quip: “The Nutcracker” is full of small actors, but contains no role so small that it cannot be milked.

Mari Sugawa as the Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker."

Mari Sugawa as the Snow Queen in “The Nutcracker.”

The second act brings other joys. Here the company dancers can extend themselves and move full-out while still portraying a variety of characters from different parts of the world. The beverages and sweets that adorn the “Nutcracker’s” holiday table come from Spain, China, Arabia and Russia. Before Clara and the Nutcracker Prince arrive in Confituremburg, The Kingdom of Sweets, however, they pass through a snow-clad forest and experience a mystical communion with nature. Following a serene voyage comes a storm (the “Waltz of the Snowflakes”) in which a wordless chorus rejoices. Recalling the Romantic view of nature, the Snow Scene is the threshold of heaven. At Friday’s performance, Snow Queen Mari Sugawa captured this atmosphere of wonder with dancing that was bold yet delicately phrased, extending her line gracefully in overhead lifts. Leonid Flegmatov was her gallant partner, while leading the Snowflakes were two tempestuous dancers: Risa Mochizuki and Catherine Whiting.

In Confituremburg itself, the well-rehearsed divertissements featured most of this company’s stars. Leaning back against her partner, Albert Davydov, or curling seductively around him, Kotoe Kojima-Noa made a teasing cup of Spanish Chocolate. Narek Martirosyan brought an air of despotic command to the Arabian Coffee dance; and Ruben Rascon dazzled with his toe-touching leaps in the Russian Trepak. Gabriella Noa was all sweetness and aplomb as Dew Drop. Iori Araya and Andre Luis Teixeira danced the Grand Pas de Deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, forming a partnership out of contrasting styles. While he displayed a brisk attack, she luxuriated in her role, performing in a calm, unhurried manner.

This season the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra turned out to play Tchaikovsky’s most beloved score, under the baton of Gary S. Fagin. Although the overture has been more evocative, the musicians produced a wonderfully rich and balanced sound that propelled the dancing, and especially the Snow Scene, to new heights.

New Jersey Ballet continues to perform “The Nutcracker” through Dec. 26. For tickets, visit mayoarts.org.

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One thought on “‘The Nutcracker’ is a gift that keeps giving

  1. Fifth year of seeing this “Nutcracker” and it was the most brilliant ever! Such joy and sweetness. Will never attend any other company’s performance…especially given the accompaniment by the NJ Symphony Orchestra.

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