By Nancy Condit
The fiftieth anniversary of Oklahoma City's professional ballet company performing The Nutcracker, OKC Ballet opened Friday night to a sparkling evening with some very good performances and rousing applause. The performances continue through December 21, with curtain times Saturday, December 14 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, December 15 at 2:00 p.m. The following weekend will include performances Friday, December 20 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday December 21 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., and close Sunday, December 21 at 2:00 p.m.
Instantly notable about the performance were the extended lines, excellent partnering, and embracing performance space by the four leading dancers, Dajung Jung as Clara, Yui Sato as the Nutcracker Prince, Miki Kawamura as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Alvin Tovtogray as the Cavalier. The rest of the company carried on the expanded gestures.
Dajung Jung's fluid and effortless moves with her expressive acting made her really extraordinary throughout the ballet.
The company as a whole, the children, the staging, the lighting, the costumes and the music made for a very enjoyable evening.
The press release says that the ballet "stays true to the original libretto inspired by the E.T.A. Hoffman story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." While the libretto is clear, the performance history is not, performed first in 1892, while the now Christmas classic most Americans have become familiar with the becoming popular ballet since the '60's. Balancine's first performance of the entire ballet, with Maria Tallchief, who died recently, first performed Balanchine's role of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Wikipedia, "The Nutcracker").
OKC Ballet's artistic director and choreographer of The Nutcracker Robert Mills also has the choice of to whether to use the change in society's perception of young adults, who are 12 to 15, roughly the age of Romeo and Juliet. Mills had changed to using company ballerinas to dance Clara instead of children last year, on the brink of adolescence, because he told me in an interview that he had a number of ballerinas the size of such a character. He also introduced a new male character as an apprentice to Drosselmeyer, who turned out to be the Nutcracker Prince and let Clara dance with her "crush." This year, Yui Sato danced the Nutcracker Prince and DaYoung performed as Clara, Mills choreographed Clara's probable first love, in the Land of Sweets, completely changing the ballet to one of young love in her fantasy on Christmas Eve, which was part of her grandfather Drosselmyer's gift to her.
Mills also changed the choreography of "The Waltz of the Flowers," which split the ensemble's dance, usually performed in rows, with multiples of four, etc, which he had also done last year changing the ballet to one of young love or fantasy in a Christmas Eve dream as they danced in the middle of the "Waltz of the Flowers," with the flowers gathered around them.. The change was a little rough opening night, Friday the 13th, with the company in "Waltz of the Flowers," but Jung and Sato performed quite well. He returned the lovely "Snowflakes" at the end of the first act to uninterrupted ensemble work.
The French Marzipan dance is still the most delicate and exquisite one. It was beautifully performed by soloist Callye Crespo, with Daina Gingras and Giovanna Kaufman. Seth Bradley, in Spanish Chocolate, was notable for his ferociousness and alien quality of a gypsy, as well as his dancing. The brass from the Oklahoma City Philharmonic accented the dance particularly well.
The children were lovely, especially the tumbling Jesters Adair Maxwell, Harriet Oglesby, Anna Schuelein and Emily Sullivan as they flipped backwards over the stage.
I'm retracting a statement I made last year, that Tchaikovsky's score was pompous. As the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, led by music director and conductor Joel Levine, played for the ballet, I realized this year that the music was designed to be seen as well as heard. As the parents led the promenade and the grand ball, the music fit the choreography. I had heard the music too frequently without seeing the ballet. For me, I think this may be true of many other grand story ballets.
Children's activities include "Letters to Santa" in the South Lobby beginning one hour prior to all performances where children will be able to prepare a letter for Santa and mail to the North Pole. Santa Claus will be in the main lobby one hour prior to all matinée performances. Families will have the opportunity to take their own photos with him as a holiday keepsake. Following each 2:00 p.m. matinée performance, a Dancer Meet and Greet will occur in the main lobby where children can meet, get autographs, and take pictures with dancers from The Nutcracker including Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her Cavalier.