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Review: New perspective on 'Nutcracker' offers fresh delights

Robert Gardner says his turns as Mother Ginger in "The Nutcracker" bring him the most community recognition. (Photo by Jeff Frey)

I had a completely new perspective on the Minnesota Ballet's "Manhattan Nutcracker" this holiday season for two significant reasons. First, because for reasons that passeth understanding, my seat in the DECC Symphony Hall moved from the left side to the right side. Second, Alana Gergerich as this year's grown-up Clara made the familiar story seem decidedly more romantic this time around.

From my new vantage point I can now see dancers waiting in the wings to come on, which gets a tad distracting at times, but I also discovered that because I was now sitting on the right side I was paying more attention than previously to the action on stage left.

Has one of the female party guests always been checking out the spring arm of the Jack-in-the-Box when it is wheeled by her? Has the Society Girl always been this cute and coy, or is it because Cora Godfrey is particularly adept at such things? Was Michael Agudelo doing all that funny shtick last year as the military officer, or was my attention elsewhere?

With Katie Carlson setting the stage with her touching performance as young Clara, Gergerich made it clear from the start she was enamored with her Nutcracker turned Prince, danced by Reinhard von Rabenau. This Clara is clearly jealous when the Arabian Princess (Kelanie Murphy) borrows her prince for a bit of dancing (although she is happy to go tango with the Toreador).

There are certain moments in the "Nutcracker" each year that clearly are crowd favorites, such as Antony Ferguson and Stephanie Giuliani as the Katzenjammer kids Fritz and Madeleine, and Kevin James leaping over his bamboo pole in the Asian Dance. Marco Clemente and Branden Reinders earned warm applause as the Russian dancers, with one going low and the other high with their spins, and there was a big roar when the last of Mother Ginger's dancing cookies sprang out from underneath her gigantic skirt.

Emily Reed's Sugar Plum Fairy was particularly well syncopated to the music-box notes being played on the xylophone early in her solo dance, while the crowd loved the lifts provided by Sam Neale as her Cavalier in the "Grand Pas de Deux."

Suzie Baer leading the "Waltz of the Flowers" as the Dew Drop Fairy is a perennial favorite, but this year I think that highlight was at least matched by its counterpart at the end of Act I with Catherine Wootten as the Icy Fairy with her Snowflakes. In what now is established as her signature role in the company, Wootten starts off slow and graceful before speeding up at the end with a series of stellar spins that compelled the audience to burst into applause.

One of the charms of seeing the "Nutcracker" each year is to see the young dancers progress through the various roles, which is why I am always comparing this year's program to previous versions to see who is doing what this year.

Studying this year's program also revealed something new for the Minnesota Ballet's dancers. With three shows we are used to seeing dancers trade off roles, as Gergerich and Baer do with the roles of the Clara, the Dew Drop Fairy, Snowflake Soloist and the Housekeeper. But this weekend there are different dancers for each of the three shows for the Ice Fairy, Asian Dancer and Toreador, which certainly speaks to a depth of talent with this particular roster.

Lawrance Bernabo finds watching ballet to be infinitely more fun than grading final exams. Go figure.

If you go

What: "The Nutcracker" by Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky

Where: DECC Auditorium

When: 7 p.m. tonight and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets: Adults $20-$42, Students $15-$32, Children $13-$27

For information: 529-3742 or