It just isn’t Christmas in Duluth without seeing “The Nutcracker” by the Minnesota Ballet. This beautifully diversified ballet company is under the talented direction of artistic director Karl von Rabenau.
Thursday night's dress rehearsal began with conductor Mark Whitlock, along with the Minnesota Ballet Orchestra, filling the auditorium with a bright and lovely account of Tchaikovsky’s score. With choreography by artistic director emeritus Allen Fields, the story unfolds from a Manhattan street to a party where we meet Amanina Sheetz as Clara and Sean M. Sullivan as Drosselmeyer. Sullivan’s interpretation of Drosselmeyer was eccentric for sure, but intelligent, childlike and mysterious.
As the ballet moves into dream, grown-up Clara (Sarah White) and the nutcracker prince (Sam Neale), along with many mice and soldiers, fill the stage with a battle. White’s movements were supple and fluid. Neale was impressive, with nice lines and clean turns. The mouse king (Tyler Piwowarczyk) and mouse queen (Dominique Jenssen) caught my eye with their humorous interactions, bringing a refreshing take on their characters. The quintessential death scene of the twitching mouse king should not be missed. Clara is the ultimate female heroine. Next, snowflakes swirled around the beautiful ice fairy (Brianna Crocket). The University of Minnesota Duluth Women's Chorus provided enchanting vocals while Crocket moved effortlessly with light and solid technique.
Act ll, the divertissements, was stunning. In the Asian dance, Sullivan impressed me with his quick brise vole and clean jumps. Arabian princes Erin Haebig and maidens had lovely extensions and magic carpets. In the Spanish dance, Jenssen and maidens were free spirits with beautiful attitudes, and lots of epaulement. Mother Ginger, wonderfully played by Tyler Piwowarczky, had merry little cookies all around him. The Russian dance displayed high energy with well executed double tour en l’airs.
The corps de ballet piece Waltz of the Flowers was lovely. The choreography and music complement each other beautifully. The diagonal lines and formations used the space well. Elegant Naomi Doty as the dew drop fairy looked strong, with soft carriage of the arms. Her Italian fouettes were gorgeous.
The climax of the evening was watching Ryo Munakata as the cavalier and newcomer to the company, Mathilde Lambert, as the sugar plum fairy, dance the grand pas de deux. Individually, they both possess amazing qualities to their movement. Munakata executed his jumps with ballon — light and graceful. Control best describes Lambert. She suspends some movements while sharpening others to perfectly match the music. These two partner well together; the grand pas was exquisite, with smooth movement, clean lifts, pretty lines, overall stunning.
As the dream comes to an end for Clara, the audience gets to keep the magical memory. This family-friendly show is a must-see this holiday season. But hurry; it’s this weekend only.
Kelly Sue Coyle reviews dance performances for the News Tribune.
If you go
What: The Nutcracker
When: Dec. 13-15, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Symphony Hall, DECC