Dance review: The Nutcracker: A Duluth Tale combines sparkle and local culture

The Minnesota Ballet production at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center runs through Sunday.

DNT review
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As I anxiously await the curtain to open on The Minnesota Ballet’s Thursday night dress rehearsal, I began to ponder how for years the Nutcracker Ballet has prepared my spirit for the holiday season. There is something about this particular ballet that captivates both the novice and the pundit.

The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa with a score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky created in 1892.

Many a choreographer has taken this masterpiece and reworked it to make it their own. Director Karl von Rabenau has done just that. Rabenau has rewritten a steadfast tradition and created a fresh interpretation that encompasses many aspects of our local Northern culture.

Scenic designer Curtis Phillips and fabrication by BrownKnows Design should be applauded. The set in the first act is absolutely breathtaking. Alex Flinner illuminated the set brilliantly with his lighting design.

This large-scale production has 20 plus company members, many budding young dancers from the school of the Minnesota Ballet, and Mark Whitlock’s orchestra.


The Magician Drosselmeyer, played by the animated and dashing Sean Sullivan, keeps the order and the storyline going. Sullivan has always been a captivating storyteller through movement, as well as a strong dancer.

Brianna Crockett played the role of the sweet and charming Clara. The first act of this performance only gives us a glimpse of what Crockett can do.

Standout Kyra Olson has gorgeous lines and stunning carriage. Olson has caught this reviewer’s eye before when she performed in Rabenau’s production of Sleepy Hollow. The only disappointments of the show were the two corps pieces, Snow and Flowers. I couldn’t tell if the music was too fast or if the choreography was frantic/busy. The dancers never seemed to be able to reach full length or expansion through their bodies, and formation lines were off.

But the “piece de resistance" of Thursday’s performance was by far the Grand Pas de Deux performed by Crockett and Isaac Sharratt. These dancers complement each other very well. As an observer, I could feel the connection between them. Their technique was outstanding, their lifts were high and controlled, and their partnering was solid.

Sharratt is the kind of partner dancers dream of having. His shoulder sit, to fish, to supported arabesque were strong and attentive. Then, with no rest he performs his variation with ballon (appearance of lightness when jumping), skill, and expression.

Crockett, as always, danced with precision, softness, and strength. These two brought a maturity to the production, not a maturity of age, but a maturity of confidence. They are true performers.

Director Karl von Rabenau’s the Nutcracker: A Duluth Tale is a delightful way to kickstart the holiday season. Bring the kids, it’s a perfect family event.

If you go

  • What: Nutcracker: A Duluth Tale
  • Where: Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
  • When: Dec. 9-11, 2022
  • Tickets: Ticketmaster or call 218-733-7570

Kelly Sue Coyle is a dance reviewer for the Duluth News Tribune.

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