Sunday, November 25, 2007

THE NUTCRACKER (San Jose Ballet)

‘NUTCRACKER’ returns as Ballet San Jose comes home

On December 12, 1979, The Cleveland Ballet premiered its version of ‘THE NUTCRACKER.’ Twenty-three hundred people attended the production at Cleveland Public Music Hall. Much has happened to the ballet scene on the north coast since that momentous day.

In 1986 a group of California Silicon Valley benefactors offered a partnership to the Cleveland Ballet. Productions would be staged both in San Jose and Cleveland. With this new arrangement the local ballet company, which was co-founded by Ernie Horvath and Dennis Nahat, was able to offer the dancers added performing exposure and would provide each community a great company for a moderate, shared investment.

Much to the chagrin of Clevelanders, Nahat, much like Art Model, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, took “our” creation and left town. Thus, in 2000 Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley was born. The reasons for the “failure” of the local company are numerous, and lots of finger-pointing followed. Over-spending and lack of constraint by Nahat, the exodus of large corporations from the Cleveland area which eliminated funders, and poor management by the ballet’s board, have all been blamed.

Whatever the past, a sold out house was present for the opening night of ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ at the State Theatre. In contrast to the negative greetings given even the mention of Model’s name, the audience gave loud applause to Nahat’s initial appearance as Godfather Drosselmeyer (a part which he trades off with local favorite Raymond Rodriguez).

‘THE NUTCRACKER’ is a fairy tale-ballet in two acts with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It is based on “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice,” a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann. It was first presented in 1891.

The story concerns a young girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince, a fierce battle against a Mouse King and the romantic adventure in which she is taken on a journey by a handsome prince. In their travels they experience a snowstorm, and journeys to Muscovy, The Land of the Shifting Sands, and the Land of the Ivory Pagoda.

Production highlights include the Dance of the Snowflakes and The Dance of
The Sugar Plum Fairy (actually a performance by the Trsarina and Tsar).

Since the story is set around the holidays, productions usually are staged during the Christmas season.

Except for the overly long opening scene, which contains a lot of walking and little dancing, the choreography is excellent. Nahat uses that exposition scene to add some of his signature attempts at humor.

Because the production has seven alternating principal casts, who you see in the lead roles of Maria, the Nutcracker/Prince Alexis and the Tsarina Tatianna and Tsar Nikolai is a matter of chance.

Fortunately, on opening night Karen Gabay, a long time local favorite and artistic director of Point of Departure, which is in local residence during the summers, danced the Tsarina. As always, she was radiant and commanded the stage. Maykel Solas (Tsar) partnered Gabay well.

Maria Jacobs was our Maria. She is petite, lovely and moved with ease. Her point work was excellent and she floated in her leaps. Her Prince was danced by Ramon Moreno whose small stature was a perfect match for Jacobs. His circle turns and partnering were well done and elicited much applause.

The sets were beautiful as were the costumes, though I prefer the snowflakes in tutus rather than long skirts,

Capsule judgment: Ballet San Jose’s ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ is one of the better stagings of the ballet. It is nice to see classical ballet in a local venue. It can only be hoped that Gabay and Rodriquez will be able to develop their POINTE OF DEPARTURE into an all year company and allow us to get the bad taste of the departure of The Cleveland Ballet out of our psyche.