I haven’t seen George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker ballet in 30 years, not since my mom was in our small town’s performance of it, elegantly dressed wigged-head to pointy toe in Victorian costume as the main character Marie’s mother. The closest my son Liam has come to it is hearing “The Sugar Plum Fairy” on the radio. But The Nutcracker doesn’t care. This ballet is as venerable a tradition in Portland as the Pioneer Courthouse Square Christmas Tree.
The two-hour-long production put on by the Oregon Ballet Theatre was well attended on opening weekend at the Dec. 13 matinee, and as a bonus, was accompanied by a full orchestra. Not all of the productions will have this, and the full-bodied music brought warmth from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s score to the Keller Auditorium on the cloudy, rainy afternoon. Many audience members, mainly families, were dressed in holiday garb, and watching the children in their fancy dresses and shiny shoes was nearly as entertaining as what was on stage. Luckily, this is Portland, and Liam’s insistence on wearing track pants yielded no tut-tuts.
The Nutcracker is about a little girl named Marie, in Germany about 150 years ago, who is given a nutcracker from a slightly menacing older man, Herr Drosselmeier, during her parents’ party. She dreams that night that the Nutcracker has changed into Drosselmeier’s nephew, who becomes The Nutcracker Prince. Mice transform into towering monsters who do battle with toy soldiers, and the Nutcracker Prince fights their leader, the Rat King. Marie slays the King, and the Prince leads Marie to the Palace of the Land of Sweets, where the Sugar Plum Fairy rewards Marie’s vanquishment of the Rat King with a performance of Spanish Hot Chocolate, the Dew Drop Princess, and more.
While it may be useful to review the story with your little ones beforehand, so that they know why the Rat King is fighting the Nutcracker, it isn’t necessary. The Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers, which included students of the school, members of the junior ensemble OBT2, and of the OBT troupe, are pros at using their whole body to convey the story in dance, no words needed. The “fight” scenes are vague enough to not upset young kiddos, which makes this performance suitable for the whole family.
The children in the audience seemed mesmerized by the dancers’ gravity-defying movements, and only a few hushed questions were heard throughout. The Sugar Plum Fairy, played by Ansa Deguchi, used masterful grace and strength. It astonished me how easy she, and all of the dancers, make it look — as if pirouetting and leaping through the air en pointe is as easy as walking. Even the youngest dancers were poised and polished as they glided across the stage. Truth be told, Liam got a little antsy in the last half hour, but that may have been from the rapidly warming theater and gentle tones of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s accompanying score.
The costumes were intricate and dramatic eye candy, with impressive detail. Lighting created atmosphere, such as when the mice in Marie’s dream seemed to grow, just by using shadow against the backdrop.
As the Artistic Director Kevin Irving explained before the show, classical ballet is a combination of discipline, passion and joy that “lets our imaginations take off”. The Nutcracker itself is a classic ballet because it’s relatable to all children, young and old — from Marie’s excitement at being at her parents’ holiday party, to the joy of seeing her friends, and the magic of receiving a special toy that can transform dreams.
OBT’s The Nutcracker performances run through December 26th at the Keller Auditorium. Click here for more information.
Jenny and her family were given tickets to attend this performance on behalf of Metro Parent-PDX Kids Calendar for review. She was in no way compensated for her opinions.