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Long Beach Ballet Nutcracker (photo of Waltz of the Snowflakes by Khoury)

Long Beach Ballet Nutcracker (photo of Waltz of the Snowflakes by Khoury)

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Published by Steven Woodruff
Long Beach Ballet has a sprawling version of the Nutcracker which is presented in Long Beach and Pasadena. They are the only company in the Los Angeles area using a live orchestra for all their performances. The choreography is by Artistic
Director David Wilcox, with other additions by Terri Lewis.
Long Beach Ballet has a sprawling version of the Nutcracker which is presented in Long Beach and Pasadena. They are the only company in the Los Angeles area using a live orchestra for all their performances. The choreography is by Artistic
Director David Wilcox, with other additions by Terri Lewis.

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Categories:Types, Reviews, Music
Published by: Steven Woodruff on Dec 26, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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01/26/2011

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 LONG BEACH BALLET 
 NUTCRACKER Reviewed by Steven Woodruf
Pasadena Civic AuditoriumDecember 22, 2010
 LONG BEACH BALLET 
concluded its
Nutcracker
performances with two programs in the vast spaces of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. David Wilcox, the Artistic director of the company, has fashioned asprawling version of the ballet which is populated with a huge cast of dancers drawn from the school of theLONG BEACH BALLET, its resident performing company and a handful of guest artists. The most recentinstallment of The New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay, in his national tour of Nutcrackers,commented on the delights of productions with excellent children and student dancers covering the major roles. He should have stopped off in Long Beach to see Wilcox’s cast which offers a show with lots of heartand often some very fine dancing. What is remarkable is that there are so many of them, even in the secondact where a logical paring down of forces helps focus on the details of style. Two of those ACT II
divertissements,
the
 Dance of the Merlitons
and the
 Russian Trepak,
are performed with normal-sizedensembles, which come as a relief from the sometimes overpopulated choreography.Wilcox does not set his
Nutcracker
 
in any specified time or place. It looks vaguely 19
th
Century andfollows the story straightforwardly with no rearrangements or deletions in the music. The staging movesalong efficiently. The only bit of awkwardness is at the conclusion of Act II as Clara returns home, wherethe transition seemed slightly artificial. On hand for all performances in Long Beach and Pasadena was alarge and capable pick up orchestra conducted by Dr. Roger Hickman. And while the performance was not brilliant it did provide a richness and vitality that has been missing in many local productions using theubiquitous taped substitute. The sound in the auditorium was actually very present, partly the result of a pitthat is positioned well out into the orchestra seating section.Wilcox’s
Nutcracker
 bustles with activity from beginning to end. He uses the music well to fill the stageand connect the big moments while at the same timing offering very theatrical and convincing mimingwhich rings true. These young dancers seem involved in their story. It makes the Act I
 Party Scene
seem believable and genuine. Less effective was the Battle Scene where the massive forces of soldiersoverwhelmed mice in chubby costumes. The hoped for chaos of a battle of thousands devolved into a staticshowdown punctuated with some impressive on stage explosions. Savannah Louis as Clara danced andacted her way through both acts convincingly. Julian Sanz and Megan Wilcox were also capable as theHarlequin and Columbine Dolls. Maurice Watson as the Moor Doll seemed labored and struggled with theathletic choreography. Less convincing were Craig Rexroad as the Mouse King whose lack of animationmade dull a part that should feel full of physical menace, and Ben Majors as Uncle Drosselmeyer, whose buffoonish take on the part left us with little more than a working caricature.Photography by Michael Khoury
 
The corps gave a hard working account of 
Waltz of the Snowflakes
(choreography by Terri Lewis) that wasfull of coming and going and all the kaleidoscopic effects that the moment requires. I was moved by thegenerous, effortful dancing in the student ensemble which clearly felt the importance of the big time balletmoment and dug down deep to stay aloft and together. Jacie Jewett and Evan Swenson were capable as TheSnow Queen and King though they at times seemed over challenged by the partnering which did not alwaysgo smoothly. At the conclusion the snow fell and so did the wall of fiery live embers, as Clara heads off inher airborne sleigh.Everything
big 
continues into Act II, including the very large white horse in a walk-on part whichcompletes the sleigh journey. Most impressive were the Merlitons (choreography by Lewis) lead by theexcellent Anna Wassman who lent the ensemble of five with authority in the realm of classical style andrefined gesture. Lighting up
 Flowers
was a quartet of smartly attired cavaliers (Leonid LeonidovichFlegmatov, James Pfleger, Julian Sanz and Evan Swenson) who all were excellent with tours, turns and sure partnering. Melissa Sandvig as the Dewdrop Fairy completed the picture with stylish dancing and personalradiance in her demi soloist role. The choreography (Wilcox) was rich and offered the full measure of a bigclassical ensemble supported by great music. I especially liked the cross-stage tour jetés and the overalldesign which reminded me of the
Waltz of the Flowers
in
 
William Christensen’s first American
Nutcracker
for San Francisco Ballet.
 
All of the
divertissements
in Act II had something to offer.
Spanish
was
 
notable for its corps of dancerswhich offered strength in numbers and was a thronging backdrop to the two soloists Jennifer Lopez andMichael Sorenson, who were convincing in their cross handed turns and flashy poses. The
Chinese Dance
and the
 Russian
 
Trepak 
 both used brief extensions of the music to accommodate theatrical enhancementsand a bit of extra dance. The Chinese dance (Tiffany Kuehl and Teddy Watler) with its added attendantswas especially charming. Christina Jones was sinuous and provocative as the Arabian harem dancer and proved too much for her handler, Ben Majors, whose disengaged partnering left the overall effort wanting.The towering Mother Ginger (Hilde Byrne) and her massive brood made good on the essential comedy inher part but couldn’t avoid collisions with the scenery in the exits and entrances. Even the little things haveto go well if you want to keep the magic alive.Rachel Riley and Kyohei Yoshida, both on loan as soloists from Grand Rapids Ballet, were excellent in the
Grand Pas de Deux.
I liked especially Yoshida’s sustained, relaxed tempo in the
Tarantella
which he filledwith turns and double tours in succession. Riley in the
Sugar Plum Variation
was full of complexity butalso caution. The partnered sections in the opening music and in the
Coda
fared well. Both dancersmanaged to produce the romanticism and the big lifts and turning combinations with confidence.Adding to the joys of this
 Nutcracker 
were the full scale sets and luxurious costumes. Both wereconsistently imaginative. Especially impressive was the Act II set, a Baroque architectural environmentwith clouds hung in a sunset sky. The scenery of Act I explodes, producing a dramatic transformation of theStahlbaum family living room into the battle scene and the revelation of the Nutcracker Doll and Prince.The growing Christmas tree gives us the essential ingredient in making Clara’s fantasy seem possible. Itwas beautifully staged. The designs were by Elliott Hessayon, Rex Heuschkel and Scott Shaffer. Costumedesigns by Donna Dickens, Adrian Clarke and Anna De Farra were elegant and offered in profusion. The big emerald tutus of the Merlitons were particularly rich. I also liked the Degas-styled long tutus in pink,fuchsia and peach for 
 Flowers.
Wilcox has devoted himself to a very theatrical version of the
Nutcracker.
It is more entertaining than mostand you can’t help but admire the quality of the dancers as well as their sheer numbers. And while I am nota fan of fireworks or live animals on stage, it is clear that Wilcox has made for himself and his adventurouscompany a version faithful to the ballet’s classical intent and one that seems true to itself. The last time Ifelt so wrapped up in the
Nutcracker
was when the Joffrey Ballet brought their Currier andIves inspired version to The Music Center. And that’s one you should see too if you get the chance.

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