Danc­ing against type

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews - — Michael Wade Simp­son

of­fer­ing a busy, the­atri­cal, mag­i­cal de­pic­tion of the fa­mil­iar story.

The di­rec­tors wisely chose to bring in re­in­force­ments. A healthy con­tin­gent of guest artists not only raised the num­bers on stage for the big group dances, but these dancers brought a some­what more clas­si­cal ap­proach than is usual for ASFB mem­bers — beau­ti­ful arm car­riage, pre­cise foot­work, and that very lifted, ethe­real qual­ity that is usu­ally re­jected by the young, earth­ier chore­og­ra­phers hired to cre­ate works on the com­pany. Other guests brought with them in­ter­na­tional author­ity — per­form­ing very con­vinc­ing, en­ter­tain­ing vari­a­tions dur­ing Act II’s around-the-world di­ver­tisse­ment. Anna Zi­nenko from Ukraine and Boulat Moukhame­tov from Rus­sia per­formed the Rus­sian dance and Zhonge­mei Li, who be­gan her train­ing in Bei­jing, danced the Chi­nese sec­tion. Ka­t­rina Amer­ine turned the Ara­bian num­ber into an aerial act, with grav­ity-de­fy­ing feats in­volv­ing a length of golden silk flown in from the rafters.

Com­pany mem­bers Katie Dehler and Sam Chit­ten­den as the Snow King and Queen and Kather­ine Bo­laños and Seth DelGrasso as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cava­lier had their mo­ments in the lime­light, each bring­ing a com­bi­na­tion of author­ity and dis­com­fort to the de­mands of the ex­act­ing clas­si­cal form. El­iz­a­beth Martinez, a guest dancer orig­i­nally from Nor­way, was the Dew Drop. Her stat­uesque Nordic looks and shim­mer­ing cos­tume caused her to stand out like a dancer from an­other planet. Her per­for­mance seemed re­strained; she was not as fully in­vested in her role as the other soloists were.

It was the corps, as snowflakes and then as flow­ers, who of­fered the great­est pure dance re­wards of the evening. These dancers seemed to be hav­ing the time of their lives, waltz­ing in the snow at the end of Act I and then again in vivid, rose­c­ol­ored gowns in Act II. The chore­og­ra­phy here was quick-mov­ing and var­ied. The dancers may have been fewer in num­bers than in many big-city ver­sions of this bal­let, but they filled the stage with com­mit­ted, mu­si­cal, and com­mu­nica­tive danc­ing.

Clara, the lit­tle girl whose dreams not only feed the nar­ra­tive of the bal­let but rep­re­sent those of ev­ery young girl who has ever taken a bal­let class, was played by ASFB school stu­dent Hanna Bass on the evening I at­tended. From the moment she dis­played her pointe-shoe-clad feet in the spot­light, ly­ing on a set­tee be­fore the big Christ­mas party, it was clear that she would be able to han­dle the role. When older dancers are cast in the part, there can be an un­der­ly­ing sex­ual ten­sion sug­gested — a long­ing that turns the toy Nutcracker into a man. This pro­duc­tion was strictly from a younger point of view, and Nolan DeMarco McGa­han as the Nutcracker, along with Chit­ten­den and DelGrasso, were mainly there to lift and pose. Christ­mas in a glass-roofed Vic­to­rian con­ser­va­tory, bal­leri­nas in rose-col­ored tulle, fall­ing snow, a carousel — Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let’s The Nutcracker is a go-for-broke vis­ual ex­trav­a­ganza, with sump­tu­ous cos­tumes, elab­o­rate sets, and all the the­atri­cal magic fam­i­lies could ask for. For a small bal­let com­pany that mainly in­hab­its a stark and moody mod­ern reper­tory, this is a change of pace; for au­di­ences, it’s like wak­ing up in a Tech­ni­color Oz. Some joy­ful and ac­com­plished danc­ing by an ex­panded corps served as a good coun­ter­bal­ance to the ex­tra­ne­ous as­pects of the pro­duc­tion.

Stage busi­ness some­times seemed like a coverup for chore­og­ra­phy (by com­pany di­rec­tors Tom Moss­brucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty) that wasn’t tak­ing many chances. Dry-ice fog filled the stage, cre­at­ing a dra­matic am­bi­ence, for ex­am­ple, but you couldn’t see the dancers’ feet. And the bal­let-as-recital rit­ual — the ar­tis­ti­cally ques­tion­able in­clu­sion of large num­bers of chil­dren be­ing pa­raded around the stage with­out even danc­ing — places this Nutcracker high on the cute scale and lower on the dance me­ter.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, who re­ally cares how mind-blow­ing the steps are dur­ing a Nutcracker? It’s a spec­ta­cle, like see­ing the Rock­ettes at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall. Bal­letomanes can en­joy other evenings and other pro­grams.

Tchaikovsky’s mu­sic for the Nutcracker has al­most mys­ti­cal pow­ers over many of us, no mat­ter how many times it has played in our psy­ches. Just hear­ing the first few notes, even over a so-so sound sys­tem (pre­re­corded mu­sic was used in this pro­duc­tion) can lead to a hol­i­day trance state. ASFB’s Nutcracker stays true to the grand ro­man­ti­cism of the mu­sic,

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