Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"The Nutcracker" - Peninsula Ballet Theatre

Fox Theatre, Redwood City
December 17, 2011

Artistic Director Bruce Steivel has created a delightful “Nutcracker” for one of the South Bay's charming professional companies, Peninsula Ballet Theatre. In its second year of production, Steivel's version of the Christmas ballet keeps to the traditional story yet offers some very appropriate narrative additions. For example, the first scene's party guests are dignitaries representing the nations that will re-appear in Act II's 'Land of the Sweets'. This makes so much sense and offers a new-found continuity. And, when it came to Act I, Scene three's 'Kingdom of Snow', Steivel's intricate choreography came alive with dynamic range and technical skill.

A gorgeous lift opened the snow scene as the Snow Queen (Chelsea Hix) made her regal entrance. Supported by her Snow King (Nathan Cottam), Hix floated through the air completely upright, in a breathtaking standing lift. The snowflakes had equally impressive moments, especially their first canon sequence. As each group began Steivel's delicate choreography, an actual snowfall emerged onstage. Staggering the corps' movement allowed for a real-time experience of winter weather - light and calm one moment; heavy and chaotic in the next. With the snow music being in ¾ time, it obviously lends itself to waltz combinations but, envisioning unique and creative choreography for this well-known score can be challenging. In addition to the typical balancé and piqué vocabulary, Steivel was able to inject some steps that fit well with the waltz tempo yet are less frequently used in this vignette – the ballonés were my personal favorite.

As the principal snow scene dancers, Hix and Cottam shone in their lifts, their solo work and the majority of their pas de deux. Their side by side grand jetés were fantastic – expertly matching each other's height, extension and landing. Where they struggled was in some of the supported turns and promenades. Though the exact issue was unclear, I imagine that it was due to a combination of balance and timing on both of their parts. Hix fell off of pointe during several of these partnered turns and balances (though she covered well) which indicated something was clearly off during their duet.

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