Grand Rapids Ballet captures the magic of Christmas and family in beautiful ‘Nutcracker’ performance
By Adrienne Warber
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is a Christmas classic and an annual holiday tradition for many West Michigan families. The spectacular production was tailored specifically for West Michigan and ushers in the holiday season with a magical show that delights both child and adult alike. The festive set featuring the art of celebrated children’s author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg and designed by Tony award-winning set designer Eugene Lee, the brilliant choreography of internationally renowned choreographer Val Caniparoli, and dancing by the talented Grand Rapids Ballet company all create an unforgettable Christmas experience. Every Grand Rapids Ballet “Nutcracker” production each year is so carefully crafted with such artistry, loving care and attention to detail. “The Nutcracker” feels like a special Christmas gift from Grand Rapids Ballet to the West Michigan community. The Friday, Dec. 13 opening night performance of Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2019 production of “The Nutcracker” was masterpiece where every element of dance, choreography and set came together flawlessly to create a memorable show that will live long in the hearts of the audience.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s Unique “Nutcracker”
“The Nutcracker” is associated with the holidays and the one ballet that most ballet schools and companies will perform frequently, often annually. This is due to the popularity of the show, which appeals to a much larger audience than many other show subjects, and the ballet’s diverse classical ballet technique numbers which both challenge dancers and showoff the strengths of a cast. Grand Rapids Ballet, Michigan’s only professional ballet company, teamed with beloved author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, leading set designer Eugene Lee and innovative choreographer Val Caniparoli to develop a new version of “The Nutcracker” in 2014 for the West Michigan community. Grand Rapids native Van Allsburg’s beautiful art along with the creative set design of Lee and the lovely choreography of Caniparoli created a uniquely West Michigan production. Caniparoli’s talent for collaboration with dancers brings a personal touch to each work so that each performance will have the imprint of the dancer performing it. Van Allsburg’s lush artwork makes each scene look like the frame of a painting, brought to life by Lee’s clever set design. The artwork and set bring the audience into the story with the dancers and add to the magical experience. Lanterns are lit. Snow falls on the stage. Christmas trees grow to fantastical heights. A sleigh driven by seahorses transport Dream Clara and her Nutcracker Prince to Marzipan Castle.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is for the talented Grand Rapids Ballet dancers as much as it is for the West Michigan audience. The production began under the leadership of former Artistic Director Patricia Barker in 2014, and now continues to flourish in new ways under Artistic Director James Sofranko. This unique version of “The Nutcracker” is worth seeing every year because the personal touches make every production stand out all the more. There is no other “Nutcracker” show like it around.
The Magic of the Dancing
The opening night performance of “The Nutcraker” on Friday, Dec. 13, stood out as an excellent show that showcased the talent of the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers and the many artistic ways ballet can tell a classic story. Grand Rapids Ballet dancers exhibited expert technique with warmth and personality that made the story live. The production included both Grand Rapids company dancers and Grand Rapids Ballet School students. The student dancers did a great job performing alongside the professional cast. Grand Rapids Ballet School student Cecilia Nguyen portrayed a delightful young Clara Stahlbaum with skillful dancing and good acting ability. Student dancer Ian Mark did a great job as Fritz Stahlbaum and worked well with Nguyen. The student dancers appeared in the Christmas party at the Stahlbaum home, the battle scene and numbers featuring the fairies and harlequins at Marzipan Castle. It was also nice to see Vivian Mosolygo share a stage with her father, Grand Rapids Ballet School and Junior Company Director Attila Mosolygo who played Herr Drosselmeier, and do a great job performing the roles of Small Baby Mouse and a fairy. The student dancers gave a strong performance that shows the strengths of a Grand Rapids Ballet School education.
Grand Rapids Ballet School and Junior Company Director Attila Mosolygo was a perfect Herr Drosselmeier. Mosolygo captured the mystery and magic of the enigmatic character who creates the nutcracker and Clara’s dream world to please his favorite godchild. His scenes with his assistants played by Amadeo Lopez-Keranen and Akira Bischoff were entertaining, with some of their movements including a hint of vaudeville humor.
Emily Reed was a lovely Dream Clara and elegantly danced with expert technique. Steven Houser was a dashing Nutcracker Prince and danced with great skill and artistry. Reed and Houser were well-matched and danced beautifully together.
The corps de ballet was at its finest and created a gorgeous snow scene at the end of Act One and a lovely flowers number in Act Two. The snow number was one of the most memorable and beautiful scenes of the show. The 12 snow dancers all danced with exquisite technique and seamless precision that really captured the beauty of falling snow. The snowflakes were danced by Madison Massara, Logan Velasquez, Adriana Wagenveld, Ingrid Lewis, Sophia Stefanopolous, Julia Turner, Celeste Lopez-Keranen, Emily Sipnick, Sarah Marley, Yuko Horisawa, Gretchen Steimle and Emily Barrows. The flowers number was also quite beautiful to watch, especially when the 12 dancers together created the movements of an opening and closing flower. The flowers were played by Gretchen Steimle, Sienna Clark, Emily Kayser, Julia Turner, Logan Velasquez, Celeste Lopez-Keranen, Emily Sipnick, Madison Massara, Ingrid Lewis, Emily Barrows, Yuko Horisawa and Sarah Marley. Alexandra Meister-Upleger did an excellent job as the Dew Drop Fairy and complemented the flowers number.
Yuka Oba-Muschiana shined as the Sugar Plum Fairy. She danced with beautiful technique and emotion. Josue Justiz also stood out as the Cavalier and danced with great athleticism and artistry. Oba-Muschiana and Justiz danced a stunning pas de deux that was flawless. They make a great team.
Other highlights of the evening include the Arabian Spice, danced by Ednis Gomez and Adriana Wagenveld, and the Russian Caviar number danced by Nathan Young, Nigel Tau and Branden Reiners. They all danced with great athleticism and skill. The Russian Caviar was one of the most popular numbers that evening, with the audience clapping and cheering along to the dancing.
All of the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers gave a strong performance that included artistry, athleticism and master technique on the opening night. The audience gave the show a standing ovation and clearly enjoyed the Dec. 13 show.
Grand Rapids Ballet “Nutcracker” Show and Ticket Information
There is still a chance to see Grand Rapids Ballet’s amazing “Nutcracker.” Grand Rapids Ballet will hold more performances of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 14-15 and Dec. 20-22. Both matinee and evening show tickets are available online from TicketMaster.com. Visit Grand Rapids Ballet’s Facebook page or their Nutcracker information page for more information.