Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ brings Christmas magic to life
By Adrienne Warber
A great ballet performance draws the audience into the production, stirring the senses while it entertains. Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2017 production of “The Nutcracker” delivered this and much more to West Michigan audiences. The company’s delightful performance captured the special magic of the classic E.T.A. Hoffmann story through the skillful dancing of the cast, the superb choreography by choreographer Val Caniparoli, and the beautiful set created by artist Chris Van Allsburg and set designer Eugene Lee. The show opened last weekend with four shows on Dec. 1-3. Grand Rapids Ballet will perform four more shows this weekend, Dec. 8-10, at DeVos Performance Hall in downtown Grand Rapids.
A ‘Nutcracker’ for West Michigan
One thing that is unique about Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is that it was created especially for West Michigan. Grand Rapids Ballet Director Patricia Barker and Creative Director Michael Auer teamed with critically-acclaimed choreographer Val Choreographer, best-selling children’s book author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg and award-winning set-designer Eugene Lee to create a new version of the “Nutcracker” for Grand Rapids Ballet and the West Michigan community. The production’s 2014 world premiere was critically acclaimed, and many shows were sold-out. Each year, the production continues to grow in popularity, with people coming from all over West Michigan and the Midwest to see this version of “The Nutcracker.”
The Art of the Production
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is high art at its finest. The masterful dancing, choreography, music and storytelling come skillfully together with the lush set and costumes to bring the story to life in a truly enjoyable production. Eugene Lee’s set design, along with lighting and special effects, bring out the vivid beauty of Chris Van Allsburg’s artwork. Each scene is a mini-masterpiece painting. Set details are very inviting. The cobble-stone street look real enough to walk into. Lanterns light up and chimneys smoke. The living room look cozy. The Drosselmeier backdrop and the mice border painting are very expressive and lifelike.
There is such magic to every scene. The production does a great job of transporting the audience into the magical “Nutcracker” world. The dancers and the stage are transformed into each character and scene in a believable way. From the moment young Clara enters the magic world and becomes Dream Clara meeting her Nutcracker Prince to the moment that she wakes up in her living room, the audience is right there with her. The audience lives each adventure with Clara as she encounters a mice-soldier battles, sails across Lemonade Lake to Marzipan Castle on a boat driven by seahorses, dances with snowflakes, meets many interesting characters, and enjoys the company of her Nutcracker Prince.
Strong Cast and Outstanding Choreography
Grand Rapids Ballet features a strong cast of dancers in their “Nutcracker.” Both professional company dancers and Grand Rapids Ballet School student dancers did a great job at the opening night performance of “The Nutcracker” on Friday, Dec. 1. The high-quality training of Grand Rapids Ballet School shows in how well the student dancers worked with the professional dancers in various scenes.
Serafina Wagenveld danced the part of Clara with heart and earnestness. She showed great skill and blended well in scenes with the professional dancers. Wagenveld showed fine acting skills as well at both the party and battle scenes. Cosmo Gamaggio also did a good job as Clara’s brother, Fritz. They were paired well together as siblings.
Attila Mosolygo was a wonderful Herr Drosselmeier. He played the role with expert skill, great acting and humor to capture the enigmatic, but lovable character. Mosolygo portrayal of Drosselmeier paired with Val Caniparoli’s choreography created some of the most enjoyable scenes in the show. Mosolygo’s Drosselmeier was both the mysterious magician and the loving godparent who wants to give the perfect gift to his favorite godchild.
The casting of Laura McQueen Schultz and Nicholas Schultz as Dream Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, along with Dawnell Dryja as the Sugar Plum Fairy, on opening night was very special. The Schultzes and Dryja have danced with Grand Rapids Ballet for years, and are an important part of the West Michigan and much loved by the community. The Schultzes danced together with emotion and beautiful technique in their roles. Dryja also danced with joy and superb technique as the Sugar Plum Fairy. These performances were all the more meaningful because of their new roles in the dance world. Dryja retired as a company dancer in October, but still works for Grand Rapids Ballet as Artistic Coordinator. Audiences may still see Dryja, one of their favorite dancers, make special guest appearances at times on the local stage. This, however, was a farewell “Nutcracker” performance for the Schultzes, two favorite dancers of the West Michigan community. Nicholas and Laura McQueen Schultz will soon join the Royal New Zealand Ballet as Ballet Masters in January 2018.
Grand Rapids Ballet has a strong cast of dancers. There were many notable performances in the opening night show. Cassidy Isaacson was a convincing Sugarplum Doll. Micaelina Ritschl and Ednis Gomez danced the Arabian Spice roles with great skill. Steven Houser gave a great performance in the Chinese Tea. Branden Reiners, Nigel Tau and Ben Waldvogel did an excellent job as the Russian Caviar. Their Russian Caviar performance was an audience favorite and got some the loudest applause of the evening.
The corps de ballet had one of the strongest performances of the evening. The Snow Scene was exquisite. The corps de ballet’s dancing, Caniparoli’s choreography, the special effects, and the music of Grand Rapids Symphony all came together in a beautiful masterpiece. The snowflakes were danced by Claire Ashcraft, Emily Barrows, Grace Haskins, Catherine Lasak, Madison Massara, Micaelina Ritschl, Sidney Scully, Fiona Staczek, Gretchen Steimle, Adriana Wagenveld, Caroline Wiley and Lauren Yordanich. The Snow Scene was classical ballet at its finest.
“The Nutcracker” is a masterwork for Grand Rapids Ballet, and the artistic team of choreographer Val Caniparoli, artist Chris Van Allsburg and set designer Eugene Lee. The artistry behind the production makes this version of “The Nutcracker” one of the best available on stage anywhere in the world. The show will warm its way into your heart. Once you see it, you will want Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” to become an annual family tradition. For many West Michigan families, “The Nutcracker” ushers in the Christmas season. It is a Christmas gift of holiday joy from Grand Rapids Ballet to the West Michigan community.
Grand Rapids Ballet ‘Nutcracker’ Weekend Showtimes
There is still a chance to see Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” The company will perform four shows this weekend, Dec. 8-10, at DeVos Performance Hall. Tickets are still available. Visit TicketMaster.com to purchase tickets or call the Grand Rapids Ballet Box Office at (616) 454-4771, ext. 10 for more information on the show.