Grand Rapids Ballet’s exquisite production of ‘The Nutcracker’ delivers Christmas magic
By Adrienne Warber
Grand Rapids Ballet gifted West Michigan with a very special “Nutcracker” production. The 2018-19 Season shows a promising future for the talented dance company, which introduced new Artistic Director James Sofranko and delivered a strong cast of company dancers who have all played a significant role in creating a memorable “Nutcracker” show. The classic ballet tailored especially for Grand Rapids Ballet and West Michigan contains the same spellbinding beauty today that enchanted audiences at the 2014 world premiere. Grand Rapids Ballet performed 8 highly successful shows from Dec. 14-23.
West Michigan’s Own ‘Nutcracker’
You’ll never see another “Nutcracker” quite like Grand Rapids Ballet’s production because it was made especially for the company, the dancers and the West Michigan audience. Grand Rapids Ballet’s former Artistic Director Patricia Barker and former Creative Director Michael Auer teamed with beloved children’s book author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, Tony award-winning set-designer Eugene Lee and internationally acclaimed choreographer Val Caniparoli to create a version of “The Nutcracker” for Grand Rapids Ballet and West Michigan in 2014. The world premiere of Grand Rapids Ballet’s new “Nutcracker” was a hit and, for the past four years, shows have sold out and been critically acclaimed.
A Christmas Masterpiece
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is a work of art. All elements of the production from the strong dancing and lovely choreography to the lush set and elegant costumes come together seamlessly to bring the classic story to life in an entertaining production. Eugene Lee’s set design works beautifully with Chris Van Allsburg’s artwork to create the perfect atmosphere. The lighting and special effects work well with the artwork to create inviting and lifelike scenes. Chimneys smoke, lanterns light up, and it really snows on the stage. The moment Dream Clara sails across Lemonade Lake with her Nutcracker Prince in a boat drawn by dolphins is truly magical because it looked like they were sailing on clouds. Each scene in the show looks real enough to walk into and get lost in the magic of the moment.
“The Nutcracker” production does a fantastic job of drawing the audience into each scene. Both company and student dancers have strong acting skills and truly transform into their characters. The moment the Christmas tree grows and the battle begins between the mice and soldiers, the audience is drawn into the “Nutcracker” world every bit as much as Clara. The scenes are so riveting due to the skillful dancing and set details that the audience lives each adventure with Clara. This is not your ordinary holiday “Nutcracker.” Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is an unforgettable and enjoyable experience.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s Outstanding ‘Nutcracker’ Performance
Grand Rapids Ballet shines in its strong cast of dancers. The lead dancers and corps de ballet demonstrate expert technique. The show features both professional company dancers and Grand Rapids Ballet School student dancers. Student dancers work well with the company dancers. Both company and student dancers do an outstanding job in this year’s production of “The Nutcracker.”
Attila Mosolygo is a perfect Herr Drosselmeier. Mosolygo brought great acting skill, warmth and humor to the mysterious character. His dancing and Val Caniparoli’s choreography bring the character to life in a way that make the character both magical and loveable. He plays Drosselmeier as a loving parental figure who wants to give the perfect Christmas gift to his favorite godchild.
Serafina Wagenveld as young Clara and Yuka Oba as Dream Clara both give heartfelt performances. Wagenveld is the ideal young Clara and plays the role with earnestness and strong technique. She and Teagan Kraal do a good job as the Stahlbaum siblings. Yuka Oba brings great magic into her role as Dream Clara. Oba’s beautiful technique is flawless. Oba is paired well with new company dancer, Josue Justiz, who plays the Nutcracker Prince. Justiz dances with excellent technique and feeling. Oba and Justiz’ pas de deux numbers are lovely and full of emotion.
Alexandra Meister-Upleger gives an excellent performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her skillful technique helps create the magic of the land of Sugar Plum and Marzipan Castle. Her solo and her number with the fairies are delightful.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” features many notable performances. Cassidy Isaacson dances with great skill as the Sugar Plum Doll. Ednis Gomez and Micaelina Ritschl give strong performances in Arabian Spice. The audience cheered and clapped with enjoyment for the Russian Caviar scene performed by Steven Houser, Branden Reiners and Benjamin Waldvogel on Dec. 14.
In fact, there were many moments during the show when you could hear young children reacting in awe to the world of “The Nutcracker.” There were giggles at the sight of the dragon peeking from behind the curtain. Intakes of breath when Dream Clara and her Nutcracker Prince dance. Exclamations of “wow,” when the Sugar Plum fairy, fairies and Marzipan Castle appear. Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” world is full of magic for many young audience members.
The corps de ballet’s Snow Scene is breathtakingly beautiful. The technique, Val Caniparoli’s choreography and the ability of the dancers to capture the movements of snowflakes perfectly fit the iconic scene. The Snow Scene was danced by Emily Barrows, Connie Flachs, Cherilene Guzman, Grace Haskins, Madison Massara, Emily Reed, Micaelina Ritschl, Sidney Scully, Lydia Slack, Gretchen Steimle, Adriana Wagenveld and Lauren Yordanich on Dec. 14.
The audience gave a standing ovation at the end of the show. It was clear from the happy faces of all ages around that they had a good time. That is a definite sign of a very successful opening night show.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is a Christmas tradition for many families, and it is easy to see why. Grand Rapids Ballet is an art treasure for West Michigan. With more great shows like “The Nutcracker,” their audience will keep growing.