Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ is about
the magic of childhood and Christmas
By Adrienne Warber
Grand Rapids Ballet’s opening night performance of “The Nutcracker” reminded the audience just what makes the show one of the most loved ballets of all time. The story has magic, adventure, action and a love story. When paired with dancers of superb technique who exude both energy and love of their craft, and enhanced by the seamless storytelling of Val Caniparoli’s inventive choreography, “The Nutcracker” comes to life in a rare way that allows the audience to not only watch, but to live the story. The show opened on Friday, Dec. 9, at DeVos Performance Hall in downtown Grand Rapids, and Grand Rapids Ballet will present a total of eight performances over the weekends of Dec. 9-11 and Dec. 16-18.
Grand Rapid’s Unique ‘Nutcracker’
This a version of “The Nutcracker” that can only be seen in West Michigan, performed by Grand Rapids Ballet. What makes this version unique? Grand Rapids Ballet teamed with beloved children’s book author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, award-winning set designer Eugene Lee and world renowned choreographer Val Caniparoli to create a “Nutcracker” that honored the original version of the E.T.A. Hoffman story, showcased cast talent, was relevant to today’s audience and captured the special magic of Christmas. This version of “The Nutcracker” is Grand Rapids Ballet’s gift to the West Michigan community.
The Dec. 9th performance was an example of why the national and international ballet communities are noticing the talent of Michigan’s only professional ballet company. Under the artistic direction of Patricia Barker, sold out shows are becoming a common occurrence. Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is a masterpiece in how well every element comes together in the production. Accompanied by live Tchaikovsky music played beautifully by the Grand Rapids Symphony, this “Nutcracker” is everything a ballet fan could hope for in a performance of the beloved ballet.
Chris Van Allsburg’s ‘Nutcracker’ Artwork and Eugene Lee’s Set Design
Chris Van Allsburg’s “Nutcracker” artwork is so vivid, it is like another character in the show. The drawings are so detailed and full of personality. Eugene Lee’s set design brings Van Allsburg’s artwork to life in such a way that it often feels like the audience is right inside the story. The set elements work extremely well with the lighting and special effects. Production Stage Manager Mellissa Slack and Shawn Boyle of Projection Design did an excellent job on lighting and special effects. Katie Behrens and Brennan Mott did a lovely job with costumes. The entire production team did a great job.
There are many great examples of how the brilliance of the artwork, set design, lighting and special effects worked well together. The main backdrop depicting Drosselmeier that curtains the stage seems to beckon to the audience with outstretched hands, inviting them into the story and the audience sees snow falling in the background. The town backdrop features street lamps that light up and smoke coming out of a chimney. The Christmas tree growing to giant proportions just before the battle scene is truly an exciting and magical moment. Dream Clara and her Nutcracker Prince travel to Marzipan Castle in a shell-shaped boat drawn by seahorses in a magic mist of Lemonade Lake that covers the stage.
Memorable Cast Performances
“The Nutcracker” cast includes both professional Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers and Grand Rapids Ballet students. Val Caniparoli’s skillful choreography showcases the talent of each cast member, enhances the special attribute of each character and tells the story in an entertaining manner. The seamless way the Grand Rapids Ballet School students danced with the professional company dancers is a testimony to the quality of Grand Rapids Ballet School training.
At the Dec. 9 opening night performance, Ella-Marie Goulet was a delightful and enthusiastic young Clara Stahlbaum and danced well with the company dancers in the party scene. Cosmo Gamaggio did a good job as her younger brother, Fritz Stahlbaum. Student numbers in the party, battle and Marzipan Castle fairy scene featured strong dancing.
It brought a special element of romance to see the real-life married company dancers cast in leading romantic roles on opening night. Laura McQueen Schultz (Dream Clara) and Nicholas Schultz (Nutcracker Prince) danced with true chemistry, passion and masterful technique in their pas de deux numbers.
The cast danced with great skill and personality. There were many memorable performances. Attila Mosolygo played a fun and warm Drosselmeier that reminded parents of the joy of finding the perfect Christmas present for their children. The audience clearing enjoyed the lively performance of Jack Lennon, Ben Waldvogel, and Matt Wenckowski in the Russian Caviar number, clapping along with the dancing. Ednis Gomez and Micaelina Ritschl gave an excellent performance of the Arabian Spice number. Yuka Oba danced with elegance and flawless technique as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Steven Houser danced with great athleticism in the Chinese Tea number. Cassidy Isaacson danced with great precision and skill as the Sugarplum Doll.
The corps de ballet danced with beauty and strong technique as snowflakes in the Snow scene. This number was an example of what many audience members hope to see in a ballet performance, from the flowing white tutus and crowns to the gorgeous choreography and elegant pointe work. The corps de ballet gave a truly memorable Snow performance.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ Gets Better Every Year
Grand Rapids Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” just keeps getting better. Ballet fans who saw the show before as those new to Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” will enjoy the whole experience of this well-crafted production. Tickets are still available for next weekend’s four shows on Dec. 16-18. Visit Grand Rapids Ballet’s website for current ticket information.