Pictured: Kansas City Ballet Dancers. Photography: Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.
By Abigail Trabue
There are shows so deeply woven into the fabric of the holidays that you can’t imagine a season without them. They are stories filled with joy, with love, and with wonder. They are stories that enhance and define a Kansas City Christmas. They are as much a part of our community Christmas as The Plaza lights and Topsy’s Popcorn, and there is a great deal of pride that comes from having such spectacular productions to call our own. Kansas City Ballet’s THE NUTCRACKER is one of those productions. This reimagined version from Artistic Director Devon Carney has given Kansas City its own NUTCRACKER story. It is distinctly ours and you can feel it from the moment Carney walks on stage for his pre-show announcements.
In what continues to be one of my favorite openings to THE NUTCRACKER, we enter the workshop of Dr. Drosselmeir. Exuberantly portrayed by Cameron Thomas, we are gifted a charmingly funny glimpse into this delightful man’s workshop as he hilariously interacts with the magical dolls chosen to accompany him to the Silberhaus home for Christmas. From there the story moves into familiar territory – Clara meets her Nutcracker, the Nutcracker battles the Mouse King, and Clara and her Prince travel to the Land of Sweets. But nothing about the production feels like a “tale as old as time.” In fact, thanks in part to a large cast featuring dancers of all ages, The Kansas City Ballet’s production feels fresh and full of youthful energy, touching on just the right amount of nostalgia, and finding ways to engage audience members of all ages. The dancers find a way to make it their own every year and bring the subtle touches needed to breathe life into a familiar story.
My son, who has accompanied me the last three years, always asks, “what dance moves will each mouse do this year” and he loves to speculate on what he might see — side note, he would really like to encourage someone to do The Floss next season. I would prefer The Floss fade off into the night.
Regardless of our dance preferences, it’s those kinds of moments that keep this production fresh and engaging year after year. It is also visually stunning, and I have yet to tire of Alain Vaës’ massive set full of childhood wonder or Holly Hynes’ elegant costumes designed to perfectly compliment the choreography.
But at the heart of THE NUTCRACKER is the company that makes up the Kansas City Ballet, and the cast that performed on Saturday night (one of the numerous rotating casts) was filled with an energy that, while at times felt a little frenetic, was thrilling to watch. We were also treated to some of the strongest partnering work I’ve seen on the KC Ballet stage. As the Snow Queen and King, Emily Mistretta and Liang Fu are impeccably paired. Fu’s upper body strength is astonishing, and, in a section that has never really been able to hit the mark in the past, he and Mistretta turned in two performances that made Carney’s difficult choreography look effortless. The same could also be said of Goldie Walberg who along with Fu, Javier Morales, Angelin Carrant, and Timothy TV Cao gave us a breathtaking Arabian dance.
Of course, the ultimate pairing comes when The Sugar Plum Fairy (Amanda DeVenuta) and Her Cavelier (James Kirby Rogers) take to the stage in one of the finest moments of the night. DeVenuta is stunning to watch. She moves as those suspended in time, perfectly finishing each move while gracefully connecting to the next. As her Cavelier, Rogers is steady, strong, present. He isn’t lost behind DeVenuta, they work together as a team. And what a team it was. Both turned in flawless and heartfelt performances, and as the pas de deux came to an end, the quick glance they exchanged, and the giant smiles that broke out on their faces, spoke volumes. They knew they’d just accomplished something special, and so did we. It was an honest, human moment between two people who just did something superhuman. It was my favorite moment of the night.
Kansas City Ballet’s THE NUTCRACKER is a hometown tradition, and with the spectacular Kansas City Symphony bringing Tchaikovsky’s score to life, you can’t help but find yourself filled with the glorious warmth of the season. It is a tradition that is not to be missed.
THE NUTCRACKER runs through December 23rd. For more information visit kcballet.org.