Richmond, VA – Why do we Nutcracker? Let me count the ways.
- My child is a dancer!!
- My friend’s child is a dancer.
- My grandchild is in the Nutcracker.
- I danced in The Nutcracker when I was a kid.
- Richmond Ballet puts on the best Nutcracker.
- The Nutcracker is our family tradition.
- The Nutcracker is the fantasy Christmas I dreamed of as a child.
- The Nutcracker is the ballet in my Christmas dreams.
- We have never seen a ballet before and thought this was the right one.
- Four words: grace, beauty, fantasy, and power.
These are just some of the answers I got while talking to the near sold-out audience at Richmond Ballet’s 2022 performance of The Nutcracker on December 10, 2022 at the Dominion Energy Center.
One year ago, with the blessing of my editors, I approached Richmond Ballet to cover their Nutcracker for DBM and introduce ballet to our audience. I was a little apprehensive, wondering how a ballet company would respond to coverage in a magazine that primarily focuses on modern music, including heavy metal, rock and roll, country, pop, and everything in between. To my delight, Richmond Ballet was very open to the idea. The experience has been beyond anything I could have ever imagined. The dedication it takes to go to the next level makes my head spin. I give thanks to Richmond Ballet for taking my hand and guiding me on this wonderful journey.
Since my initial Nutcracker coverage I have reviewed two additional RB performances (Romeo and Juliet and a modern ballet in the form of RB’s Studio Series). I was taken aback by the beauty and stories behind each that were conveyed through motion without the utterance of a single word. Peering behind the curtain and taking part in some rehearsals, I got an abridged, but wonderful, inside look at some of the preparation required to put on such performances. Needless to say, this wannabe symphonic metalhead with a touch of country boy has fallen head over heals for ballet, the performance, the dancers, and the art in general. The Nutcracker was the stepping stone that started the journey. As it turns out, it is also the stepping stone that introduces many to ballet.
In 2021, I was there to take in the show. In 2022, I thought I would take in the show from a new perspective and also investigate what makes The Nutcracker a ballet for all.
Reflecting on the responses (some are listed above), one thing is clear, The Nutcracker is the ballet everyone can relate to. I can all but guarantee, if you talk to those around you, you will find someone who has performed or knows a past or present Nutcracker performer. One does not have to be a principal dancer to make an impression on the Nutcracker stage. Inclusion of all levels of dancer, combined with a joyful Christmas fantasy tale that many dreamt of in their youth as they closed their eyes Christmas Eve with sugar plums dancing in their heads, makes this the ballet for all.
The 2022 performance was a rebirth of sorts for Stoner Winslett‘s Nutcracker. New sets, new costumes, and some new dances were incorporated into the production for the first time since since the last update 2003. The colors, the detail, the sound, the lights, and the motion made this a performance that appealed to all senses (by going you have shown you have great taste).
This year saw a special guest performance as well, with Ukrainian principal ballerina, Kristina Kadashevych, joining the company. In the performance I photographed she is the matriarch of the Silberhaus home.
Everyone Loves a Christmas Party
Christmas was and still is a time when friends and family get together to celebrate. The anticipation of the party was highlighted by the journey to the Silberhaus home and, once there, the children impatiently waiting for the doors to the party to open. Every childlike emotion was conveyed in the motion and the acting of the dancers, from the opening of the gifts and the joy they brought, to the jealousy that often arises when one envies the gift of another (breaking the Nutcracker). What would the magic of Christmas be without… magic… Drosselmeyer was just the ticket, bringing toys to life (harlequin, columbine, and toy soldier) to the delight of all, while also mending the broken Nutcracker.
From Party to Fantasy
The thing with parties, they all come to an end. An exhausted Clara drifts off to sleep with her new companion and toy, only to be awoken by an invasion of rats (the kids were so fun to watch, bringing back memories of younger siblings doing their best to terrorize the eldest in an effort to steal the ultimate gift). Drosselmeyer came to the rescue, appearing in what is hard to distinguish between dream or reality, to scare the rats and whisk Clara away to the land of the Nutcracker and his arch enemy, the rat king.
Throughout this scene I could not help notice how the lighting, designed by Richard Moore, enhanced the emotion and feel for the scene and transport to a fantasy land. Adding to the feel was the growing tree (to depict a shrinking Clara). The execution was flawless as an alternate reality came to life.
The rat king and Nutcracker (with their associated armies) collide and a great battle takes place. Surrounded by all the Christmas toys, that had come to life, Clara witnesses the battle as a stalemate is all but assured. The animated entrance of the rat king was a blast as he flamboyantly rode on the shoulders of his subjects, finishing with a little funky dance number to appease his subjects (to the joy of the Energy Center audience).
The battle included some wonderful weaponry, including an updated canon (complete with a ‘BANG’ flag) and a cheese launching rat trap catapult that takes the life of the toy soldier to the dismay of Clara and other toys. The Nutcracker appears to battle the king. Just when it appears all is lost, Clara distracts the king allowing the Nutcracker to thrust his sword leading to the demise of the evil king.
Journey to the Land of Sweets
A grateful Nutcracker magically transforms into a handsome prince and invites Clara to go with him to the Land of Sweets. Along the way they meet the Snow Queen and King who dance for them (a pas de deux, joined later by a magical storm of snowflakes) before giving them a beautiful swan chariot. The updated scenery here was beautiful. Adding to the atmosphere was snow falling from above. The scenery, the dance, and everything about this scene was breathtaking.
Land of Sweets
The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier greet Clara and the prince with open arms and a wonderful pas de deux. After a feast, the worldly residents put on a sweet show that every child dreams of, starting with a Spanish dance, representing the premiere sweet, chocolate.
Up next was an Arabian dance, complete with the seduction and mystery of the snake and the charmer than is always in control. I think that sums up the power coffee has, especially over the adults in the room (how many can relate?).
The Chinese dance was complete with Chinese dragon and new costumes. This dance was short but very refreshing… like fresh tea.
The Russian dancers are said to represent candy canes, but it felt more like tea cakes (subtle difference). Every year this dance brings something new with the bear joining in a Cossack dance that included a little break dancing as well and some fun adlibbing by a very energetic dancing bear (with a little attitude)!
France and Marzipan was up next, seen through the eyes of Little Bo Peepesque shepderdess with her adorable lambs (the aaawwwws and fun laughs nearly drowned out the orchestra). Frightened by a pranking shepherd who terrified them all by donning a wolf costume. Based on the look on the shepherdess’ face, he was lucky to survive.
Gingerbread came to life with in the form of a large rabbit (loved the costume) and, appropriately, a large number of little rabbits that appeared from under the newly designed costume. What caught me here was the similarity between the dance at the party at the Silberhaus home and the dance of the rabbit children. It was very fitting to see Clara and the prince join in with the little ones as well.
Putting the icing on the cake is the nectar and beauty of the flower dance with butterfly. The costumes put the icing on the cake so to speak. Giving way to again the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier they bring the celebration to a conclusion with one final pas de deux with a sweet waltz in the middle.
As with all fairy tale fantasies, they must come to an end. Clara leaves the Land of Sweets and awakens on the couch, unhurt, with Nutcracker in hand. It had all been a wonderful, fantastic Christmas dream.
With that, it was over. The audience stood, some bringing flowers and other gifts to the stage to give to the dancers. I said earlier The Nutcracker was a stepping stone. It is a fantastic story told through the eyes of a child through beautiful and expressive dance. It is the community as is Christmas for so many. One gets the feel for the power and emotion dance can deliver. My challenge to our readers is go to the next level, take in a ballet of choice and see if you can see the story as told through the grace and power of dance. The next stop on my journey is Firebird in a few months. Stay tuned!!
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Cast and credits (photographed performance)
(several cast combinations were used throughout the performances).
Clara: Abigail Fretz
Prince: Linus Larson
Butler: Jackson Calhoun
Maid #1: Elena Bello
Maid #2: Courtney Collier
Dr. Silberhaus: Aleksey Babayev
Mrs. Silberhaus: Kristina Kadashevych
Grandmother: Susan Israel Massey
Grandfather: Chris Kogut
Drosselmeyer: Khaiyom Khojaev
Columbine: Naomi Robinson
Harlequin: Colin Jacob
Toy Soldier: Garret McNally
Rat King: Jackson Calhoun
Snow Queen: Naomi Wilson
Snow King: Ira White
Sugar Plum: Eri Nishihara
Cavalier: Enrico Hipolito
Spanish: Rachel Nash, Colin Jacob, Sarah Joan Smith, Jackson Calhoun
Snake: Izabella Tokev
Charmer: Joe Seaton
Nezha (Chinese Soloist): Naomi Robinson
Shepherdess: Celeste Gaiera
Shepherd: Jack Miller
Dancing Bear: Michael Duncan
Russian Side 1: Cade Bolz
Russian Side 2: Daniel Miller
Mother Ginger: Gillian Grossman
Butterfly: Naomi Wilson
Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Production Conceived by Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell
Artistic Direction and Choreography by Stoner Winslett
Scenery Design by Alain Vaës
Costume Design by David Heuvel
Lighting Design by Richard Moore
Associate Lighting Designer, Catherine Girardi
Artistic Director: Stoner Winslett
Associate Artistic Director: Ma Cong
Managing Director Brett D. Bonda
Resident Conductor: Erin Freeman
Show Date: December 10, 2022