Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dance Review: Joffrey Ballet School’s The Nutcracker

The Joffrey Ballet School,  "Nutcracker " -Photography by James Culp A favorite of the holiday season, The Nutcracker is a treat for an audience of all ages.  In the beautiful NYU Skirball Theater, the Joffrey Ballet School presents its own version with choreography by Davis Robertson adapted from classic versions by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.  This production does an excellent job of showcasing the students of the Joffrey Ballet School.

Act 1 begins with the party scene, filled with adorable little ones.  Some of the older students play the adults, which they accomplish with a convincing air of maturity.  The choreography conveys a genuine party scene, without being too placed.  The dancers crowd around Drosselmeyer, played by Dmitri Povolotsky. Romelia Valenzuela is a delightful Clara, with lovely lines and cheerful expressions.

The mice leap about the stage, scurrying about and surprisingly even help to remove the furniture from the party scene.  The Mouse King appears more like a "Mouse Queen," using its paws to toss its mane of dreadlocks.  The battle scene is complete with the transformation of a growing Christmas tree, and as a preview to second act, the Polichinelles (the littlest and cutest dancers), line up around the tree.  One of the soldiers shoots a mouse, and all the Polichinelles topple over (an interestingly dramatic choice, but the little ones are still adorable with their spindly legs pointing all different directions). The Snow Scene is lovely, and impressive for its continuous flow of evenly falling snow.  The choreography for the Joffrey school’s version of the snow scene contains the usual chasse en tournant and grande jetés, but also a surprising number of pas de chats.  The snowflakes are beautiful dancers…  Adorned with tiaras, these radiant beauties swirl about the stage with elegance and grace. Moreover, the snow pas de deux is wonderfully performed along with another interesting element to this particular production’s snow scene:  a male soloist!   

Are You a Dancer?  Join iDANZ Today! Act 2 introduces Clara with her Nutcracker, the handsome Patrick Ward to the Land of Sweets.  Drosselmeyer accompanies, as if presenting this magical place as a gift to Clara.  I am disappointed there is not a pas de deux between Clara and her prince. The dances are interspersed with excerpts of music from Act 1, during which a young dancer appears to introduce the next group of dancers to Clara and Drosselmeyer. The casting is different from most Nutcrackers in which the various dances in Act 2 are solos or small groups; instead, the Joffrey School chooses to showcase their students so there are about a dozen Russian, Spanish, Arabian and Mirlitons.  It is exciting to watch the larger groups of dancers and the spacing is such that all can be seen clearly.  Tislarm Bouie is delightfully funny as Mother Ginger, looking surprised and relieved as she “births” each child from beneath her skirt.  The Chinese dancers use traditional Chinese fans, and the choreography includes a segment of adagio fan work in a pause between songs.  One young member of the audience clearly asked, “why is there no music?” eliciting a chuckling murmur throughout the audience.  Deandra Dantas is a lovely Sugar Plum, petite and practically perfect in executing her steps.  Matthew Slattery is her brilliant Cavalier, a magnificent partner and soloist.

Nutcracker The performance concludes with the dancers of the Land of Sweets bidding Clara and the Nutcracker Prince farewell.  This directorial choice, to omit a scene where Clara wakes up, plays upon childhood fantasy as if the journey to the Land of Sweets, the preceding scenes of dancing snowflakes transformed into maidens, and the battle between soldiers and giant mice were all real.

To a "trained" eye, this show might be criticized for it’s overuse of a certain step, for we see many a developpe en avant en effacé… boooooo. This particular line is also easily “cheated” as it shifts towards a side, rather than front, extension. Being that this is a student performance, it would be nice to see the choreography more diversified as to challenge its students rather than simply show off their "leg."  However, this production offers an astounding opportunity for young dance students to perform on a fantastic stage and is a wonderful holiday gift for their families as well.

The Joffrey Ballet School serves the community around NYU a delicious holiday treat perfect for audiences of all ages.  Make sure that you check their Nutcracker out next year!

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Official Dance Review by
Lea McGowan
Performance: Joffrey Ballet School’s The Nutcracker
Choreography: Davis Robertson with Cameron Basden for “Flowers”
Venue: NYU Skirball Theater
Performance Date: Friday December 18, 2009
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