Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dance Review: Nutcracker with the Neville Dance Theatre

Neville Dance Theatre What can I say?  I love The Nutcracker.  And the Nutcracker, as performed by Neville Dance Theatre, is a revitalized production full of the magical holiday spirit we know and love.

Growing up in Maine, I fell in love with the Maine State Ballet’s Nutcracker, then watched my peers in Robinson Ballet’s Nutcracker and, most recently, was awed by the height of Nutcracker heights; New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Are You a Dancer?  Become a Member of iDANZ Today!Today, as I go to see Neville Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker at the Hudson Guild Theater, my interest is peaked from the billing as a contemporary, ethnic ballet version of the 19th century classic.  I am thrilled to find Brenda Neville’s take as moving and compelling as the magical version that I fell in love with as a child.  It helps that I am able to bring a youngster as my date; fascination is catching, as it’s almost as much fun watching her as it is watching the show. 

Neville Dance Theatre Neville sets her Nutcracker in contemporary Manhattan, (although it seems more like Brooklyn judging from the "view" out the party scene’s window), and she is gratifyingly consistent in the opening act.  The children, mostly girls, get cellphones for Christmas and parents take pictures with digital cameras.  Drusselmeyer and Clara’s father are one and the same, well played by Yasu Suzuki, and rather than scaring the children he plays a game of "find that dance," performing dances from around the world and having the children point to their origin on a world map.  Neville keeps the two dancing dolls, the female version, fairly typical with her red cheeks, wide eyes and pointe shoes.  The male doll is also consistent with the original version of the story dressed in dated all green army fatigues and sporting a wooden gun.  This is the only uncomfortable moment in Neville’s updating of the story.  It feels strange to have such a multi-cultural, modern family festively unveiling a violent toy.  It’s a little chilling.

Neville Dance TheatreThe story continues in like form; the mice battle is turned into a street fight between clogging NYPD officers and break dancing would-be thieves.  Clara is injured in the fray and, through a little bait and switch "magic," literally leaves her body to journey through the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  Unfortunately, this Saturday afternoon, her escort, the Nutcracker, visibly injures himself during their pas de deux, but manages to to finish his part.  Well wishes to Christopher McDaniel… Snow is scaled down due the lack of stage space, but retains it’s magical sheen.  My date is entranced both by the fake snow falling onstage and the real snow outside at intermission! 

Neville Dance Theatre The second act delightfully opens in the land of the sugar plum fairy, and we are treated to a modified mélange of dances from around the world.  Spanish is Flamenco dance; Arabian is belly dancing.  The French dancers sport Marie Antionette wigs, and most enjoyably, Tinikling, a traditional Filipino dance with sticks, is performed with all the children.  To finish out the act, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform a pas de duex and a solo each. The choreography here is fittingly traditional, but is a little scary in the pointe work.  Combined with the aforementioned injury, I wonder if it is the floor?

Regardless, no matter if performed at the State Theatre or a tiny (slippery) stage in midtown, The Nutcracker is a classic. I applaud Ms. Neville for her courageous rethinking of a traditional story.

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Official Dance Review by Meghan Frederick
Performance:  The Nutcracker, Neville Dance Theatre
Choreography:  Brenda Neville
Venue:  The Howard Guild Theater
Show Date:  December 5th, 2009
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