nutcracker-2-1414125Review of The Nutcracker
Santa Rosa Dance Theatre
with Santa Rosa Youth Ballet Company
Sonoma County Philharmonic
with Norman Gamboa
Directed and Choreographed by Tamara Statkoun

For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center

RUN: December 18-20, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 19, 2015)

This beloved holiday tradition was inspired by an E.T.A. Hoffmann story and has been performed since 1892, coming to the United States through San Francisco Ballet in 1944. Santa Rosa Dance Theater and the Sonoma County Philharmonic present this colorful production that is quite good for a small ballet company. The costuming is tasteful yet beautiful, accenting what most of the children in the audience came to see—ballerinas. For example, the Mouse Queen (Siena Warnert), rather than being a frightening figure, appears in a gray tutu with a variation reminiscent of Balanchine choreography, with rapid grands battements. There is a definite stylistic choice of a tutu that is a combination of a shortened romantic and drooping classical which ties the production together while delighting children in the audience.

The Party Scene of Act 1 is set in an idealized Regency era with luscious high-waisted velvet gowns and elegant sweeping choreography for the adults. While not the most innovative depiction, it hits all the right notes and is a flawless classic rendering of Act 1. There were a few costuming details that could have been tighter; one of the party guests had knotted her shoes, rather than sewing the elastics. That is fine for rehearsal, but a trifle sloppy for a performance. Clara (Ella Feleay) is a beautiful dancer, confident on pointe and cheerful toward the audience. Her acting is believable, and drew the story along with alactrity.

The Battle Scene transition is splendid; adding a feminine touch to the mice works well. The battle itself concentrates on the Mouse Queen and Nutcracker (Cameron Lasater) in a cleverly choreographed showdown that is one of the best I have seen in a Nutcracker production. The Snow Scene showcases Theo Bridant’s set designs to advantage. Trees are given in brushstroke patterns, mingling with Spreckels’ projection system without overusing the technology. The Snow Queen (Catherine Liang) has a strong stage presence, but needs to improve her extensions all the way through her feet. If she can nurture her technique to match the presence she has, Liang will be a force to be reckoned with.

Act 2 uses the traditional divertissements and opens with a shimmering golden angel dance that sets the tone. While the Spanish Cocoa needed more passion to it, the Arabian Delight made up for it with stunning choreography by Joshua Trader. The sinuous music is used to form shapes and gliding patterns with supple dancing from Catherine Liang and Charbel Rohayem. The Russian Tea Cakes was trying to emulate the danse des petits cygnes from Swan Lake, but the skill level of the dancers was not up to it. The costumes were adorable, and the dancers tried their best to add enthusiasm. The Waltz of the Flowers was lovely and relied on classic choreography that is safe and well loved by the audience, ending in an opening bloom. Princess Clara (Stephanie Burns) and the Nutcracker Price show excellent partnering skills. In the variations, Clara’s fouettees are accomplished, and the Prince shows admirable poise and ballon, although his pirouettes à la seconde could use improvement.

One of the treats of this production is that there is a live orchestra, which both augments and distracts from the dancing. When the musicians were at their best, such as during the Snow Scene, the collaboration was marvelous, but the Philharmonic was not consistent in quality, perhaps due to lack of rehearsal.

Overall this is a quality local production, with excellent plot foreshadowing and acting as well as elegant costuming and talented student dancers. I would recommend it for an entertaining evening to bring children to or enjoy the holiday tradition with friends.