Friday evening, I was transported to the magical setting of Minneapolis’s State Theatre to enjoy another performance of a holiday favorite. Only on stage for one long weekend, Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy performed by Minnesota Dance Theatre continues to be a tradition that starts all young and young-at-heart hearts beating faster in anticipation of Christmas Eve.
The version of the story used by MDT is a bit different from the one used by the Russian Ballet in the production I saw just a couple of weeks ago. MDT’s version, with choreography by Loyce Houlton, staging by Lise Houlton, costumes by Judith Cooper, and lighting by Tom Mays, stars a young girl named Marie Silberhaus (Juliet Prine) and her toy making godfather Drosselmayer (Kevin Iverson). Amidst a traditional Christmas Eve celebration in Nuremberg, Germany, these two take the journey from a grand house full of glamorous guests to a dreamland that features Magic at Midnight (The Transformation and War!) to the Land of the Sweets. There’s a dream journey Across the Orange River to the Kingdom of Jam and Marzipan Sweets for an evening at the Palace Theater, and then a quick race back through it all before returning home to the Silberhaus Parlor.
|loyce houlton’s nutcracker fantasy, presented through december 19 at the state theatre. for tickets ($30.50-$50.50) and information, see hennepintheatretrust.org.
The dance troupe involves all ages from tiny tots to grandparents, tweens to newlyweds, and the dancing is grand and adorned with velvets and beads, scarves, crystals, and embroidered vests. During the parlor dance scenes, the Parlor Maids (Elena Ahmann, Isabella Bruner, Andrea Larabee, Lillian Nosow, Lorelei Lange) are the most animated—with a lot of giggles, peeks along grand stairways, and swooning at the finery. Their gaiety is contagious. During the presentation of the gifts, every toy is perfectly adorable and appropriately boisterous, but a standout is the French Doll (Katie Deuitch) who manages to make her “stiff” doll limbs become elegant doll moves that have us believe she’s a wind-up dolly with personality plus!
The mice are charming the entire way through; kudos to the costume designers (too many to name here) who made grey tails that snap! during tossing. Adorable. The Rat Brigade is led by the Rat Queen (Pavielle Versalles), also in an amazing costume and fascinating mask, who may be a rat, but an elegant one at that. I wouldn’t want to meet her in a back alley or well, War!, but if I did, I might be too mesmerized by her dancing to fight at all. Her performance is another highlight.
In Act Two we’re treated to dancers from around the world: Spain, China, Russia, and the Grand Pas de Deux as we look on with Marie and her Nutcracker Prince who are seated in the theater with us now up in a balcony seat. The Spanish Dancers (Amy Pennaz and Alexis O’Farril) are striking in a black bullfighting costume and black sparkly tutu. The Russian Dancers (two of whom are Jeremy Bensussan and Stephen Schroeder) take our breath away not with the stereotypical Russian kick-dancing but with the charming acrobatics of tiny Serena Lu who is, convincingly, a human rubber band on stage! The Chinese Dance is interpreted as four lovely and a bit silly flowers (Claire Goltz, Robyn Jutsum, Rose Handley, Elora Wiggins) who spin alongside a rickshaw driver (Barry Leon). There is a Dance of the Commedia Dell’Art, which is colorful and charming, and the Waltz of the Flowers (eleven ballerinas) that spins in control and creates a scene of whirling tutus that is dreamlike, for real. The Grand Pas de Deux is danced, this night, by Katie Johnson and Sam Feipel and defines classical ballet in its graceful and strong presentation.
Throughout the night the dancers who cast the most magical spells include Kevin Iverson as Godfather Drosselmayer with his leaps and flourishing arms, his warm-hearted smiles, and his perfect dancing partnership with young Juliet Prine (Maria). Maria herself leaps with grace and actually floats a few times as her godfather and her Prince (danced either by Sam Feipel or Jared Matthews) lead her through fantasylands that are sometimes menacing but always delightful. The orchestra, conducted by Philip Brunelle, provides perfect music and guides the performers through their solos and their collaborations effortlessly. The harp is as graceful as the Snow Princesses and the flutes as sprightly as the mice.
As the performance wraps up in Scene Two we have a surprise visit from Madame Bonbonniere (Matt Jenson) who brings out toys and mice alike under a gargantuan jester-like ball gown. Madame is funny and obtuse, ugly and hysterical, and provides a moment of laughs in la la land before Marie awakes from her sweet dream.
I couldn’t imagine a reason to not enjoy this version of The Nutcracker any more than I can imagine why you simply wouldn’t try just one more of those Christmas cookies you’re trying so hard to avoid. Indulge yourself and enjoy the season!
|This production is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you’ll know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.