Kansas City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” a completely new production in 2015, is a lovely, luxurious show crammed with imaginative details. Choreographed by artistic director Devon Carney, the ballet mixes spectacle with humor in a nostalgic, fantastical event that is physically, visually and technically impressive.
Saturday evening’s cast (there are multiple casts, with the combined forces of the Kansas City Ballet’s first and second companies with dancers from the Kansas City Ballet School) was lively, and Kauffman Theatre was filled with dance enthusiasts of all ages, marveling at the magic of this production.
Much of that magic was generated by the scenic design of Alain Vaës, especially in the surreal land of sweets, and lighting design by Trad A Burns. The costumes, designed by Holly Hynes, were elegant in silks and sparkles, using a rich variety of textures and jewel-hued palette. Wrinkles on the backdrop, however, are not acceptable for a one-year-old production.
The technical effects aren’t necessarily surprises anymore, but still impressive and delightful. This year, transitions went smoothly, too, with nifty on-stage sleight of hand. This was due, partly, to the adept physicality of Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye, who reprised the role of toy-maker Drosselmeier, the kindly eccentric who serves as guide into the world of fantasy for both Clara and the audience. His humorous opening workshop sequence neatly set up the concept for the whole show.
In the party scene, there was comfort and whimsy, with rabble-rousing Fritz (nicely done, Johnathan Wilkerson), the dancing mechanicals of Harlequinade (Taryn Mejia) and Harlequin (Dillon Malinski), the silly, endearing dancing of the grandparents (Amanda DeVenuta and Joshua Bodden) and charming Clara (Natalia DaSilva), who maintained a graceful, awestruck presence with her chivalrous Nutcracker Prince (Charles Martin). The battle scene and its hordes of children as toy soldiers, baby mice, and living dolls was funny and well managed.
Children, too, are prominently featured in the scenes of Act II, the little angels and Polichinelles adorable. The divertissments, however, were often overly busy and need more development, though the male trio for Russia was bursting with bright exuberance and the Arabia trio was sinuous and sculptural. Danielle Bausinger was excellent as the Rose, though the Flowers could be treated more cohesively.
The Snowflakes were also cluttered, though Angelina Sansone and Thom Panto made an elegant pair as Snow Queen and King. The Sugar Plum Fairy (Amaya Rodriguez) and her Cavalier (Liang Fu) were regal and athletic, Fu exceptional in his solo and support of Rodriguez.
The orchestra, conducted by Ramona Pansegrau, revisited Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s score with a brash overconfidence that resulted in unbalanced shrillness and individual missteps. The decision to use a synthesizer instead of a children’s chorus was undoubtedly one of practicality, though the unsatisfactory effect sounded distractingly electronic.
Now that the production is in its second year, it’s easier to take in the details, though with the large cast in nearly constant motion, it was still overwhelming at times. Tempos did not seem overly quick, but there was a feeling of hurriedness, as though gestures didn’t have time to extend fully, movement carrying dancers across the stage without clear purpose or sense of imagery.
It is a gorgeous show, but with the ability of the performers, crew and creative team, the anticipated longevity of the production, and the excitement of the holiday season, the expectation is for the highest level of artistry on all accounts.