“There’s nothing like the Nutcracker to get you in the holiday spirit,” I’ve had friends tell me. I had seen The Nutcracker as a child (and ballerina-hopeful) and only vaguely remember being entranced. As I walked into Royce Hall last Saturday afternoon for the Los Angeles Ballet’s performance of the classic, I wasn’t sure if I’d be as swept away as I was years ago.
The show began with Clara and her annoying younger brother, Fritz, playing behind a translucent veil as groups of guests arrived at their home for a Christmas party. As the festivities began, the stage was unveiled, as was the dancers’ shining talent. The fairly new Los Angeles Ballet Company, now celebrating its sixth season in LA, is composed of exquisite dancers, including artistic director Colleen Neary, who founded the company with husband Thordal Christensen in 2004. It was especially pleasant to see so many child dancers enjoying themselves on stage. By the time the enigmatic Uncle Drosselmeyer arrived with his dancing toys and magical clock, I was clapping and laughing along with the rest of the party and audience. Admittedly, the first act began to feel a bit drawn out as Clara fell asleep and entered a dream world where her dolls came to life, but that was remedied by the intermission.
It wasn’t until the second act, as Clara and the Nutcracker arrived at The Palace of the Dolls, that I understood why I had been so captivated by the performance as a child. The show brings a child’s wildest fantasies to life—from defeating scary mice to dancing among fluttering snowflakes to traveling all over the world (Russia, Arabia, Spain) through dance. However, while the main act of the show is meant to be the dance between Clara’s favorite doll, Marie, and her prince, the Arabian dancers were by far the highlight. Principal dancer Allyssa Bross’s performance as Marie was dazzling (she recovered quickly from one minor trip), but Julie Cinquemani, the Arabian princess, contorted her body with unparalleled grace. Though Marie and her prince took the stage again, I was disappointed the Arabian royals had finished their stint.
At the ballet’s end, Clara finds herself in her bed once more. I had a similar experience as the curtain closed. The younger children rushed to take pictures with Santa and dancers dressed as Harlequin and Columbine while adults collected their belongings and headed for the parking lot. I lingered by the stage, daydreaming I was twirling through The Palace of the Dolls.