In a Philadelphia chilled by freezing air and warmed by holiday spirits, Pennsylvania Ballet opened their curtain on a beloved holiday tradition for 48th year. This year, the anticipation and excitement is not only for George Balanchine’s NUTCRACKER at the Academy of Music.
It’s a crucial moment for PA Ballet. One of the most established ballet companies in the U.S., the troupe has gone through some drastic changes for the better recently. A successful performance run of this well-known ballet is a key test to show how much they have accomplished. The long 15-day run (with two performances on the more than the half of the dates), can be very challenging, but provides great opportunities for the dancers—including 150 young dancers from the School of Pennsylvania Ballet—to gain experience, learn, and show audiences and the company their talents and their passion.
It uses the same stage, the same music, and the same settings as previous years, but this year’s NUTCRACKER is more convincing and more magical than before. Each and every dancer is deeper into his/her role, not just concerned about managing each step and avoiding mistakes.
For opening night, the company’s veteran principals, Amy Aldridge and Ian Hussey, are cast as the two main roles, the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. Claire Smith, Rowan Duffy, and Aidan Duffy perform the children’s roles: Marie, Fritz (her little brother), and the prince. Young they might be, the kids have been in the Nutcracker for a few years now: Aidan has been the prince since 2013 and was Fritz before that, and Rowan was Fritz in 2015. It is impressive how those young dancers manage to be fully responsible for their parts, displaying so much attention and passion.
In other stagings, the key role of Herr Drosselmeier is performed as someone enigmatic and mysterious, or even creepy. Charles Askegard’s outstanding interpretation of the role is charming, and functions as a key storyteller of the ballet.
Claire Smith performs her Marie with pure and authentic emotions throughout the full two acts. Her strong and direct interactions let the audience take the magical journey with her. Aidan and Rowan Duffy show good progress since last year’s performance. They retain the charm displayed last year, yet their intentions with each step are more clear and expressive.
As a full company, Pennsylvania Ballet reveals improvement throughout their entire performance. At the dance of the Snowflakes—a segment that shows the elements of classical ballet the most—the dancers display crisp and clean movements. They depict the magical winter scene with jete as light as the first flurry and movements as intense and fast as a snow storm, ending with a glorious white winter atmosphere. Both soloists and the corps de ballet show their colors and characters with precise and delicate attentions throughout their movements.
The performance is joyful and magical. It provides a great chance for ballet fans to discover many talented dancers as the casts differ for every performance. Do not end your 2016 without experiencing one of the greatest acts in Philadelphia.
[The Academy of Music, 240 S Broad Street] December 9-31, 2016; paballet.org.