THE NUTCRACKER (PA Ballet): 50 years of a holiday treat

Ava DiEmedio, Liam Agnew, and students of the School of Pennsylvania Ballet in "The Nutcraker"

Ava DiEmedio, Liam Agnew, and students of the School of Pennsylvania Ballet in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Academy of Music.

The annual holiday tradition of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® is back at the Academy of Music. The long run (until December 31) is a wonderful opportunity for anyone— even those who are never interested in ballet ever—to be lavished with holiday cheer and to experience one of the most exciting ballet companies in the United States.

The extravagantly decorated theater embraces all audiences, not just regular ballet goers.  There are little children with shiny eyes, couples dressed up for the special holiday date nights, groups of young gents and ladies who might be more usually spotted at a local brewery. As the curtain opens, sighs and cheers fill the theater.

The Nutcracker  features dancers as young as seven years old in the main roles and it is always a pleasure to witness those children devoting a precious moment of their lives to be a part of this production. Their dignity and professionalism are impressive, their passion to dance and express inspiring.  Marie for the opening night performance, Ava DiEmedio is a lively and intelligent young dancer with elegant postures. Rowan Duffy, who has been on the stage as Marie’s little brother, Fritz for a few years, adds depth and accent to the story with his comical mime and dance.

The cheerful and lovely party scene leads to the battle scene of Mouse King and Nutcracker.  Then the dance of the Snowflakes at the end of Act I brings the world of the authentic classical ballet. The dancers in white tutu are well unified and magnificent with their crisp steps.

In Act II, short pieces of ballet are showcased, and they are supposedly dances of foreign cultures.  Throughout history, live entertainments such as theater, opera, and ballet have been opportunities for people to be stimulated and entertained. People could acquire some knowledges about foreign cultures far different from them and fulfill their curiosity.

pa-ballet-nutcraker-2018Unfortunately, the portrait of exotic cultures in those performances could be stunningly awkward and offensive to the people with the background of those cultures. In some cases, the elements would get further away from accuracy for the purpose of satisfying cravings for extreme and extravagance of the audience. And there still are quite some productions that carry over those outdated and incorrect depictions in the name of popularities. Even though the ballet has been loved and performed numerous times around the world, Nutcracker has also been an object of debate in the recent years, specifically in regard to some of the dance in Act II.  

As Pennsylvania Ballet celebrated its 50th Nutcracker, the company showed its respect to the changing graphic of the audiences by amending Tea dance. The male dancer no longer wears the Fu Manchu mustache, and the pointed index fingers were also removed along with a few other changes from the choreography.  As a result, the dance itself, which consists of multiple jeté and pirouette, was focused much clearer. The company’s rising star, Zecheng Liang performed with a perfection and grace, presenting his and Pennsylvania Ballet’s new Tea dance.

The company also selected principal dancers as soloists for other pieces such as Hot Chocolate (Arian Molina Soca and Dayesi Torriente), Coffee (Oksana Maslova), and Candy Canes (Jermel Johnson). Pennsylvania Ballet successfully brought one of the most brilliant Nutcrackers that could be offered.  

The success of 50th Nutcracker season could not be achieved without the orchestra members and Beatrice Affron, the conductor celebrating her 25th season with Pennsylvania Ballet. From the first note of the overture till the last moment of the Marie’s dream faded out behind the closed curtain, the orchestra visualized each and every element of the Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score.

The Pennsylvania Ballet’s Nutcracker is not just a lovely holiday tradition. It’s am ambassador for ballet, gaining more than few fans who may have never been to ballet performances before.

[Academy of Music, 240 S Broad Street] December 7-31, 2018; paballet.org

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About the author

Eri Yoneda

Eri Yoneda writes about dance and classical music for Phindie.