”The Nutcracker”
Joffrey Ballet
Opera House
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
November 22, 2006

by George Jackson
copyright 2006 by George Jackson

A "Nutcracker" at this time of the year is a must for the Kennedy Center. Having failed to please with the Kirov's weird one and American Ballet Theatre's tacky version, it is back to the Joffrey's now. Washington could have done worse than this import from Chicago.

The old fashioned Yankee flavor that permeated Robert Joffrey's production when it was new 19 years ago has dissipated somewhat. Instead, new fangled notions of the politically correct sort are prominent — a boy in a wheelchair among the "real world" party guests of the opening scene and, throughout, the children representing different races. But what's wrong with that? Society is more inclusive today. Moreover, we can't segregate the current cast for history's sake. The youngsters (rehearsed by Rhodie Jorgenson) were vivid and danced well. I do, though, wish that the wheelchair kid had seemed more comfortable in his role on opening night and that young members of the audience weren’t being fooled about the realities of the 19th Century. This is where program notes and pre-performance talks can help.

The party scene is about behavior. Imaginations are stimulated, temperaments have to be controlled. Wasn't this scene of the Joffrey production more focused formerly? Now it isn't the ballet's heroine, the girl Clara, but her naughty brother Fritz who catches the eye most often. Calvin Kitten, who has taken the brother role for quite some time, still looks boyish. His current rendition, though, is over the top. Such a Fritz would have triggered severe disciplining in the 1800s. Clara, as Jennifer Goodmans envisions her, may have been inspired by Judy Garland in the "The Wizard of Oz" but comes off as mousy. The children's mother, in Victoria Jaiani’s performance, makes her mark as capricious and vain — which is plausible. Fabrice Calmels, as the father, has a certain dignity but not enough authority with a son like this Fritz. Alas, nothing spellbinding emanated from the magician behind the whole adventure as Brian McSween mimed him.

Leads from the party return to dance in the ballet's subsequent dream scenes. Calmels and Jaiani, the former parents transformed into Snow King and Queen, gave their adagio smooth lifts and an apt calm. He stands out not just because he is tall, but also because he was remarkably agile in the phrases he had to dance fully. What might Calmels do in a substantial solo? Kitten, as the Snow Prince, used to zip through his bravura passages like a snowball. Now there is more dignity and pause, yet he dispatches the difficult steps admirably. Among the Sweets divertissements, Valerie Robinson's Spanish Chocolate was precise, dynamic and rich. Emily Patterson's Arabian Coffee had pliancy plus allure. Kitten did yet a third part, China Tea, which he danced cleanly and quickly. Anastacia Holden, paired with him, managed to keep up. In a respectably classical Waltz of the Flowers for a cast of 16, Camels was used as a Cavalier. It was good to see him again although his height makes him unsuitable for line-ups with the other men.

Maia Wilkins and Willy Shives danced the ballet's choreographic culmination, the grand pas de deux. Shives, who also was the Magician's Nephew and Nutcracker Prince in previous scenes, isn't much of an actor or classical soloist, but he partnered Wilkins well. She's a brittle and efficient dancer who can do all the steps. Together, blonde Wilkins with her forthright manner and Shives with features reminiscent of the late John Kriza's, seemed very American — ca. 1940s. Confetti flaked down rather liberally during this “Nutcracker”.

Volume 4, No. 42
November 27, 2006

copyright ©2006 George Jackson



©2006 DanceView