The evening begins with a soft opening.
“The Nutcracker Suite”, by Tchaikovsky, was first performed in 1892. This score is a rich musical incarnation of dreams, snow and sparks. Under conductor Mark Whitlock, the Minnesota Ballet Orchestra beautifully sets the mood, not to mention the tempo, for this holiday ballet.
As the curtain rises, the audience is thrilled by the incredible backdrop depicting the Duluth Train Depot. Curtis Phillips, scenographer, pulls out all the stops with his vision. The making of the set by Jeff Brown, et al., was a visual masterpiece of texture and color. Lighting designer Ethan Hollinger created an atmosphere that enhanced the overall presentation of the performance.
Clara (played by Brianna Crockett), a young girl traveling by train, meets an animated magician, Drosselmeyer (played by Sean Michael Sullivan). As Clara interacts with vendors, singers, and other travelers, her sights are set on the Nutcracker and Drosselmeyer. This first act is filled with activity and dancing.
Many on stage are students from the Minnesota Ballet School. I couldn’t help but find myself looking for this future soloist among the children.
The second scene ends with Snow Queen Dominique Jenssen taking the stage leading her body of snowflakes. Jenssen is a clean, strong and consistent dancer who paired well with Sullivan. Sullivan executed some nice big throws turning with height and solid landings. The breathtaking snowflake choreography was musical and ever-changing. With the dancers constantly whirling, exiting and entering the stage, it gave the appearance of a much larger corps de ballet.
The second act’s entertainments smoothly transported the audience into a dream of dancing porters, traveling sisters, lovers, farmers, berry pickers and lumberjacks. Sullivan entertains with magic tricks and pyrotechnics, while the Nutcracker magically transforms into a prince.
Mother Ginger, interpreted by Magali Johnston-Viens, and her gingerbreads give the audience a beautiful scenic sweetness. The little dancers steal the show with their adorable gingerbread costumes.
Dew Drop Fairy Megan Davis was the most impressive. Its precision on point was finely tuned. Davis confidently hung her Reverse and attacked her Italian Whips as she and her waltz flowers swept the stage in mesmerizing patterns.
The show ended with Clara and her Nutcracker Prince performing the Grand Pas de Deux. Crockett and Reinhard Von Rabenau teamed up elegantly. Crockett has a lightness to his car, with beautiful lines. His technique was solid and his presence soft and warm. Rabenau performed all of the lifts cleanly, including seated shoulders and attitude overhead presses, while demonstrating solid turns to the second.
This reimagined Christmas classic designed by Minnesota Ballet Artistic Director Karl Von Rabenau was fantastic. With delightful choreography, incredible sets and colorful costumes, it’s a must-see.
Or: Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
When: Friday, December 10, 7 p.m.; Saturday, December 11, 7 p.m.; Sunday, December 12, 3 p.m.
Tickets: Amsoil Arena ticket office or
Kelly Sue Coyle reviews dance performances for the Duluth Newsstand.