Theres nothing like a matinee of Nutcracker to remind you of one of the Tchaikovsky classics main functions in society: kid-friendly entertainment at Christmastime.
There might not have been all-out mobs of children on hand when N.C. Dance Theatre opened this years run Saturday afternoon, but there were enough to get the point across. And you have to give them credit for hanging in there through two hours of ballet: It was well into Act 2, with the Mouse King battle and other antics aimed at youthful sensibilities far behind, before signs of fidgeting began to appear.
Even then, they werent much of a nuisance. Near the end, a childs voice piped up with what I think was, Hi, dad! Then a little smile flashed onto the face of NCDTs Addul Manzano, who was playing the Cavalier. Maybe he had brought his little ones.
Whatever the audiences age and attention span, Manzano and the rest of the principals performed as if they were facing the most discerning crowd around. Dancers who are becoming veterans of Jean-Pierre Bonnefouxs choreography showed how it pays off to live with a role.
Anna Gerberichs Sugar Plum Fairy was sparkling and graceful whether she was floating on point, whirling to the end of her big solo or sailing into her cavaliers arms. Jamie Dee and Pete Walker made an exuberant Snow Queen and King. As the rose at the center of the Waltz of the Flowers, Sarah Hayes Watson gave a lyrical, loving turn to every phrase.
Amid the culinary treats of the Land of Sweets, Melissa Anduiza and Pete Walker heated up Coffee not only by being so slinky, but by aiming blazing, dark-eyed gazes at one another. Jordan Leeper flung himself into the leaps and turns of the Candy Cane number, then adroitly steadied himself with a quick-as-a-flash touch of a hand against the floor as he knelt for the final pose.
Mark Diamond was zesty as usual as Drosselmeyer, who gives the Christmas present that supplies the ballets title. Yet Diamonds hijinks always left room for him to support Celeste Borman, the 12-year-old who was playing Clara protagonist of the ballets trip to fantasyland for her first time.
Grownup first-timers dancers new to NCDT added flair of their own. Sofia Arencibia and Gregory Taylor gave a generous dose of swagger to the Spanish-tinged Chocolate. Patricia Keleher danced airily in Tiramisu. Emily Ramirez filled Tea with breezy cheerfulness.
Amid the flocks of young dancers who fleshed out the cast, from children to NCDT students, the young women who surrounded Watson in the Waltz of the Flowers were especially poised. The Charlotte Symphonys trumpets hit a few bumps, but by and large, the orchestra led by Jacomo Rafael Bairos brought buoyancy and lilt to Tchaikovskys score. Thats where the magic of Nutcracker begins.