This is a big anniversary for “The Nutcracker:” San Francisco Ballet did the first full-length U.S. production 70 Christmases ago, and George Balanchine choreographed the most famous American version 10 years after that for New York City Ballet.
Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux created his version 10 seasons after joining Charlotte Ballet (then N.C. Dance Theatre) in 1996, so it seems like a newbie by comparison. But it’s designed along traditional lines, built to last and holding up quite well after nine outings.
The Belk Theater audience Friday saw all four soloists who performed during the Kennedy Center Honors last weekend, in tribute to associate artistic director Patricia McBride.
Anna Gerberich and Pete Leo Walker made a glamorous Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, Alessandra Ball James was an assured Snow Queen (partnered by confident Addul Manzano as her Snow King), and Sarah Hayes Harkins flashed nimbly through the Rose solo in the Waltz of the Flowers. Conductor Roger Kalia’s Act 2 tempos, ideal for listening but demanding extra agility from the soloists, challenged her perhaps more than anyone, and she met the challenge.
Yet the details count as much as the grand gestures in Bonnefoux’s production. Mark Diamond’s Drosselmeyer, more showman than shaman in the first act, clearly delineates his intentions with mime and movement. All party guests, even the smallest, know why they’re attending a holiday bash at Clara’s house, and none of them loses focus.
This production has been designed as much for the Charlotte Ballet family as for ours: It incorporates dancers from the second company and the school. Artistic director Bonnefoux has adroitly managed to give everyone something he or she will look good doing, steps and movement that will seem interesting to watch but not overwhelming to the dancers.
Even if you know the music, played handsomely by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, and have seen this choreography, the show doesn’t become boring. Steven Rubin’s set for the Land of Sweets seems perfectly symmetrical at first, but look closely: Colors and shapes on one side of the stage don’t exactly match the other.
And young dancers come along each year whom we might follow up the company’s ranks. I don’t remember seeing Celeste Borman, who had a firm, attractive line and a winning presence as Clara. Someday, perhaps, she’ll find her cavalier.