Lawrence Toppman

Charlotte Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ adds new virtues to old

Elizabeth Truell and Juwan Alston dance the Chocolate section in The Land of Sweets for Charlotte Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”
Elizabeth Truell and Juwan Alston dance the Chocolate section in The Land of Sweets for Charlotte Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

You know the old saying, “The mark of a classic is that you can see it over and over and discover something new,”? What I discovered after watching Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s version of “The Nutcracker” for the sixth or seventh time is that the happy ending has a touch of sadness in it.

Maybe that’s because he’s leaving Charlotte Ballet as artistic director and president at the end of next season, and this piece represents his best-loved – and in some ways, his best – choreography for the company. (He’ll become artistic director emeritus with a different, reduced role in day-to-day affairs.)

Maybe that’s because I realized that Clara, who departs the Land of Sweets at the end of Act 2, waves goodbye to it forever: She’s leaving childhood behind symbolically, taking her first steps toward becoming an adult, and young women don’t return to the innocence and sweetness of girlhood.

Maybe I was contemplating all the little girls (or, not to be sexist, boys) who’ll never get a tutu fix. “Nutcracker” is an essential ingredient to any cultural childhood, and Charlotte Ballet’s version represents a handsome introduction to the world of classical ballet.

The production at Belk Theater wears well. That’s true of Steven Rubin’s sets, from the snowy forest to the nearly edible Land of Sweets, and Bjorn Winnblad’s elegant costumes, which have been modified over the years by nine costumers.

Bonnefoux’s choreography continues to give pleasure over the years. He incorporates dancers from Charlotte Ballet, Charlotte Ballet II (mainly an educational company for the troupe), apprentices, trainees and members of the conservatory. And he doesn’t make things easy: The “Waltz of the Flowers” corps stays busy, arms and legs flying, as elegant Rose glides among them. Sarah Hayes Harkins reprised her 2014 success Thursday night.

The company’s deep enough that Bonnefoux can quadruple-cast over the record-setting 17 performance run. So you may not see Alessandra Ball James, who brought an otherworldly air to Sugar Plum opening night – after all, she’s a fairy – when paired with Josh Hall’s noble Cavalier. Among the multiple youngsters cast as Clara and Fritz, Rosie Morrison and Clay Houston had stage presence whether moving, emoting or waiting to see what happened next.

Bonnefoux has spotlighted the year’s nine newcomers to the company, from the exuberant Chocolate of Raven Barkley and James Kopecky to the boing-boing hijinks of Ryo Suzuki’s Candy Cane. Sometimes a dancer of the future gets a moment: Thel Moore III came up from Charlotte Ballet II to join Amelia Stuart-Dilley in the slow-motion acrobatics of Coffee.

And one old performance comes up as new every year: Mark Diamond’s Drosselmeyer becomes fussier, zanier and less diplomatic. (Watch him refuse hors d’oeuvres in a corner of the party scene.) He came out this year with a white beard that made him look like King Lear in a vampire’s cape, funnier than ever.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Charlotte Ballet: The Nutcracker’

When: Through Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Also 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22-23.

Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

Running time: 100 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets: $25-$110.

Details: 704-372-1000 or charlotteballet.org.

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