Monday, December 7, 2009


My weekend---and pretty much all of the weeknights preceding---was taken up with driving the boy to practice, rehearsal, and presentation of Columbia Classical Ballet’s annual Nutcracker at the Koger Center for the Arts. I sat through both rehearsals and was present in some capacity at all five shows. I still am hearing sections of music playing in my head. My son danced in three roles this year, a much larger part than he has undertaken before. Of course, Radenko’s company worked on the ballet for about two months.

This time I did not confine myself solely to behind-the-scenes duties (such as serving as den father to the younger guys back in the dressing rooms), but took the opportunity to catch at least three full performances, in addition to portions of others, and I got to watch from the wings as well as in the audience. I even contributed a tiny bit by cutting the round felt spots that went on the dancers’ cheeks (soldiers and bon-bons) in several scenes. Not only did I get to enjoy the pageantry and beauty as a spectator, but I got an extended peek into the backstage world. My focus, naturally, was on my son, but I managed to concentrate a little on the work of those dancers whom I have come to know and like, particularly those I count as friends. Although I am largely unschooled in the nuances of ballet, I am learning. I will record observations, wrong or right, of things I saw and experienced during the weekend. One thing I found was that each show has a different dynamic, even when all the dancers are the same--- there are subtle shifts in delivery and attitude, in spirit and showmanship, in enthusiasm and enjoyment.

Firstly. . .my son. Joey danced wonderfully. He was the star! Well, for me at least. He reprises his usual role as one of the party boys, which he has been for about five years now. He was so handsome. You can tell when he is on the stage, because his posture improves and that rare smile sneaks across his face. He loves the part when he gets to run through the party scene with his saber held aloft. He then served as a member of the troops during the battle scene with the mice. They marched and danced and fought. All of them looked great in their red uniforms. I marveled at their precision on stage, fraught as it is with potential collisions and such (especially as the fog got quite thick at times), even more so this year as it seemed there was a larger group of young dancers involved, but it was colorful and flashy and the group carried it off in fine fashion. Then he was a bon-bon in the second half, dressed in shiny black and white; he tumbled and danced with the best of them. Unfortunately, he and most of that crew were not afforded much of a curtain call, but I knew he was there, standing to the rear, and I was so proud and happy for him. He really loves the Nutcracker.

I must say that the children and younger dancers were quite professional and efficient backstage. I was surprised how well-behaved they were. Much credit for this preparation and behavior should go to Renata, as well as to the parents and volunteers who managed the miniature hoard. Although there were typical mishaps (a broken hat, a wig malfunction, a lost shoe), they were quickly repaired and unneeded drama was kept to a minimum. And the kids seemed to have more activity on stage, which was nice. Both Claras (Ella Shealy and Dylan DeJames) danced wonderfully and were quite impressive. Vision is following in the steps of his older brother. DeeDee, one of the professional corps, danced as Louisa and was good in the role.

The women of the professional troupe were stunning (as always) and the guys were handsome. It is truly special to be able to see them performing up close. Despite being shorthanded due to unexpected visa problems for two male dancers, the men carried it off splendidly, though at times you could clearly see that they were weary (especially during the Friday night performance). There were some missteps that normally I would not notice, but after seeing it over and over, you start to catch things. A few dancers slipped on the snow and I thought one was going to fall, but she caught herself as she slid a foot or so. Another dancer somehow got himself turned around in one scene and was clearly out of position. It was interesting to watch the dancers come off stage---sweating, grimacing, and breathing hard---and talking to each other about how they thought things had gone. Afetr one of the snow scenes (that I thought had been crisply and cleanly performed), a ballerina came off muttering: "That was crap, crap, crap!" At least she didn't throw anything. When one thinks about the physical effort and precision required, I am surprised there are not more mishaps; no doubt as artists they are always striving for perfection, seldom reached. For me, however, I thought almost all of the dancing was lovely (well, except for the giant foam heads in the nightmare scene).

Zolton Boros was a good Drosselmeyer, and I was so happy they dispensed with that awful grey wig. The leading man of the troupe is now Journy Wilkes-Davis, who was featured prominently, which is quite an advance since he is one of the newer members. He did a very nice job and I predict a bright future for him. The other guys also were excllent. Lauren Frere is gorgeous, with long lines and precise movement, and her dancing was wonderful, especially in her role as the Arabian princess (danced in tandem with Journy). I bet the guys were lining up to take pictures with her during the meet-and-greet. I could go down the line and praise all the dancers, because they all looked great and danced splendidly. They didn’t seem to have as much time to relax as they have had in past performances, and they were kept constantly running in order to make quick changes and get back on the stage.

What a pleasure it was to see my friends Renata Franco and Waldilei Goncalves dance, not once but several times, together on the stage. They are such a wonderfully nice couple (my neighbors for several years, as well). My only complaint about their Devil Dog scene. . .was that it was too short! I wanted them to keep on dancing. They also were paired in the Spanish scene. Waldilei was also one of the Cossacks, always a crowd pleaser. No doubt Renata must have been worn out this weekend, because she served not only as the ballet mistress, but she appeared in most major scenes with the corps.

My favorite dancers, the three Japanese ballerinas, were fabulous. Kaori Yanagida was a beautiful and excellent Columbine (dancing alongside Kazuki Ichihashi). I also liked her Sugarplum fairy, though on one occasion my heart was in my throat when she almost hit the deck; thankfully she was caught at the last moment. You really have to admire the bravery and confidence these women have that the guys will always catch them. When you think about all the practice time involved, it is a wonder more are not injured. The lithe and alluring Akari Manabe, who always has a beaming smile when she performs (and in real life too), stands out with her long delicate features and graceful dancing. The newest member, Riiko Kitayama, did well in several roles (Nanny, Rat, Chinese dancer); it was nice to meet her mother, who came all the way from Japan to watch her dance.

The Koger needs to get new smoke machines. . .one spewed as if it were a 1940s bus and a few times it was so thick one might have thought the cast was in San Francisco. They should also retire Edward's wig. . .quite often by halfway through each Marzipan segment he looked as if he had just woken up and was having a very bad hair day.

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