The Friday night production of Columbia Classical Ballet's annual Nutcracker at the Koger Center for the Arts delivered a sweet present to holiday dance lovers. It was full of change, and most of it for the better. The company, which appeared a bit smaller and younger this year, put on a delightful production that was sharp, colorful, and filled with more motion that I can remember seeing in past presentations. Artistic director Radenko Pavlovich introduced many new scenes and faces; alas, there were many missing as well. I missed seeing my favorite Japanese ballerinas, Akira Manabe and Kaori Yanagida, as well as my Brazilian friends, Renata and Waldelei. And the biggest absence, for me, was not seeing my son Joey up on stage, but he decided he wanted a sabbatical this year. I also missed working behind-the-scenes, especially watching the dancers from the wings, which I always find interesting (though I didn't necessarily miss children-sitting duties); but Joey got to see the performance in its entirety for the first time in years and he enjoyed it. Unlike past performances, there weren't the frequent clothing mishaps of last year---in fact, the new costumes were colorful and well put together. It seemed to me that the men, this year, outshone the women; I liked that Radenko put men in scenes that I can't recall them being a part of before. There were far fewer children involved, who at times gummed things up (probably to the chagrin of many parents, who naturally want to see more of their little darlings).
The majority of changes were to the first two sections, starting with the opening scene featuring ice skaters cavorting and fighting. Radenko did away with the well-trod former opening scene (that had featured a string of dancers crossing the stage to attend the party). The new scene was more riveting and enjoyable, and I hope he keeps it in. I also loved that he finally got rid of those darn giant bat heads and went instead with masks. Returning dancer DeeDee Rosner stole the entire show with her portrayal of grandmother in the party scene. She absolutely nailed it, and the crowd loved her. I wonder if she has considered musical stage. Usually Larry Payne, as Mother Ginger, gets the laughs from the audience, but DeeDee outdid him this year for comedy. I wasn't thrilled with the rat/soldier portion as compared to past shows. Joey didn't like it all, especially that the rats had the guns and the soldiers kept marching into the fire with swords.
Many returning dancers---Zolton Boros, Edward Persondek, Lauren Frere, Aoi Anraku, Oleksander Vykhrest, Saif Wilkes-Davis, and others---reprised former roles or took on new ones, and they all did a good job. Individual dancers were better than others, and there was the occasional slip, but they seemed energized and as if they were enjoying themselves.
I was impressed with two additions to the company. I really enjoyed Russian Ivan Popov, who danced for a while with the San Francisco Ballet, and Brazilian Jose Pereira.
The second half was not so different from past performances, and didn't quite live up to the promise of the first half, but it was still enjoyable. I didn't care for the costume worn by Ryosuke Ogura, a new member, in the Chinese dance. That one could stand some revision as well. The Arabian scene was not as well danced as in the past.
Overall, it was a nice night of dance. The boys were very good and Joey was riveted. I hope it gets him back in the company soon.