The holidays are a time of tradition, so when Omaha Ballet Theater disbanded several years ago and we no longer had a local ballet company to perform an annual version of “The Nutcracker” on the Orpheum’s stage, I’ll admit it: It just wasn’t the same.
That’s why I am so pleased that Ballet Nebraska has jump-started the tradition anew. During Saturday’s “Nutcracker” matinee, the company gave a sweet performance — one infused with playfulness, enchantment and lovely dancing.
The tone was set from the beginning, when dancers portraying baby mice scattered across the stage as guests began arriving at the Christmas party via the Orpheum’s aisles, an entrance that ushered in a mood of another time and place. From small gestures (such as Fritz taunting Clara with a dead mouse — a nice bit of foreshadowing) to brief scenes (such as eight dancing Drosselmeyers who appeared as if by magic from behind the enigmatic uncle’s cape), every bit of the ballet was obviously planned to the smallest details.
Claire Goodwillie was a wonderfully formidable and malicious Rat Queen. This was one of her better Ballet Nebraska roles to date. She has never been particularly well-suited to overly delicate dancing, but give her something powerful, and she bursts forth with commanding athleticism. Her stage time seemed far too short, and I hope to see her do more of this kind of dancing again soon.
As is often the case with “The Nutcracker,” some of the best dancing happened in the second half. Alberto Liberatoscioli was a charismatic and acrobatic Cossack, executing his leaps with exuberant precision. Sasha York and Hannah Birdwell danced a mesmerizing Arabian pas de deux, gorgeously lithe and sinuous as they performed what perhaps comprised the most beguiling choreography of the evening. As the Dew Drop Fairy, Erika Overturff (who also danced the role of the Snow Queen) combined subtle power with soft elegance, and her garden of flowers and attendant butterflies were beautiful, graceful and effortlessly ethereal.
One also couldn’t help but smile at the capering, cartwheeling elves and the “Big Man” himself when Santa Claus arrived and danced with a captivated Clara. All these scenes came and went quickly, and when sequences feel too short and leave you wanting more, you know the dancers have done their job well.
In contrast, the Sugar Plum Fairy scene felt a bit flat to me. The choreography never quite took Erin Alarcón to the soaring heights that I anticipated, despite Matthew Carter’s masterful dancing. (Note to Ballet Nebraska: Please stop fitting Carter with wigs. He doesn’t need them, and worse yet, they detract from his tremendous abilities as a dancer.)
One of the challenges with staging “The Nutcracker” is to balance the choreography for local children with that of professional dancers. From the marching toy soldiers to the delicate angels and playful buzzing bee, Ballet Nebraska did that well. It doesn’t matter how skilled the children are — and many of them were — it’s simply delightful to see them taking part in the production, and any performance of “The Nutcracker” wouldn’t be the same without that kind of endearing community appeal.
If one role stole the show, it belonged to Mimi, a shelter dog who adorably portrayed Tchaikovsky. Ballet Nebraska has undertaken a “Muttcracker” partnership with the Humane Society and is hoping stars like Mimi — who appeared as the prancing little pet of a swanky party guest — will make people consider adopting shelter dogs. Mimi clearly has star quality, so this reviewer sees her going on to great things.
Altogether, it was lovely to see a Nebraska ballet company return to the Orpheum’s stage for “The Nutcracker,” and I hope this is the first year of many that Ballet Nebraska will perform this holiday classic.