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Flash Review 2, 12-3: Reasons to Believe
Regal Kistler, Sturdy Soto, Precise Somogyi Lead "Nutcracker" Return at City Ballet

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- New York City Ballet's production of George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker," to Tchaikovsky's fabled score, is as much a part of New York's holiday season as the Radio City Christmas show and the Rockefeller Center tree. A City Ballet institution since 1954, this production kicked off the company's 2002-03 season in earnest Friday. It is a good opportunity for the entire company to gain performance experience before a loyal, eager audience of all ages, and it is a reminder of a more genteel era in New York's cultural history.

The cast featured Darci Kistler (Sugarplum Fairy), Jock Soto (Her Cavalier), and Jennie Somogyi (Dewdrop). For thousands of balletomanes, Kistler is the consummate Sugarplum Fairy, immortalized in the 1993 video version of "The Nutcracker." She still sparkles with a regal presence, but she has some bad technical habits -- like double-clutching her supporting leg's foot in turn preparation, and not completing a simple double pirouette -- probably carried forward from an injury, and at this point, not likely to be corrected. Kistler completed all of the required petit allegro steps in time, but they were sketched out, not fully defined.

Kistler's and Soto's seniority within the ranks lends a stately air to their duet, almost like that of the queen and king waving to the crowds as they pass the reviewing stand. Soto, while not exactly ageless, continues to dignify himself with a solidity that lends itself to nailed pirouette landings, but not to grand jetes or maneuvers demanding ballon. His partnering skills remain keen and unflaggingly supportive, especially in lift/catches where Kistler lands perched on his shoulder as if hopping onto a block of granite.

Jennie Somogyi offered a good generational contrast in style. The role of Dewdrop is the meatiest role in "The Nutcracker," an excellent showcase for Somogyi's clean, muscular movement. She articulated her foot through passe so clearly, it was like the taps of a sword on each shoulder in a knighting ceremony. Her muscular legs carved interesting, tight spirals in fouettes and turns, rather than simply spinning like dowels. Her approach isn't particularly boastful, but she quietly commanded attention in a deceptively difficult repeated slow inside turn sequence.

Flora Wildes (Marie/Little Princess) and Tyler Gurfein (Nephew/Nutcracker/Little Prince) performed with the appropriate balance of wide-eyed wonder and premature yearning for adult roles. Guest artist Robert La Fosse portrayed Drosselmeier with verve, adding a dash of black magic to his otherwise charming interactions with the children. Benjamin Millepied, substituting for Tom Gold, led the candy canes with his effortless double-hoop sautes (although he may have been relaxed to a fault, accidentally running into one of the seated candy cane's hoops.) Ashley Bouder danced crisply in the tiny role of the Harlequin, and again in the Tea group, this time pairing with the sprightly Adam Hendrickson and Megan Fairchild. Dana Hanson looked suitably exotic in the role of Coffee, though her finger cymballing could use some caffeine. Rachel Rutherford (Hot Chocolate) performed with high energy, but she seemed to grapple with her footing.

As Mother Ginger, Amar Ramasar took on a more contemporary approach than the other dancers in their roles, giving it a little "girlfriend" head-wagging silliness. The young girls who emerged from under 'her' skirt performed with zest and unexpected confidence. In fact, all of the youngsters were beautifully prepared for the performance. (The only hitch seemed to be the poor little angels tripping on their tubular dress hems when they moved too fast.) Jennifer Tinsley brightly led the marzipan shepherdesses in their cake tier tutus. And the Snowflakes are to be commended for their brave, bold grand allegro on the slippery snow.

"The Nutcracker" is an immeasurably important dance world holiday tradition, disdained though it may be as a sentimental relic of days gone by. It is the closest thing to the commercialism of Broadway that ballet has in terms of being its own industry. It is also, for many children in the audience, an introduction to ballet -- doubtless for some, to big-time performing arts. And there is an undeniable thrill at seeing the Christmas tree grow to a huge size, as human-sized rats battle with an army of toys. Let the holiday season begin.

Scenery for the production is by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, costumes by Karinska, original lighting by Ronald Bates, and lighting by Mark Stanley. The New York City Ballet Orchestra was conducted by Hugo Fiorato, with the violin solo by Jean Ingraham.

"The Nutcracker" continues through January 5, with Kistler, Soto, and Somogyi scheduled to repeat Thursday night. For a complete schedule, please click here. For this week's casting, please click here.

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