“The Nutcracker” – Ballet Arizona

This review aired on KBAQ December 22, 2008


Ballet Arizona, Symphony Hall
Phoenix, AZ

There’s nothing more beautiful than Ballet Arizona’s exquisite annual “The Nutcracker” production. The stunning story ballet is definitely a big-city staging. It compares favorably with the country’s two other most acclaimed productions, The San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet. Ballet Arizona artistic director Ib Andersen mounted this new $1.8 million version three seasons ago and it’s visually stunning but the thing that has continued to improve each season is the magnificent dancing of the Ballet Arizona corps and the many ballet students who augment the cast.

The other wonderful asset is the playing of the Phoenix Symphony under guest conductor Timothy Russell. Having this wonderful live orchestra turns this production into the endearing gem it has become for our community.

Watching the beautiful succession of stunning sets designed by Carey Wong and Andersen takes us from Clara’s Christmas Eve celebration in the late 19th century to the elaborate dream fantasy she envisions that features her just received present, a nutcracker.

That her imaginary world comes to life so brilliantly is a credit to Andersen’s winning choreographic concept, the lush sets, and the elaborate costumes. The reason this production has graduated to such grandeur is the superb dancing of the Ballet Arizona dancers and the expert perfection of the many ballet students who bring this vibrant holiday fantasy to life.

On opening night, the dancing was memorable. Praise must start with Gina Fickera’s wonderful Clara. Rarely is this child character so well danced. Next came the wonderful pairing of Paola Hartley and Astrit Zejnati’s Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. The specialty number danced by this pair in the second act stopped the show several times with the stunning technique and sweeping flow of the most graceful dancing you are likely to see locally.

But then all the second act specialty dances set in Clara’s Fantasyland were terrific. Especially noteworthy were Roman Zavarov and Daniel Marshalsay’s athletic Russian Trepak, plus Kendra Mitchell and Nathan Vander Stoep’s humorous Chinese Tea. Finally, the Waltz of the Flowers, with a large dance corps, was spectacular.

Tchaikovsky’s familiar but melodically impressive score is flawlessly played with great flourish by the Phoenix Symphony. Conductor Russell’s pacing and tempos are perfection for the dancers.

Ballet Arizona’s “The Nutcracker” is an eye-catching delight both because of the production’s magnificent beauty but most for the exquisite dancing. Be reminded that the cast changes from performance to performance but judging by the opening night performances, one would be hard-pressed to find any fault with any casting combination.

“The Nutcracker” continues at Symphony Hall through December 28. For tickets, call the Ballet Arizona box office at 602-381-1096 or go online at www.ticketmaster.com/baz.

Grade: A