Review: Saint Louis Ballet's 'Nutcracker' Is Fit For a (Mouse) King

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

For some, attending a performance of “The Nutcracker” is as essential to celebrating the holidays as partaking in spiked eggnog, and ballet companies across the U.S. are happy to oblige with productions that, for better or worse, bring us the story of Clara and her nutcracker come to life. Saint Louis Ballet’s version of the classic story, playing now through Dec. 29 at Touhill Performing Arts Center, is splendid holiday fare with an abundance of truly lovely ballet.

The Nutcracker (Photo by Peter Wochniak) Courtesy Saint Louis Ballet

“The Nutcracker” (Photo by Peter Wochniak)
Courtesy Saint Louis Ballet

Beyond the fact that many ballet companies could not survive without the money they earn from “The Nutcracker,” the show also provides opportunities for nearly every dancer in the company to strut their balletic stuff. Dancers switch in and out of roles on subsequent nights, performing a star role one night and a supporting role the next. All in all, there are three casts; a testament to how deep the company’s talent goes.

The curtain opens on the Staulbaum’s grand parlor with a large and elaborate Christmas tree as guests begin arriving. Here we meet daughter Clara, danced by Saint Louis Ballet School’s Brooke Lang, who speaks well for the Ballet’s training program, as do all the young students in the production. Often the kids seem to be included just for the cute factor (and so their parents will buy lots of tickets), but here they actually are part of the show and they performed admirably.

Columbine, the Harlequin and Toy Soldier are danced nicely by Lori Wilson, Jacob Garrett and Takahito Kamimura respectively, and Michael Monsey as Dr. Staulbaum is a treat, involved in every moment and fun to watch. During the party, Clara is given the nutcracker by the magical (and in this production, just a little sinister) Herr Drosselmeyer. It is later when Clara dreams that the action begins to unfold, first with the chaotic Nutcracker Prince/Mouse King battle scene, notable for having the mice enter through the audience as they throw pieces of cheese, redeemable for surprise gifts in the lobby if you were lucky enough to catch one.

Later, as the audience is transported to the Palace of Snow, then the Palace of Sweets, we are treated to some exemplary ballet. Tiffany Mori and Jacob Garrett are strong as the Snow Queen and King, and the dances of the sweets have many highlights, among them the Arabia/Coffee dance, with the graceful and lithesome Vanessa Woods being lifted slowly and and held high by male partner Stephen Lawrence, her strength enabling her to perform a ballet in the air, as it were. Germany/Marzipan also stood out, but there are far too many highlights to list them all.

Dancing the star role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Pamela Swaney was outstanding on opening night, as was Elliot Geolat as the cavalier. Swaney was the epitome of grace, like ballet itself. Her and Geolat’s stunning grand pas de deux was inspiring and enthralling, concluding in a dramatic and flashy arabesque that brought the biggest spontaneous gasp and enthusiastic applause from the audience during the evening.

Gen Horiuchi’s choreography brings out some remarkable performances from his company of talented dancers. This production fits in nicely with anyone’s tradition of going to see “The Nutcracker” during the holidays, and if you don’t have the tradition, “The Nutcracker” by Saint Louis Ballet is a perfect place to start one.

Saint Louis Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” continues through Dec. 29 at Touhill Center for the Performing Arts. For information and to purchase tickets, visit the St. Louis Ballet website or call (314) 516-4949.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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