By Joel Benjamin
Gelsey Kirkland was a superstar ballerina who, fortunately, has become an expert teacher and coach, passing on her in depth knowledge of Balanchine and the Russian classics. The Gelsey Kirkland Ballet is presenting her richly staged Nutcracker at the Schimmel Center at Pace University, a fine alternative to her alma mater’s—New York City Ballet’s—version further uptown at Lincoln Center.
Choreographed and directed by Michael Chernov, with contributions by Ms. Kirkland and others, the ballet follows the basic plotline of most Nutcrackers. The first Act begins as a domestic scene of a 19th Century party introducing us to Marie (Dawn Gierling) and her family and segues into a dreamlike fantasy of fighting mice, dolls coming to life and a romantic trip up to the clouds. It’s Mr. Chernov’s attention to detail that brings the Christmas party to life. The kids behave like kids without becoming obnoxious and the adults are affectingly parental, particularly Alexandra Lawler and Felipe Obregon Osorio as the Grandparents. Drosselmeyer (Marko Micov), usually a slightly menacing figure, is here a handsome illusionist from whose large clock emerges mechanical dolls: a Columbine (Nina Yoshida), a Harlequin (Erez Ben-Zion Milatin) and one called Mortal Time (Kaito Yamamoto).
After midnight a sleepy Marie gets swept up in a battle between people-sized mice and toy soldiers come to life. This staging is particularly funny. Tiny Charles Klepner nearly steals the show as the Bugle Boy and in all his subsequent appearances in the show. The battle won, the Nutcracker Prince (a handsome Johnny Almeida) takes Marie and some character dolls (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese & Russian) up to a heavenly place where Snowflakes whirl about in lovely patterns.
Act II is a series of divertissements to entertain Marie and the Prince. The Angels (mostly young students) glide about followed by a series of national bits, including a Spanish (lots of faux castanet playing and spins on the knees), Arabian (a tall, sensuous Alexander Mays oozing about the stage with India Rose), Chinese (charming, quick jumps and point work by Kaito Yamamoto and Nicole Assaad) and Russian (foot stomping whirls led by Katrina Crawford, Eva Janiszewski and Anderson Souza). Three soloists, Anastasia Barsukova, Kyono-Chantal Morin and Anna Severson were the Flutes, delicately hopping on point.
The Grand Pas de Deux was as close to the original Petipa as is possible and was smoothly danced by Ms. Gierling and Mr. Almeida. The partnering might have been more secure, but the two dancers were believable as a young romantic couple.
The ending, which made it clear that this was all a dream, was well staged, evoked oohs and ahs from audience of parents, children and fans of Ms. Kirkland.
The dancing throughout was disciplined and stylish with the leads and soloists showing classical panache. The sets and costumes by Michael Chernov, were quite extravagant by small ballet troupe standards. Even the taped music, while a distant second choice versus live, was polished and real-sounding.
This is a Nutcracker that is satisfying, stylish and well staged. This production serves the quickly growing financial district population with professionalism, easy access to a classic and a totally enjoyable show.
The Nutcracker – December 11-21, 2014
Gelsey Kirkland Ballet – Schimmel Center at Pace University
3 Spruce St. between Park Row & Gold St. New York, NY
Tickets: 212-346-1715 or 866-811-4111 or www.schimmel.pace.edu