The Kansas City Ballet opened its 42nd run of “The Nutcracker” to a pleased audience at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday. It must be a humbling responsibility to be a holiday tradition and often an introduction to ballet.
This is the final year for former artistic director Todd Bolender’s choreography, a mainstay since 1981. Next year, artistic director Devon Carney will create his version.
Although that is an exciting prospect, it also is bittersweet. Generations have been awed by the expanding Christmas tree, laughed at the comical mice and toy soldier battle, and reveled in the elegance of the Waltz of the Snowflakes.
Still, other elements, such as the faded backdrops and ill-considered Chinese Tea Dance, are long overdue for updating.
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Ramona Pansegrau led the Kansas City Symphony through Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s enchanting score in a solid rendition, despite the energetic orchestra becoming unbalanced by some over-enthusiastic solo voices.
There are many aspects to relish in this production, not least the pint-size dancers from the Kansas City Ballet School, adorable in keen, simple choreography.
Bolender, along with scenic designer Robert Fletcher and lighting designer Kirk Bookman, also created stunning effects as the story transitions from reality to dreamland, dreamland to fantasy.
The cast is large, alternating each performance. On opening night, Leah Reiter danced a sweet and enthusiastic Clara, while Alex Dunlevy played rabble-rousing Fritz. Logan Pachciarz was the mysterious, flamboyant Herr Drosselmeyer.
The Waltz of the Snowflakes, a lustrous end to Act 1 with an ethereal children’s chorus and skirts of swirling silver, would have been more convincingly wondrous if the confetti snowflakes hadn’t made a discernible patter as they landed.
The company excelled in Act 2. Kaleena Burks and Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye were a poised, sinuous pairing in the Arabian dance, while Liang Fu made his leaps and cartwheels in the Russian dance appear easy.
The beautifully crafted choreography of the Waltz of the Flowers will be missed, especially with Sarah Chun as Dew Drop. The delicious musical sense to her turns went beyond mere technical capability.
Laura Hunt and Lamin Pereira dos Santos paired harmoniously as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier with beautiful catches and a strong, agile variation from Pereira.
The finale, the last hurrah, was a stage of shimmering colors with timbral counterpart in the orchestra as the company waved goodbye to Clara and the Nutcracker.