Pennsylvania Ballet
The Nutcracker
Academy of Music, Dec. 11

Pennsylvania Ballet opened their celebrated production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker in Ottawa, Canada this year and are now back home for a three week run in the Academy of Music, with rotating lead casts.

Even with the tour warm-up, the Sunday matinee performance in the Academy had a subdued, rote air for much of Act I. After all, Mr. B’s long Christmas party scene is pantomime-heavy and through Balanchine, has lineage that dates back to the Imperial Russian Ballet, which can look dusty.

All of the gestural work with relatives and guests can get wheezy without sharp character embellishments, and the mice war with the toy cadets needs to be sharpened, if not retooled.

But livening things up were the junior corps girls, who really dug in with charm and excitement. And former principal William DeGregory appeared as a very animated Herr Drosselmeier, who wielded his cape and a wand a la Liberace.

Leah Hirsch and Phoebe Gavula as Harlequin and Columbine held to razor-like doll moves. Alexander Peters as the soldier, dancing to Tchaikovsky’s dark drill, was all bolt and technical fire.

Act I’s erratic quality was completely jettisoned by the Waltz of the Snowflakes; these ladies had glittering carriage and supple precision in their point work, especially when serenaded by the silvery voices of the Philadelphia Boys Choir from the gilt Academy box.

Act II is all about the dancing. The full flow that had been missing was now very much onstage. At the center, there was a great performance by Amy Aldridge as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier Zachary Hench. Except for minor corrections en balance, their chemistry and sublime technique pretty much nailed one of Balanchine’s most demanding pas de deux.

Sparking things up was William DeGregory as a very animated as Drosselmeier, who wields his cape and a wand a la Liberace.Advertisement
Aldridge kept floating diamond-hard pirouette runs and her adagio turns were a dream. Hench, a most attentive partner, executed steel-centered grand pirouettes and unfussy jetes.

Among the hightlights of those Balanchine jewel box divertissements: Riolama Lorenzo burning the floor without even trying as Coffee, the harem seductress with finger chimes- How many ways can you say sultry and luminous?

James Ihde and Rachel Maher were the strong leads for the tarantella Chocolates dance. Brooke Moore looked tentative in her Waltz of the Flowers, pitching out of a couple of turns, but recovered on her second entrance along with ensemble of flowers, locked in with Balanchine’s showgirl classicism.

Peters, who just became an apprentice this year, was back leading the Candy Cane Brigade with plum hoop jumps for the Russian Dance presto. The Shepherdesses held tight, rhythmic patterns framing the gorgeous pacing of lead Holly Lynn Fusco and Jermel Johnson nailed those signature tea dance jumps with mile-high aerial splits.

Among the child leads, Mary Lee Deddens kept her dancing fleet while reflecting the evening’s wonder in her eyes even as the smitten Christian Lavallie stole her heart as her valiant prince.

And the party girls from Act I were back as the gliding Angels orchestra and The Polichinelles, who appear out from under the sails of Mother Gingerbread. These lovies showed tight unison work and airy jumps. Needless to say, it takes a lot to upstage this yuletide Dragzilla.

The orchestra played textbook Tchaikovsky, although that could have spiked a little more in key moments. And again this year Luigi Mazzocchi’s fine violin solo just bathed the opera house