Now that ABT moved its Nutcracker to Orange County, California after six years at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Gelsey Kirkland Ballet fills the void for traditional Nutcracker fans in their new Dumbo, Brooklyn home. The company excels in the Nutcracker and I actually like the Kirkland version more than the ABT or NYCB works. For some reason, some of the choreography (particularly doll and divertissement pieces) at the major companies restrain the dancers, forcing them into bland, simple steps where they don’t do very much. Not so with Kirkland Ballet as the choreography puts their young talent on display.
Artistic Directors Kirkland and husband Michael Chernov present a fairly standard Nutcracker, not breaking much new ground. I like that it does not have a dual boy and man Nutcracker, sticking to a single grownup Prince. In a fierce battle with the evil Mouse King, it takes a man to do the job. Some of the children’s roles are filled with older dancers. Fritz for example (Koki Yamaguchi Thursday) has a larger technical role in the Kirkland version with multiple double tours and pirouettes, steps not typically seen from Fritz.
The company hit on all cylinders Thursday with a great performance. The company danced well, with great theatrical expressiveness and nuance. Some companies treat the dramatic part of a performance as a lower priority to the dancing; this company focuses on the dramatic aspect of dance with great expressiveness and nuance. On the technical side, the level of dancing was high and the corps were generally in synch.
Dawn Geirling-Milatin was Marie with her Nutcracker Prince Johnny Almeida. Dawn played the part of adolescent Marie well as she witnessed the Nutcracker doll transformed into an enchanted Nutcracker Prince from the ferocious battle scene to the land of the sweets. Dawn is technically a fine dancer with solid technique, particularly in the petite allegro in her solo, but at times a bit tense in her presentation. She had an innovative grand fouetté section which consisted of traditional fouetté turns, with an exaggerated pause in second position on some of the turns, a very nice feature.
Their Act II pas de deux was strong as they navigated the tricky choreography with energy and pizzaz. Johnny is a confident, attentive partner, who knows when to back off on support as evidenced by several one-handed supports on Dawn’s turns. He is an elegant dancer, with nice line and feet. Solo high points included an innovative à la seconde turn sequence, shifting focus by quarter turns until back to the front, punctuated by four pirouettes, clean coupé jeté en manége in attitude (see photo below), and four pirouettes, pausing at the finish to a second position (leg to the side).
The supporting cast was strong. Stand out performances started with the doll dances in Act I. Keisuke Nishkawa had great flair and bravura in the Mortal Time solo, with an outstanding series of jeté passé en tournant, tour de reins (barrel turns), and controlled multiple pirouettes. The Columbine (Nina Yoshida) and Harlequin (Erez Milatin) dolls were an effective pair with nicely timed mechanical and rigid movements.
The Chinese dance was filled with high-flying acrobatics from Kaito Yamamoto consisting of leaping piked toe touches (he completed seven in a row in the finale), double tours to second position, and controlled turns, all with great energy with his partner Nina Yoshida.
The Russian dance was great fun, with high energy performances from Katrina Crawford and Anderson Souza with great abandon. Anderson’s rapid turns á la seconde with foot flexed was impressive. I usually find the Flutes (sometimes called Maripan) dance boring but Jemima Vaya, Megan Schwuchow, and Alina Gavrilov brought it to life with nicely synchronized footwork.
The sets for the production were effective while not overpowering, including a growing Christmas tree at the beginning of the battle scene. Most impressive were the cabinets that housed the toy soldiers as they went down a slide to enter battle with the Mouse King. There was the required snow during the Snow Scene, although the cylinders that hold the fake snow needed to be greased as they squeaked whenever the snow fell. Another glitch was the overuse of dry ice fog in the beginning of Act II when Marie and the Prince danced atop clouds. However, with all of the fog on stage, it was hard to make out their movements as it looked as if they were in dense clouds.
Performances continue next week from Thursday through Sunday and tickets, ranging from $20-$59, available at the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet website. Definitely worth seeing.
Gelsey Kirkland Ballet moved from Tribeca into its new home in Dumbo, Brooklyn in June. The new home is the former St. Ann’s Warehouse, a 9,000 square foot theater which seats 600. The renovated space now houses four studios in addition to office space, according to the Wall Street Journal. The cozy theater is great for dance, with all seats near the stage with nice sight lines.
The Kirkland Academy, which opened in 2010 with 28 year-round students, last year had 80 full-time students.