Gelsey Kirkland Ballet’s Nutcracker production is on a smaller scale relative to more grand, elaborate, and expensive NYCB and ABT works. Although smaller in stature in the intimate Schimmel Center at Pace University in downtown Manhattan, the work packs quality dancing from dancers that Artistic Directors Kirkland and husband Michael Chernov have assembled over the past four years.
The legendary ballerina founded the Gelsey Kirkland Academy in 2010 with a mission to “…foster a rebirth of dramatic storytelling in ballet through our academy programs that provide specialized training for gifted students from around the world.” Gelsey Kirkland Ballet was started in 2013 and has 28 members in the Studio Company, 72 full-time professional training program students, 20 pre-professional after school students, and 50 children’s division students. Kirkland dancers in lead roles are mostly in their late teens.
The level of dancing Thursday was quite strong; I actually enjoyed some of the doll and divertissement dances more in the Kirkland production than in NYCB and ABT’s versions. For some reason, some of the doll and divertissement pieces at the major companies restrain the dancers, forcing them into bland, simple steps where they don’t do very much.
Michelle Katcher was Clara, who reminds me of NYCB’s Megan Fairchild in stature and technique. Michelle displayed a range of emotions in a rather understated manner: elation in receiving a Nutcracker doll, fear as strange things happen when the clock strikes midnight, defiance in protecting her Nutcracker Prince in the battle scene, joy in discovering her real life Prince as he takes her on a journey in the Land of Snow.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Michelle’s strength is her turning capabilities. In the pas de deux, she did 10 supported pirouettes with good form and position without having her partner, Johnny Almeida, work very hard. In the coda she pulled off a unique fouetté sequence and I’m not entirely sure what she did; I think she placed her working foot on the back of her knee in posse after her leg whip and rapidly switched to the front of her knee mid turn, all with her arms in a non-conventional open position, repeating this numerous times. Very nice. I liked her solo work, although I found some of her steps abrupt in the petite allegro section and wish that she was more animated in her solos. Given her technical abilities, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her dancing on a larger stage in the future.
Johnny was an outgoing Nutcracker Prince, showering attention on his newfound love. He was a strong partner providing all the support that Clara needed. His solos were solid as he has a nice line, extension, and feet. He put some razzle-dazzle in his solo, with turns in second position, shifting focus by quarter turns until back to the front, punctuated by four pirouettes.
In the divertissements, Anderson Souza (who plays the Nutcracker Prince on the Saturday matinees during the run) was outstanding as the Russian along with Katrina Crawford. They put abundant energy and attitude into the dance, which is a requirement to make the piece work. He performed great split jumps and high, controlled double tours. The men generally were on the mark on their double tours with good landings; Kaito Yamamoto excelled in his tours to second position in the Chinese dance. The doll dances were energetic with Anderson as Harlequin, Nina Yoshida as Columbine, and Anthony Rosario as Mortal Time. Marko Micov was expressive as Drosselmeyer.
The Gelsey Kirkland/Michael Chernov version is a fairly standard Nutcracker, not breaking any 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. The sets and special effects are reasonable, except that the tree got tangled up when attempting to grow in the midnight battle scene Thursday. I enjoyed the soldier’s entrance out of a large cabinet as they went down a slide into battle.
Performances continue Sunday at 2 pm. Next week’s evening performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 pm, with 2 pm performances Saturday and Sunday. Ticket prices are $59/$49/$39. Schimmel Center is a great place for dance with all seats close to the action with great sight lines.