Although it’s raining cats and dogs outside, the feeling is more about mice, fairies, princes, and toy soldiers inside Red Bank, NJ’s Two River Theater this Sunday, December 16, 2018 as a sold-out audience of all ages readies itself for a holiday performance of American Repertory Ballet’s presentation of The Nutcracker!
On the second level of the ultramodern lobby, the Concordia Youth Chorale — a choir of students from Monmouth County, NJ, schools — greets patrons with live music as they enter the theater on the ground floor. Following the youngsters’ inspiring performance, we chat with several members of this group which travels the world performing under the direction of Cynthia and John Balm.
Says Angelina, 13, from Neptune, “I love performing with the Chorale,” before noting, “My favorite show was when I was nine and we performed at Carnegie Hall.”
Layla, 7, from Holmdel — a second generation member of the group — tells us, “I enjoy being a part of this group because we go on cool trips. My favorite was performing at Radio City Music Hall.”
Lastly, we chat with Trinity, a high school senior from Colts Neck who will soon be leaving the Chorale. After promising, “I will come back and visit,” Trinity reveals, “My favorite tour was when I was about ten years old and my sister and I sang in Paris, France at Notre Dame Cathedral.”
As we bid farewell to these youthful performers, we learn they will be singing live during a segment of this afternoon’s performance of The Nutcracker presented by Princeton, NJ’s American Repertory Ballet.
Inside the stunning Two River Theater auditorium, the lights dim and the classic strains of The Nutcracker’s pre-recorded orchestral overture permeate the room. Visions of sugar plums fill audience members’ heads as the music rises and swells and the packed house of children and adults anticipate the rising of the red velvet curtain.
It soon rises to reveal the parlor of the Silverhaus residence where the family is ready to celebrate their annual Christmas Eve tree lighting party with relatives and friends.
After a festive dance, the mysterious Herr Drosselmayer arrives with wonderful mechanical dolls.
He presents a beautifully carved Nutcracker to his favorite niece, Clara.
When the party winds down, the family goes to bed. Unable to sleep, Clara gleefully dances with the Nutcracker before the movement of little mice disturbs her delight.
Herr Drosselmeyer appears and casts Clara into a dream world, transforming the parlor into a battleground between an army of rats and soldiers.
Clara is amazed as the life-sized Nutcracker comes to life!
The Nutcracker and his army defend the Christmas tree from the minions of the Rat King and vanquish them from the parlor!
Drosselmayer reappears and transforms the Nutcracker into a prince and the parlor into a Land of Snow where — accompanied by vocals provided by the Concordia Youth Chorale — angels gently float into the scene.
Here, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince meet the beautiful Snow Queen and King.
They are also dazzled by the whirlwinds of dancing Snowflakes.
Act II begins with Clara and the Nutcracker Prince making their way to the Land of Sweets where they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The Prince tells the story of the great battle for the Christmas tree and how Clara helped to save the day by thwarting the Rat King and his minions.
As a reward for her bravery, the Sugar Plum Fairy presents dances from different lands for her to enjoy beginning with “Chocolate” from Spain.
This sequence features graceful and elegant Spanish dancers.
Mysterious, fluid, and gymnastic motion characterizes the next dance, “Coffee” from Arabia.
“Marzipan” from Germany features graceful and light leaping and prancing.
“Polichinellle” from France has Mother Ginger dancing with her brood of playful and fun-loving children.
A highlight of today’s performance of The Nutcracker is the famous “Waltz of the Flowers.”
All of the Flowers are charming, lilting, and flowing.
The Dew Drop Fairy leaps with grace.
Another highlight of the performance follows when the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform a tour de force pas de deux dance. Grand and regal, graceful and gracious, they spin and twirl much to Clara’s and the audience’s delight.
After the dancers’ grand finale, a happy but tired Clara returns home to the comfort of the family parlor where she wakes from her wonderful journey.
Following the performance, we chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of the American Repertory Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker.
Comments Sandy from Manchester, “ARB’s performance of The Nutcrackerwas excellent. We enjoy it every year. The talent here is wonderful!”
Elizabeth from Barnegat reveals,“My niece has been in the show for five years and they always do an amazing job — it’s our favorite Christmas tradition!”
Alyson, 7, agrees, adding, “My favorite part is when the soldiers fight the mice!”
Guiliana, 9, from Howell, acknowledges, “This is my second time seeing the ballet. I love the Sugar Plum Fairy! I love the singers in the choir and the dancers with all their beautiful costumes. I want to be one of them!”
Aubrey, 9, from Jackson, concurs, stating, “I love the Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara. I love their costumes, and I like the singers, too!”
Lastly, we chat with American Repertory Ballet’s Artistic Director, Douglas Martin — a talented choreographer and former principal dancer with the Joffrey and Cleveland ballet companies — who fills us on in some history regarding The Nutcracker.
Explains Martin, “When it first premiered in Russia, The Nutcracker was not received well — it wasn’t until it was revived here in America that it became a hit.”
According to Martin, “In 1944, The San Francisco Ballet presented the piece, and in 1954, it was done by famous choreographer, George Balanchine. Here in NJ, however, Audrée Phipps Estey — founder of the American Repertory Ballet — first staged the party scenes in 1959 and, later, in 1964, presented the entire piece for the first time.”
“The choreography from that show has survived,” continues Martin, and since then, “three or four generations of children who have grown up with the company have learned to do the dances.”
In fact, recounts Martin, “Bebe Neuwirth — the well-known actress and Broadway star — was a member of the company as a young girl, and when she was asked recently if she remembered being in the show, she responded by dancing the steps of one of The Nutcracker’s children’s dances!”
According to Martin, “The Nutcracker is a great American tradition — it’s a family event and a theater community event. Just like the Fourth of July has its fireworks, the holiday season has The Nutcracker — a show which appeals to both adults and kids. As a result, we make it a friendly, high-level, and fun experience for everyone,” before noting, “We have 106 dancers per cast. The children are each cast in two roles, and the adult company has three to six roles which they dance in each presentation.”
Martin, however, reveals that he, himself, only performed one main role in today’s performance.
“I danced the part of Herr Drosselmeyer today.”
Explains Martin, “I first danced that role many years ago when the actor dancing the part was unable to do it and there was no understudy. I love doing it because I can see the audience’s immediate reaction to the work.”
Noting, “Dance is a language of communication with the body — it’s expressing words through the body and emotion through gesture,” Martin concludes by stating, “I love when I get can people to understand what dance and the arts really are!”
To learn more about the American Repertory Ballet — including information about upcoming performances including Coppelia on Mar. 16, 2019 at Two River Theater and on Apr. 6, 2019 at BergenPAC in Englewood, NJ, and the world premiere of a new version of Beauty and the Beast on May 10, 2019 at New Brunswick, NJ’s State Theatre — please go to arballet.org. For information on future presentations at Two River Theater — including Noises Off which runs from Jan. 12 to Feb. 3, 2019, and MacBeth which has performances from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2, 2019 — please click on tworivertheater.org.
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