Saturday started out to be a perfectly dreadful day for me. I got little sleep the night before because I drank too much coffee. My morning bagel was harder than a cement wall. I had to wring my brain inside out at a meeting with an insurance agent in an attempt to understand my new, incredibly complicated Medicare plan. I had to speed to the post office and wait on a long line to mail documents that had to get where they were going by the end of next week. It rained all day and it was hard to drive because the car had to wander through a soupy fog that belonged in a chilly horror movie. I ran out of orange juice. The car radio did not work.
Then I went to see the New Jersey Ballet’s Nutcracker and my miserable day turned glorious.
The NJ Ballet’s Nutcracker that just opened at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, in Morristown, is a holiday feast for all, a timeless ballet. This is the 50th anniversary of the NJ Ballet’s Nutcracker. This year’s production is a delicious holiday pudding, a towering evergreen tree decorated with magical light bulbs, a Christmas morning of dancing cheer, a spectacular entertainment sleigh ride.
I have seen twenty or more Nutcrackers in my life and this is certainly one of the very best.
The ballet is full of joy. It is full of life and full of children, too. There must have been 4,000 little kids, each one more charming and talented than the other, dancing in this production . They were everywhere. I’d joke and say they were everywhere but sitting on top of each other, but they were there, too,
The Nutcracker, based of E.T.A. Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, is two acts. In the first, an evil regiment of dastardly, evil mice, led by the nasty Mouse King, invade a house after the children have gone to bed following a party on Christmas Eve at the Mayor’s house. They are chased way by the Nutcracker, who turns into a handsome prince, and his cohorts following a sword fight that would done the Three Musketeers proud.
At the end of the act, young Clara and her brother, Fritz, whom we met earlier, sail away and land in the Land of Sweets, where dancers of many different countries show moves native to their land in front of the two kids. In the middle of all this the gorgeous Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier arrive.
There are several things that make the Nutcracker one of the most beloved ballets in the world – Peter Tchaikovsky’s wonderful, memorable music, the simple but enchanting story, and its Christmas setting. There are things that make this NJ Ballet production so enchanting, too. Elegant sets. The curtain opens on a ballroom in a turn of the century mansion in Russia (it could be any city in any era). It is followed by other stunning sets- indoor and outdoor. The costumes, designed by a team, are beautiful and each is a different color, mostly soft ones. And, of course, there is the New Jersey Symphony, Gary S. Fagin conducting, that provides the music.
Snow. What’s Christmas without snow, right? There is a just magical dance number performed in an onstage snowstorm that is dazzling and reminds you just not of winter in old Russia, but in the little town where you grew up. The splendid scenery is designed by Michael Anania. The scenes are nicely lit by lighting director Paul Miller
New Jersey Ballet chiefs have done a masterful job of not only a fine production and using their dancers artfully. My favorite scene is where the Nutcracker, sword in hand goes after the huge Mouse King, whose supremely nasty onstage demeanor makes him seem more like a Rat King.
The choreography by Joseph Carow, George Tomal and David Tamaki is just brilliant. They leave no stone unturned in their careful staging of the production, having their dancers whirl this way and that with remarkable synchronization. There is a scene in the second act when two armies of dancers glide gracefully through each other’s lines with elegant ease.
There is also an odd “precision,” if that is the right word, to the production. I noticed it early on, when dancers are clapping their hands. All clap at exactly the same time. The dancer raise and lower their arms at the same times, twirl at the same time. The ballet so full of precision that you think it is one, big clock that runs by itself. All of this is under the direction of production stage manager Brian Coakley
Dancers in the ensemble alternate playing the various roles in the ballet.
The NJ Ballet’s Nutcracker is back on stage, the movie It’s A Wonderful Life is back on television, Bing Crosby is back on the radio singing White Christmas.
It is Christmas in America.
The Nutcracker will be at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown through December 26. Click here for ticket information.