Ballet West proves why 'Nutcracker' is a timeless classic

By Heather Hayes

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Dec. 3 2010 6:28 p.m. MST

Christiana Bennett as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Christopher Ruud as her Cavalier in "The Nutcracker."

Ryan Galbraith, Ryan Galbraith Photography

Enlarge photo»

"THE NUTCRACKER," Ballet West, through Dec. 31, Capitol Theatre (801-355-2787 or www.arttix.org)

Some things are timeless.

As Ballet West launched into another season of "The Nutcracker" this weekend, it proved that Willam Christensen's creation can be counted among them.

The production holds the longest unbroken performance record for any "Nutcracker" production anywhere. With its magic and splendor, it's taken a prominent place among popular holiday traditions in Salt Lake City — and Ballet West's opening performance demonstrated why.

At the helm were Christianna Bennett and Christopher Ruud as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Their meticulous performances had the regality of a true king and queen of the stage. Ruud seems each year to gain even more spring, strength and lightness in his step. Bennett is a soaring apparition. Her very presence commands, but her movement is as ethereal as chiffon.

With Clara and her prince, audience members were whisked away into a sugary-sweet land filled with friendly inhabitants from the far reaches of the world.

The Spanish dance was coquettish and striking, the Chinese dance had the height and crispness of a springing top, the Arabian dance was all litheness and mystery and the Mirlitons were as airy as the flute accompanying them.

Tchaikovsky's score, which was played with panache by the Utah Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Terence Kerr, was for a moment inaudible over the thunderous applause bestowed on the Russian dancers, who always win crowd-favorite with their array of acrobatics. Also delightful and comedic was Mother Buffoon and her adorable gaggle.

Annie Breneman as the Snow Queen was as delicate and crisp as a snowflake with Beau Pearson as her Cavalier. Both were a bit too polite when arm-in-arm, their unease apparent due to some off-balance lifts near the beginning of the pas de deux.

Waltz of the flowers leads Haley Henderson Smith and Easton Smith were just getting their feet wet with their first Ballet West "Nutcracker" performance, but you'd never know it. They looked like old pros.

Artistic director Adam Sklute makes a wise choice in continuing to preserve this legendary ballet by slowly reincorporating lost elements. The minute details are part of the tradition, and those disregarded particulars are often sorely missed. My two longstanding petitions seem to have been satisfied, which tells me I was not alone: Live singers once again grace us during the snow scene and Mother Buffoon, although not quite as nimble as she once was, got her legs back.

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