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Ballet West's 'Nutcracker' is magical for audience as well as cast

By Heather Hayes

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Dec. 3 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

"Mother Buffon" lifts her giant skirt to reveal her little "buffoons" during Ballet West's Nutcracker

Luke Isley

"THE NUTCRACKER," Ballet West, Capitol Theatre, Dec. 2, additional performances through Dec. 31 (801-355-2787)

Back when most of us were still enjoying a late-season swim or a last-hurrah barbecue, hundreds of local children were dedicating their days to learning the festive steps to Tchaikovsky's wintery "Nutcracker Suite." As far as Ballet West was concerned, Christmas began in September.

Laying the groundwork year after year is the secret behind a nearly flawless and always heartwarming "Nutcracker" season for the company. In attendance on opening weekend, I was reassured that this year's production will not be the exception.

The polish was evident everywhere, from the youngest party girl to the most seasoned principal dancer.

There was the tiny buffoon flying into a fury of back handsprings, the party boy displaying impressive acting chops, the young soldier who flinched less than the Queen's Guard and the teenage page whose elegant pirouettes and arabesques promised her a bright future.

The Ballet West dancers were in tiptop shape, as usual. Their biggest challenge will always be to make this year's production even better than the last somehow. When so many people revisit this beloved ballet year after year, the company is charged with consistently kicking it up a notch — which in most cases it is doing.

Seasoned Sugar Plum couple Christiana Bennett and Christopher Ruud danced opening night. However, I took in an alternate Plum couple featuring Arolyn Williams and Christopher Sellers, slated to dance Saturday evening. Williams embodied the disparate lilting delicacy and the meaty technique of this legendary role, visibly growing with each movement. The grand pas between her and Sellers was a study in long lines, precise angles, sweep of movement and classical fanfare.

Other standouts of the night included Sayaka Ohtaki, who was notably elegant and expressive dancing the Arabian role. I never tire of watching this petite yet powerful dancer. As always, the Russian troupe, headed by Owen Gaj, produced a wave of cheers and applause from the crowd with its gravity-defying stunts.

Finally, Madison Young as little Clara and Nathan Chen as her mischievous brother Fritz were marvelous, and, most importantly, they looked — as all the children did — to be having the time of their lives.

Tens of thousands of children over a span of more than 50 years have enjoyed the same delicious experience of dancing in Ballet West's holiday spectacle. That's a lot of patient children's repetiteurs and a dizzying number of rehearsals, parent chaperones, car pools and costume fittings. But think of the memories.

Think of all the now-adults whose arms and legs twitch with the memory of steps once learned and never forgotten every time "The Nutcracker Suite" floats through the air at the shopping mall.

As I watched this year's happy batch of kids on stage, my heart gladdened for the newest inductees into the "Nutcracker" magic.

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