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'Nutty Nutcracker' is an artistic, sports-filled riot

Published: Saturday, Dec. 31 2011 10:57 a.m. MST

“The Nutty Nutcracker,” Ballet West, Capitol Theatre, Dec. 30, 7.pm.; Dec. 31, 2 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — One wouldn’t expect to see face paint on audience members at the decidedly classy Capitol Theatre.

They might not expect a University of Utah beanie paired with a suit, or a group of girls in Utah Jazz jerseys either.

But that was the dress code for Friday night’s performance of Ballet West’s “The Nutty Nutcracker.”

A tradition started in 2007, this nutty version completes the run of the beloved “Nutcracker” performance. This year’s theme was an all-out sport-a-palooza, following a 5 p.m. tailgate party.

The show began with an old opener from “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” moving into hilarious pictures and clips of sporting blunders as the Utah Chamber Orchestra played the beginning overture.

The conductor, who happened to be wearing a ball cap and striped referee shirt, blew his whistle and the curtain lifted.

Turns out Drosselmeyer is a golfing enthusiast.

The opening party scene contained a swirl of costumes and actions representing sports from baseball to hunting tospeed walking. The company captured every sport culture down to the last detail, from soccer mom T-shirts to ex-athletes well past their glory days and avid fans watching whatever game was on at the television off to the side.

The audience really erupted when they brought the mechanical bear, played by Ballet West artist Joshua Whitehead, out to dance for the children. Stiff, robot-like moves quickly turned to “the robot,” topped nicely with shimmies and “the worm.” The number truly set the stage for the upcoming wacky changes to the normally traditional ballet.

The Mice and Soldiers played football, with Clara passing the ball to the Nutcracker Prince so he could score the winning touchdown, of course. The Utah Blaze mascot, “Torch,” was there to cheer them on. Soloists Easton Smith and Haley Henderson-Smith danced the Snow Pas de Deux, paying a hilarious tribute to figure skating complete with wild hair-dos; a flowing, open-chested shirt for Smith; and a nail-biting waiting-for-the-scores moment on a bench.

Other artists contributed to the snow-filled scene with a visit from a skier, snowboarder, speed skaters and a curling team.

After “halftime,” the second part of the show opened with a few audience members sitting on bleachers to cheer the coming acts. The Spanish Dance replaced the main artist of the act with Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran’s fancy footwork — with a soccer ball. The other dances navigated basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics, table tennis and sumo wrestling.

The Waltz of the Flowers, another highlight of the evening, suddenly became a synchronized swimming act and at one point, there was an aerial view of the choreography projected on a screen behind the swim-capped dancers. It looked like something straight out of “The Modern Mermaids” circa 1934.

And we must not forget the need to take a break for song at the seventh-inning stretch.

“Take me out to the ballet,” the audience sang, led by none other than Frank Layden.

Three different sugar plum fairies danced the Grand Pas de Deux with their respective cavaliers, each couple vying to win the competition. Artistic director Adam Sklute, along with ballet mistress Pamela Robinson-Harris and ballet master Bruce Caldwell provided comical albeit educational commentary throughout.

In the chaos of this version, there were some minor glitches in timing and rhythm that were easily overlooked thanks to the hilariousness of the whole experience. The artists were clearly enjoying themselves — showing a whole different side to each of them.

With a closer look, some of them could even be seen pulling faces with buggy eyes and stuck-out tongues. The skill-level in the dancing was still entirely impressive, especially among the Grand Pas couples. It was almost miraculous that all of the company members were able to maintain such artistic integrity while producing so many laughs.

The romp-and-riot nature of sports collided with the world of fine art, culminating in a performance that was a perfect mixture for a Utah audience’s interests. We love our art. We do love our sports, too. And it was evident that most anyone— sports fans and arts enthusiasts alike — would love this performance.

It will be thrilling to see what kind of shenanigans Ballet West will come up with next year.

The “Nutty” version has become part of the annual run of “The Nutcracker” and will have a new theme next year. For more information, visit www.balletwest.org.

Email: hbowler@desnews.com

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