Ballet West 'Nutty Nutcracker' earns laughs — and respect

Published: Thursday, Jan. 2 2014 12:55 p.m. MST

Many are familiar with the opening scene where they're first introduced to Herr Drosselmeyer — err, Donald Trump? — entering a house labeled “Extreme Makeover: Nutcracker Edition?”

It didn’t take long to pick up on this year’s theme to Ballet West’s “Nutty Nutcracker.” It was a most humorous salute to reality television and refreshingly satirical, in fact, to see professional artists poke fun at a television genre that’s enthralled the nation. Plus, nobody ignored the irony of how well these artists knew the shows.

This year’s spoof followed not Clara but a hilariously accurate Honey Boo Boo, played by Maile Berg, through her classic Christmassy TV-Land dreams. The battle with the Mouse King became a battle for the title of “Biggest Loser” with a zealous trainer as the Nutcracker Prince. The Snow Queen and her Cavalier, danced by principal artists Katherine Lawrence and Tom Mattingly, won “The Amazing Race” and were clearly enjoying themselves.

Obvious audience favorites were a “Sister Wives” spin on the Dance of the Mirlitons and a Waltz of the Flowers gone literal with a nod to “The Bachelor’s” infamous rose ceremonies. Principal artist Christopher Ruud, who’s been with Ballet West since 1998 and repeatedly proved his expertise as a dancer, also proved to be quite a ham as the “bachelor.” First soloist Beau Pearson kept popping up as “Sister Wives’” Kody Brown throughout the evening — each time, irresistibly funny.

The Russian Dance is almost always an audience favorite, but if you add a “Duck Dynasty” twist, duck calls and all, everybody’s sold.

The performance paid tribute to everything from “America’s Next Top Model” to “Top Chef,” and the audience was treated to tongue-in-cheek performances by Super Nanny, Snooki and the Kardashians.

The company’s “Nutty Nutcracker" tradition started in 2007, and they’ve managed to choose a different silly theme every year. While this year’s material may not have been quite as kid-friendly as past performances (as one might expect with "Jersey Shore" in the mix), this reviewer’s 7-year-old niece still said that her favorite part was “everything.”

Arguably the best homage was to Ballet West’s very own hit reality show, “Breaking Pointe,” which debuted in 2012. Ballet West has often broken the stereotype of “art snob” in its wide-ranging appeal, especially with hits such as “Nutty.” This particular annual performance could easily become a holiday family tradition for many. But the company one-upped itself again — special props to Ballet West for being good-natured enough to spoof itself.

First soloist Rex Tilton and soloist Alison DeBona have kept audiences on their toes in episodes of the CW series with their on-again off-again romance, and they symbolically reprised those reality roles as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. In the end, they found (on stage, too) that they’ve really loved each other through it all. It should be noted that both Tilton and DeBona danced their roles beautifully. It could also be argued that it takes even more talent to be able to capture the Nutcracker’s artistic grace, interrupt a dance for silly antics and then pick up exactly where they left off.

Bravo to Ballet West and Artistic Director Adam Sklute for making art fun and appealing to the whole family, as always. It will be exciting to see what they create for next year’s “Nutty Nutcracker,” and it’s sure to be worth it.

Email: h.a.bowler@gmail.com

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