By Marisa Abeyta
Theatre Review for The Nutcracker Ballet in the Land of Enchantment
Championed as the “one-and-only” New Mexico-themed nutcracker ballet in the nation is The Nutcracker Ballet in the Land of Enchantment, presented at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) by Festival Ballet Albuquerque (FBA). On Sunday, December 20th, I had the pleasure of joining FBA’s fifth season and final performance of The Nutcracker Ballet in the Land of Enchantment. Choreographed by Patricia Dickinson Wells (Dickinson), the event ushered in nearly a full house of families, couples, friends and proud supporters alike. This version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker will take your senses out of the box with vivid Victorian costumes, outstanding choreography, unique props, less than startling pyrotechnics and Tchaikovsky’s classic score.
Before the performance began, I observed some of the attendees gather ‘round to watch the live orchestra rehearse with director, Maestro Guillermo Figueroa. I could tell that for some, it was their first time attending a ballet performance with a live orchestra, and I appreciated the sentiment. A few moments afterward, the lights dimmed to a cool blue and the scenery of 1800s New Mexico emerged.
Act I was eye catching, featuring adobe ruins and aquatic lighting as prop-playing and acrobatic stunts swept the stage. Black Flamenco heels and exaggerated ruffles swiftly broke The Nutcracker tradition. However, I think I can safely say that Dickinson’s Spanish-inspired choreography trumped all aspects of the New Mexico theme in this ballet performance. Tio Pacheco’s (Jose Moncada) powerful entrance smothered the dullish vibe with his fiery cape. His aesthetics brought forth visions of a Spanish matador attempting to hypnotize me as a wide-eyed toro—no pyrotechnics needed. Tio Pacheco reveals two Native American dolls in buckskin dresses adorned with turquoise-colored tutus. Adding more to the New Mexico theme were the black western colonial bow ties worn by Los Padres. The Indian Princesses and Moors and Maria and Tio Pacheco closed the party scene with a synchronized ensemble that left the audience in awe. The positive energy from the dance duets provided high expectations for the rest of the show and it was apparent from the start that all of the ballet dancers were enjoying themselves, no matter the level of difficulty.
Accompanied by an army of gigantic rats with red lights beaming from their eyes, Rat King (Louis Giannini Jr.) lead the way wearing a traditional Mexican poncho. Even more symbolic of his western power were the woven braids that made him appear chief-like. One of the most astonishing maneuvers of the ballet performance was when Rat King picked up the female ballet dancer (assumably Maria) as she lay parallel to the stage floor. He then swinged her by her arms in 360-degree turns, where her head hovered about a foot above the stage floor—impressive and jaw-dropping! Overall, the “Battle of the Toy Soldiers” was less intense than The Nutcracker Ballet at Popejoy, though I should still warn that pyrotechnics are used in this version too. During “A Piñon Forest in Winter,” Snow King (Kevin Gallacher) and Snow Queen (Allison McDonald) performed a seemingly effortless ensemble that reflected both dedication and trustworthiness. I especially liked when Snow King made a 360-degree turn and landed on one knee!
Act II fueled the contrast between Russian ballet and Flamenco, which made for quite a treat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Spanish dancer wearing ballet shoes! Clearly an audience favorite was Flamenco dancer, Alice Blumenfeld. The audience clapped intensely after her every impression. The other astonishing maneuver was accomplished by the Angels in the scene of “The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Land of Enchantment.” While remaining in side splits, the two female ballet dancers were pulled by their male counterparts across the stage floor! The equivalent of the Russian Trepak involved Kevin Gallacher, who entered the room via back flips and then leaped into mid-air repeatedly around his female counterpart. In the last few scenes, the younger ballet dancers had a lot of emphasis on hand movements and group tricks, which I thought were very cute and entertaining!
Hummingbirds Kyle Linzer and Jonathan Ragsdale blew my mind as they each picked up four women one after the other without breaking in between. What an excellent show of strength and resilience! During the “Grande Pas De Deux,” the talent of Eric Mazzie who plays Her Cavalier and Ludmila Malakhov as Sugar Plum Fairy executed their moves in the blink of an eye. Their ensemble was performed so neatly that I was quick to assume the two ballet dancers had performed many times before. All individual performances were outstanding and the transitions by Mazzie and Malakhov were especially magnificent!
I want to give a special thanks to the NHCC and Festival Ballet Albuquerque for providing me with this enchanting Christmas gift!
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Photos provided by: Jess Sanchez, NHCC
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