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Ballet West's 'Nutcracker' bursts with holiday cheer

"THE NUTCRACKER," through Dec. 31, Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South (801-869-6920 or

It’s always a pleasure to attend Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker” that kicked off over the weekend at the Capitol Theatre. It's a marvel that such a lavish spectacle can also maintain such vintage charm every holiday season. It’s like unwrapping a handsomely adorned gift to find some sentimental token within.

Although this version was first choreographed in 1944 and is known as America’s first “Nutcracker,” it’s garnering more recognition than ever on the national circuit for capturing the simple pleasures of another era: both the Edwardian period, in which it is set, and also wartime America, in which it was choreographed.

Act 1 centers on Clara, danced by the young Nyah Arne (first cast), whose sweetness and obvious talent were on full display. Adrian Fry danced with panache the role of Clara’s godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer.

Theatrical amusements line the first act like booths at a carnival where every childhood fantasy is realized, from life-sized wind-up dolls to a growing Christmas tree to toy soldiers blasting cannons at whiskered warriors.

Before the curtain drops at intermission, though, the audience sees the first of many great pas de deuxs to come and also experience the backbone of ballet, the corps de ballet dancing as snowflakes during the snow scene.

Crowd-favorites Christiana Bennett and Beau Pearson lead the wintry ensemble that greets Clara and her prince as they travel to his homeland. Pearson was attentive and effortless in his strength as he popped Bennett over his head and through the dusky pink sky. Bennett dazzled, filling out each moment of the music, taking her time, reaching higher and stretching longer to cast a mesmerizing spell on the audience.

The true stars of the snow scene, however, were members of the corps who danced as perfectly matched snowflakes, creating beautiful patterns and formations amidst heavily falling snow. Their mastery of synchronization was so striking, whether they were dressed as snowflakes in the first act or flowers in the second.

The second act centers on the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier (Beckanne Sisk and Christopher Ruud), who greet Clara and her prince and beckon them to enjoy court entertainments.

Such diversions include the exotic samplings of Spanish, Chinese, Arabian and Russian dancing that merge Christensen’s vaudevillian and ballet backgrounds in packages of old-timey glitz.

Other characters adorn the stage as well, such as Mother Buffoon with a gaggle of adorable children who spring out from under her giant skirt, the Mirlitons (flute players) and Flowers.

Emily Adams and Rex Tilton were standouts leading the Waltz of the Flowers, capturing a sense of beauty and delicacy in the roles. The women who danced as flowers seemed to be especially taken over with enjoyment, pleasure sparkling in their eyes.

The delicate but strong Sayaka Ohtaki led the Mirlitons, her crisp lines, marvelous extension and beautiful feet never ceasing to amaze.

Finally, Sisk and Ruud made a dazzling duo in the Sugarplum roles. They are a handsome, sparkling pair. Sisk’s lyrical movement and astounding flexibility with Ruud’s strength and effortlessness are a wildly enjoyable vision for audiences.

So are the scores of adorable children whose delight at dancing in the production is palpable in a way that can’t be manufactured. Their bursting joy bounces right off the stage and onto the audience.

Those looking for holiday cheer or great art will find it in this crowd-pleasing production of “The Nutcracker.” The company will head to Washington, D.C., to perform at the Kennedy Center this week, but it will be back for more Dec. 18-31.