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Ballet breathes new life into ‘The Nutcracker’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — To my count, there have been at least four Nutcrackers this season. One wonders what, if anything, new one can bring to the table, or indeed if anything new need be tried. I tend to be more than a little skeptical of theatrical productions that take liberties with time and place. There have been some unforgivable opera designs in that regard.

But “The Nutcracker in the Land of Enchantment,” which opened Friday night at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, works splendidly. Far from distorting the story to fit the idea of the director, this production breathes fresh life into an often-overdone classic. Choreographer Patricia Dickinson Wells has added just enough local color to create a spectacular staging of a beloved classic.

To a large degree, only the names have been changed (the Pacheco family), and since they appear only on the program, there’s no real conflict there. The contradiction of bolo ties and decidedly Russian-sounding music is easily and quickly forgotten. The women’s dress could handily be incorporated into any traditional production.

In the medium of the dance, Wells is a consummate storyteller. As in her past productions, every action ingeniously conveys a piece of the story with exceptional attention to detail, especially comic detail. The opening act is replete with both beautiful movement and visual jokes, giving the sense that we are seeing the tale anew. The huge cast is handled deftly. The complex stage movement all seems intuitively logical throughout, the mark of an artistic master.

Professional and student dancers are combined seamlessly with some outstanding solos. Young Justine Flores dances Maria (Clara), as Julie Cobble and Dominic Guerra portray the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. The Arab Dance, here recast with exquisite sensuality as three female snakes and their handlers, is not to be missed.

The realm of the Snow Queen becomes “A Piñon Forest in Winter” as Natalee Maxwell and Louie Roccatodance in front of a starry New Mexico sky in a misty snowfall. Jose Moncada, so very impressive as the Devil in Wells’ choreography of “A Soldier’s Tale” with the Figueroa Project, appears here as the mysterious sorcerer uncle who brings the Nutcracker to the party – Tio Pacheco.

The costumes are nothing short of fabulous. A sewing team of some 20 workers led by Holly Plugge has created a visual feast, one exceptional design after another, and far too many to mention individually. However, the bodysuit “snakes,” and the glowing red eyes of the evil rats (an homage to the décor of the KiMo Theater?) are particular standouts.

As this is a joint production between Festival Ballet Albuquerque and the Figueroa Music and Arts Project, Guillermo Figueroa conducted the orchestra masterfully. As in his own concerts, he gave a short verbal introduction, enlightening us about the harmonic structure of the work.

This performance repeats today at 2 and 7 p.m. Call 505-724-4771 for more information.
— This article appeared on page F3 of the Albuquerque Journal

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