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Carolina Ballet’s classic ‘Nutcracker’ is slightly muddled, yet still satisfying

// Dec 18,2012

By Deborah Strange | The Daily Tar Heel
Updated: 12/05/11 11:59pm

Though “The Nutcracker” was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1892, the Carolina Ballet has kept the holiday favorite interesting more than a century later.

This weekend’s performance at Memorial Hall balanced the classic and the modern.

The lack of plot in the first scene, “The Party,” was dull and drawn-out, but overall, the show boasted impressive sets, live music and dancing which made up for a lackluster beginning.

The lavish sets, like a quaint and colorful toymaker’s workshop, a Victorian parlor with a dazzling Christmas tree, a quiet snowy forest and a bright sugary palace, were realistic yet still imaginative.

Jeff Jones, who redesigned the sets this year, said he wanted the set to be lush and beautiful. He succeeded, with sceneries that encompassed the entire stage and brought the audience into the story.

But the story itself was less captivating.

There was little development in the hour-long first act. The action was often bland and repetitive. Besides children excitedly receiving presents — with liberal use of jazz hands — and parents dancing in circles, nothing much happened. The last two scenes of the act were well done but felt disproportionately short.

Zalman Raffael, who played the grandfather, had a brief, monkey-like dance solo. While it showed the character’s quirks, the purpose of his sporadic hops and gesticulations was unclear.

Drosselmeyer’s revitalized magic tricks — new additions to this year’s performance — were impressive on a ballet stage but didn’t live up to the hype.

When Drosselmeyer made his nephew disappear, it was easy to speculate how the trick was executed.

But when the toy sugar plum, played by Marria Cosentino, came out of a square music box that had previously been proven empty, the audience gasped in fascination.

Cosentino was the first to demonstrate the company’s technical skill.

Maintaining the sharp angles of a music box’s toy ballerina, Cosentino stayed stiff in body and character while dancing elegantly and gracefully.

The sugar plum fairy, played by Lilyan Vigo Ellis, and her cavalier, played by Marcelo Martinez, complemented each other and filled the entire stage with impressive pirouettes and jetes during their final duet.

The live music, conducted by Alfred Sturgis, was energetic and precise, bringing to life the classics everyone — including the humming children in the audience — knew.

Though the story of the Carolina Ballet’s “Nutcracker” lacked clarity, the dancers and musicians bolstered the performance to a quality worthy of staying a holiday classic.

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