The Washington Ballet’s The Nutcracker at The Warner Theatre by ddespair

The Washington Ballet
The Nutcracker
The Warner Theatre
12.26.2015
by ddespair

Preface
Let me start out by saying, every Christmas, I have listened to 97.1 WASH-FM every year since the dawn of time. Like clockwork, they invariable hawk The Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker. But here’s where it gets interesting. They famously tag the presentation with “George Washington as the Nutcracker!”. Now, call me an airhead, but all this time, I legitimately thought there was a dancer NAMED George Washington. Granted I live in the Nation’s Capital yet it had never crossed my mind that that it was literally the Nutcracker WAS George Washington, as opposed to a performer by the coincidental name of George Washington portraying the Nutcracker. George is a common name, Washington is pretty common last name, so I had never managed to put the two and two together! I think the Washington Ballet should adjust the marketing because had I been able to put two and two two-gether, I’d have made an effort to see it much earlier. On TWB’s website it states “George Washington as the Nutcracker and King George III as the menacing Rat King!” This is much clearer! TWB, update your ads so us simple minded folk don’t get it confused! But regardless, I will treat this as new, because frankly, it’s new to me, dear.

The Nutcracker is kind of like a grilled cheese sammie. It’s something we’ll all welcome, and it’s hard to muck up. It’s a sure thing when it comes to the Christmas season. So did TWB get it right?

The Warner stage in all its Nutcracker Glory!

The Sets
The sets ranged from snowy forests to the shrunken Christmas tree and many more. Very impressive details such as the lighting of the tree and the rotating nutcrackers off stage made all the difference. The stage itself was so covered in lights and backdrops that it gave the dancers minimal space to move, but in doing so, made them appear larger than life, even many rows back. TWB transformed the space and probably did everything short of demolition to make it unrecognizable from it’s original form. The designs and specials were everything to write home about and I don’t care what anyone says or how difficult and annoying it may have been to the dancers; I LOVE FAKE SNOW AND I WANT IT ALL THE TIME. This production delivered in snow spades. The transitions were also superb and watching Clara leave in the hot-air Balloon at the end made me cry into my insanely narrow box 6$ popcorn. Let it be known that artificial butter preserves and tears is the preferred combination of the avid performance goer. I will say that dancing in fake snow must be like pushing a rope uphill, but the entertainers were all smiles and only once did I catch a glimpse of one setting up behind the props. To be fair, it’s hard to hide a giant Rat head. There is plenty of smoke, haze and layers going on and if I continue writing about the set design, we’ll be here all night.

The Music
I shouldn’t even address the music, for two reasons. One, we already know what it is, and it’s not going to deviate. Second, it wasn’t live, and there was a problem with it. This is not an issue of TWB, it’s an issue of the Warner Theatre. During my show, the stage right speaker was not calibrated. From the loudest to the quietest pieces, my left ear got much and my right ear got little. If the show itself hadn’t been so stellar, I might have complained more about this, but again, this was a problem with the house. The Warner Theatre really dropped the ball, but it didn’t seem to bother most of the audience. On the other hand, I’m a recording artist and it stuck out to me.

The Costumes
Do yourself a favor and go HERE. Look at those kids in the first picture. They’re ADORABLE AND THEY WILL EAT YOUR FACE! I LOVE THE FLOWER HATS. I think it’s safe to say the costumes were a home run, and they go hand in hand with the whole re-imagining theme we have going on here. I should probably address that now.

The Whole Re-Imagining Theme We Have Going On Here
This isn’t your grandma’s Nutcracker. It’s something else. It’s an appropriated Nutcracker. Well, that sounds sinister, but what can I say, I love the word “appropriated.” This Nutcracker is “Set in historic Georgetown with historical figures and whimsical touches”. In fact, you can get a glimpse of Frederick Douglas at the mansion! We have the Continental Army of Nutcrackers against the Red Coat Rats and progress reaching across centuries with the second act. I don’t mind this at all and even those who are maybe not so gung-ho patriotic won’t mind it either. Change is good, and with it comes risk, and there’s risk here. Risks! Risks! Risks! I haven’t seen so many Risks since my last failed attempt at a community Yard Sale! TWB has produced something quite unique. (and, apparently, for quite some time now) I love to see risks, and this variation of The Nutcracker delivers. You really can’t help but admire where the production goes and how it goes there. I think some risks were on the fence, such as the Frontier Russian dancers and some didn’t quite hit the mark, like the Lemur. I love the Lemur costume, I love the movement, but no one else looked like an animal in the segment, and it stood out kind of oddly. Other than that, I think all of the risks were worth it and should be commended. So yes, this isn’t a traditional Nutcracker, but that’s good. You already know what the original looks like.

The DANCING
The Choreography is gigantic for the space it has to work with. Normally, and most famously, The Land of Sweets has a bevy of dances. Most of these dances are performed by a duo, however, in this interpretation there are many more dancers on stage. The Spanish Dance gets us started with 6 dancers instead of two. It’s pretty much a mirroring of what two could do, but this is a spectacle, you need more these days. We’re competing with the internet, after all. This is also apparent in the Chinese Dance (a crowd favorite, for sure) which explodes with a Chinese New-Year-esque Dragon Dance. (In this case, the dragon is a fish) It’s a testament that possibly no two people would pick the same “favorite part” of the show. There’s so much to choose from. Clara is highly likeable and has great extension. You’ll hear many clops and few thuds, which is a good thing. On a technical scale, the show climax’s during the Pas de Deux and the Sugar Plum Fairy and her partner take the show to the rafters. Any speculation as to the quality of the dance next to the quality of the production is put to rest here. Lest we forget the modern elements such as the Clown doing “today” dance moves such as “the Sprinkler” atop his carousel. The characters themselves stood fast. Uncle Drosselmeyer’s fingers waved magically and his actions were slick and over the top. Which we WANT from the mysterious Uncle. Give that man a raise. He acted his buttox off. The kilted gentlemen was a close second. Oddly enough, I find myself least impressed with the Nutcracker himself. It’s not for lack of performance. The only falter that really stood out was by the Russian Frontier dance’s male lead. It’s just that The Nutcracker kills the king rat and basically sits out much of the show. It’s the way it’s written, I suppose. The real stars here were the Sugar Plum fairy and her companion. But again, the way it’s written.

In Conclusion
The Washington Ballet brings you about as much magic as can be brought to a stage and they should be revered for this take on The Nutcracker. I’ll definitely see it again next year! 9/10!

-ddespair