What we expect from "The Nutcracker" is always the same - sumptuous costumes, beautiful dancing, Tchaikovsky's magical music - but there's something wonderful about having your expectations fulfilled, especially at Christmastime.
Ballet Hawaii presented its familiar version of the classic ballet to an appreciative audience in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater last weekend.
Pamela Taylor-Tongg and WillieDean Ige recreated their roles as the Silberhaus parents, hosting a festive Christmas gathering for the children. Inside the cavernous drawing room (designed by Peter Dean Beck), all was gaily decorated and given a dreamy feel by larger-than-life chandeliers and a looming Christmas tree.
Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyett
The young guests arrived - girls in dresses like creampuffs, boys in shiny tailcoats - and romped around the room with sweet Marie (Abrianna Storm Markham) and her naughty brother Fritz (Emily McKeon). Barry Brinker Jones, who staged the ballet together with Tongg, made an appearance this year as a Party Mother in a sparkling purple gown.
The adults danced, and the charming grandfather (Dr. Philip I. McNamee) won applause for his brief jig. But the children only had eyes for one man: the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer (a role that fulfilled a "lifelong dream" for Maui actor William Schnitzer).
Drosselmeyer and his nephew (Heather Kelsey) opened a crate to reveal three dancing dolls: Colombine (Jessica Patterson), Harlequin (Jade Direnfeld on Saturday; Isabelle Moes on Sunday), and the Soldier - Broadway dancer John Selya, who wowed the audience with sharply energetic leaps and even a moonwalk.
After the guests had left, Marie fell asleep on the sofa with her beloved Nutcracker doll. Awakening to find little Mice (adorable with their round pink bellies) stealing the Christmas presents, Marie ended up in the thick of a battle between the Mice and Toy Soldiers. As the Mouse King, Benjamin Dorado brought humor to the scene with his prolonged death rattles.
Then the music softened, and we entered the moonlit forest of the Snow Queen and King. The gorgeous Stella Abrera of American Ballet Theatre and Timour Bourtasenkov of Carolina Ballet danced a pristine pas de deux, surrounded by fluttering Snowflakes.
Tiny Angels heralded the journey of the sleigh as Marie and her Nutcracker Prince were whisked away to the candy-striped Kingdom of Sweets. There, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier (Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette of New York City Ballet) welcomed the young couple and entertained them with a showcase of talent that featured many Maui dancers.
Taylor Soma (who danced the part of Marie last time) stepped up as lead Spanish dancer, together with Derek Sakakura, whose crisp footwork demonstrated why he is acclaimed as "Taro" in " 'Ulalena."
Selya and Abrera returned, this time as Arabian dancers in a languid and passionate duet, marked by an impressive final lift that spun Abrera up and over Selya's broad shoulder in one swift move.
Dorado reappeared as the leader of the Chinese Children with their long pink and blue scarves. Makena Miller reprised her role as Little Bo Beep, trailed by her shepherdesses and adorable black Lambs.
For the Russian Trepak, Maui's Alexander Cardinalli joined Bourtasenkov and Sakakura for a vigorous series of dives and tumbles, ending in soaring toetouches. The Trepak Girls were Direnfeld, Moes and Isabelle Jones (daughter of Barry).
After the playful Polichinelles ran down the theater aisles to the delight of the audience, it was time for the "Waltz of the Flowers." The silvery Dew Drop (Kelsea Kalei Auld) danced in the midst of her frothy pink-skirted Flowers, garnering applause for her multiple fouettes.
In the grand pas de deux, Fairchild shimmered in a creamy tutu and sparkling tiara, spinning as effortlessly as a figurine in a music box. She and Veyette excelled in their solo dances, he with high jumps, she with strong but delicate footwork.
The finale was a gorgeous spectacle with all the dancers massed together to bid farewell to Marie and her Prince as they were drawn away in the sleigh.
Like Marie, we were sorry the magic had to end, but we returned home satisfied that all our expectations had been met.