Albany Berkshire Ballet's "Nutcracker" has a gorgeous set design by Carl Sprague.
"The Nutcracker" is the backbone of the holiday season. And more importantly, for countless ballet companies — big and small — it's the foundation of their financial health.
Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a painful blow to companies around the nation and to audiences who adore the experience of being dropped into a young girl's fantasy.
Thanks to vaccines, ballet companies and their audience don't have to endure another year without the magical holiday tradition.
But with several versions of the Tchaikovsky classic in the Capital Region, it may be confusing to choose. Here's my tip: Go see Albany Berkshire Ballet's staging because it's consistently winsome, grand and inspired with a touch of humor.
As seen on Saturday at The Egg, the ballet, as staged by Artistic Director Madeline Cantarella Culpo, was as sparkling as always.
Here are some of the reasons ABB tops my "Nutcracker" list.
The curtain opens to partygoers with personality. So often, the first act Christmas party is just a gathering of well-dressed and well-behaved guests, leaving all the antics and attention to Herr Drosselmeyer, the eccentric toymaker (here danced by Charles Paquette) who carves a special gift for Clara, a nutcracker. But in Culpo's version, each guest arrives with a dash of something special — gentility, fussiness, exasperation. It's fun to watch how they all intersect as the night moves on.
The set designs by Carl Sprague, unveiled in 2000, are still some of the most beautiful seen — an elegant drawing room for Herr and Frau Silberhaus, a wintery countryside for the Snow Forest and a palatial classical European garden for the Kingdom of Sweets.
Aside from all that, the dancing is good. Among the most engaging is Lisa McBride who enchants in the Arabian dance, Ruslan Sprauge who thrills in the Russian trepak, Allegra Holland who is vibrant as Dew Drop and Danny Gonzalez who is a twirling marvel as the Cavalier.
There was one oddity on Saturday afternoon. The music, and therefore the dancing, for the Sugarplum Fairy's solo was cut short, and the fairy herself, danced by Danielle Troyano, appeared tired. Let's hope she recovers before Sunday's encore performance at The Egg.
ABB's 47th annual tour of "The Nutcracker" ends on Dec. 18 in Springfield, Mass. at Symphony Hall.