Anna Jankowski from the School of the Arts at the National Museum of Dance as the Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker." (Blackburn Photography)
But outside of a metropolitan area, finding a “Nutcracker” that is worthy of one’s dime can be difficult to find. Many ballet school versions can often bring on more winces than smiles.
That is not the case with the School of the Arts at the National Museum of Dance’s production, which was a pleasant surprise. While the lighting options at the Trombley Auditorium at the Maple Avenue Middle School in Wilton were limited and the sets and backdrops were either nonexistent or underdone, the dancing was delightful.
Better still the costumes were sparkling and the choreography by Joan Anderson, Christie Handley, William Otto and Cristine Santos was engaging – thus making for an entertaining Sunday afternoon.
This is the school’s first full-length “Nutcracker.” For several years, it has staged Act II of the Tchaikovsky ballet only. Thus it’s understandable why the scenes for the first act were stripped down. The Staulbaum’s drawing room was downsized to a divan, a grandfather clock and the magic growing Christmas tree, the latter being essential. The snowy forest, unfortunately, had no snow.
My hope is, as the years go by, the school can add to it theatrical illusions with more and better production values.
What this version does have are some finely trained dancers. As Clara, Hannah Barber was mature with a beautifully developed port de bras, not something one sees frequently in a dancer her age.
And it wasn’t just Barber. So many of the young dancers were lovely. Leama Devincenzo who led the Spanish dancers was electrifying to watch. The spring in her step, though a little loud because her pointe shoes were not fully broken in, was spirited and joyful.
Sophia Olechowski in the Arabian divertissement was luscious to watch as she melted into backbends and oozed exotic.
Though I missed the snow that usually accompanies Clara’s stroll through the forest, the dancing in this scene was also wonderful. Sam Epstein and Anna Jankowski were well matched and in tune in the snow pas de deux. And the snow flurries and flakes were equally enchanting as they swirled and swooped across the stage.
However, Epstein, who doubled as the Cavalier, did not fare as well with his Sugarplum Fairy Alexandra Nicolaus. Their grande pas de deux was a little off because they were either too tense or early on the music. Both managed better when they were dancing alone.
It was also wonderful to see Otto once again take the stage as Herr Drosselmeyer, the quirky toymaker. The former New York City Ballet dancer owned the role, and others like it, for a time. It was nice to see him once again bring the mischievous character to life.
With a little more cash to bolster the scenery and snow, this version is headed to be a perennial favorite for those in and around Saratoga Springs.