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.
Kris Seto intrigues in his "The Tip of the Tongue" at the University Art Museum at the University at Albany. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)
Striving — we all do it. For money, for security, for recognition.
But what happens for the Asian-Americans who aspire? Or for that matter, any others who can’t easily blend into white America hegemony?
That is the question that dance artist Kris Seto posed on Thursday night in their site-specific “The Tip of the Tongue” at the University Art Museum at the University at Albany. In the solo dance, performed in the museum and amongst the neon art sculptures of Michelle Young Lee, Seto was a tortured soul, compelled to sell themselves in a world that gives preferential treatment to one’s own.
The dance is brief, just 25 minutes, but it wastes no time, immediately proclaiming to the small audience that this journey is thwarted by an invisible hand.
First appearing on the balcony of the museum, Seto is dressed in an exaggerated business casual shirt and tie (one so wide it covers half their chest). Red paint accented their eyes, perhaps signaling an awakening.
They (preferred pronoun) picked up a brief case and began to walk forward. But as they did, they are thrown back, their limbs in a tumbling tangle, again and again and again.
When able to stand still, they looked down at the audience in a stiff plea. They let loose a silent scream and then their hand gnarled into claws before they stepped down the staircase to the floor unimpeded. Yet any move back up the stairs was a struggle. The symbolism was clear.
When Soto presented themselves to the audience, seated near Lee’s trio of neon art — a Hello Kitty giving the bird, a plastic bag with an electric red Thank You, and a hand with a rose that hides a fist — they was vulnerable.
The closeness to the audience broke the fourth wall. Soto was in our world, we, in theirs and they used it, looking directly into our eyes as a way to demand we saw the humanity.
They then opened their briefcase and a light emitted forth like a pot of gold. They pulled from there a bag of candy that they tore open and tossed about, showering the audience and even massaging their chest with the packets. But clearly, it was for show. The candy man was tortured, spreading sweetness to dull an empty slavery of feeding consumerism.
After suspending themselves upside down, they then slipped away, an unappreciated, but temporarily seen voyager.
I like this thoughtful piece and I love the title “The Tip of the Tongue” too. It indicated something there but momentarily unattainable. Perhaps there was to be a message of hope here — strivers may eventually thrive.