At the Scottish Rite Cathedral Dec. 21-22, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker unfolded as a child caught in the excitement of Christmas with its mystery, fantasy and worldliness as a party transforms into a journey and safe return. The Indianapolis School of Ballet presented its premiere production close to the original 1892 Maryinsky Theater premiere of the ballet, which evoked St. Petersburg with its inherent theatricality interwoven with solemnity.
This same embracing of place brought applause from the audience as curtains parted to scenic designer C. David Higgins’ stunning replica of the Morris-Butler House parlor. The essence of Indianapolis at that time heightened with guests, in Loukia Finale’s exquisite late 1860s attire, mirroring social customs and attitudes of the era. Food and drink were served. We were guests invited into our imagination, all senses engaged.
In his 1954 Nutcracker, Balanchine brought to New York City Ballet his St. Petersburg childhood memory version of majesty mixed with awe. In turn, IBS founding artistic director Victoria Lyras brought her memory of “emerging as the first little girl out of Mother Ginger’s skirt” in a subsequent Balanchine production.
Childhood in unbridled delight tempered by darkness permeated the IBS production in all aspects. Guest artist Paul Vitali balanced Herr Drosselmeyer between a loving uncle and a maker of magic. Hannah Rosenfeld’s Clara played off this duality while Abraham Fiore as a rambunctious Fritz was a perfect counterpoint — not mean spirited, simply a child being a child. And herein lies the truth of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original 1816 story of a party and a dream: serious stuff as a fairy tale.
Dancers floated within James Leitner’s elliptically layered lighting design, brightness shimmering out of darkness. At the party, adults from Riolo Dance executed familiar German folk dance while children personified spontaneity, following the leader.
When Clara returns to the shadow-filled parlor, finds the mended nutcracker and falls asleep on the sofa, her dream of sadness and sweets comes alive, characters in groups and singularly performing and ultimately swirling into recapitulation, returning Clara to the sofa and us to our seats.
IBS students and guest artists performed engaging choreography with grace and verve.