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'The Nutcracker' a strong, elegant local production

By David Williams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Olivier Wecxsteen anchored a strong cast in the Charleston Ballet and West Virginia Symphony Orchestra's production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" Friday night at the Clay Center.

Wecxsteen gave Herr Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker's creator and the story's magician of dreams, a mischievous aura and made the character big (helped by a flowing black cape), playful and maybe a bit menacing -- cape again, plus an eye patch. The nerd in me thought of the techno-mages in "Babylon 5."

The choreography by Miguel Campaneria, Radenko Pavlovich and the Charleston Ballet's director, Kim Pauley, was muscular and dynamic while playing to the dancers' strengths.

Costumes by Aggie Feltner, Liza and Becky Turley were eye-catching, conspicuously for the "Russian Dance" and "Waltz of the Flowers."

Oleksandr Vykhrest danced with authority as Drosselmeyer's nephew and the Nutcracker Prince. Rhiannon Turley was a lithe and graceful Clara, the girl who receives the enchanted nutcracker as a Christmas gift from her godfather, Drosselmeyer.

Sheena Madden was all angles and bounce as the ballerina doll and Logan Hillman brought poised stiffness to the soldier doll.

A troop of young dancers made for cute mice and Paul Shannon was fine as their king. Ted Brightwell brought a touch of slapstick as Grandmother.

In the magical fantasy of the second act, Sehyun Jin and Kota Fujishima were dominant as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in the Fairy's dance and in the climactic "Grand Pas de Deux." Hannah Williams and John Michael Abernathy showed great strength and flexibility in the "Arabian Dance."

Toshiki Homma, Catherine McDonald and Siercia O'Brien seemed to dance their "Chinese Dance" above the stage. Peyton Cope, Emma Tinney and Madden were fluid and precise in the "Dance of the Flutes."

Homma, Hillman, David Greenberg, Chang Yuan Lin, Ryan Nussear and Hibiki Tanaka had the evening's "wow" moment with their fleet swirls and leapfrogs in the "Russian Dance."

Brigette Madden danced with elegance as Dewdrop with the company's female dancers in the "Waltz of the Flowers."

Guest conductor Robert Turizziani, who is the orchestra's principal clarinetist and personnel manager, led with an economy of movement, letting the players play. The local orchestra responded with warm and colorful tone, vibrant rhythm and excellent details in texture. (Full disclosure: I work with Turizziani with the West Virginia Youth Symphony and he has also commissioned or premiered a number of my compositions). A missed trumpet note seemed the only mistake.

The ballet has two more performances today at the Clay Center, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.


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