By Claudia Dafrico
One of the sad truths of 2015 is the fact that it has become more and more difficult to find Atlanta traditions that have been around for longer than 20 or so years. For a city with so many beloved institutions, a good number of them have shut their doors or faded into obscurity in recent years. This is certainly not the case for the Atlanta Ballet’s annual production of THE NUTCRACKER, which is entering its 56th year of performances. One may be likely to think that the many years behind this Christmas mainstay would lead it to be stale and outdated, but the opposite could not be more true. The Atlanta Ballet’s NUTCRACKER is just as fresh and exciting as it was 56 years ago, and is a performance that should not be missed by anyone who considers themselves a true Atlantan.
Opening night was nothing short of packed, with attendees ranging from toddlers to grandparents out in their finest Christmas garb. Simply sitting in the audience prior to showtime was an experience in and of itself: the painted backdrop hanging onstage is breathtaking in its intricacy, and the warm, intricate design of the Fox only adds to the serene atmosphere. The audience, buzzing with anticipation, began to cheer and whisper as Drosselmeyer took the stage.
Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s original score is brought to life with help from the Atlanta Ballet orchestra, and the story of a young girl and her enchanted nutcracker doll is given a slight update to help the familiar tale remain fresh and engaging. Artistic director John McFall made the choice to age up the protagonist from a pre-teen girl to a young woman, and she subsequently plays a more active role in the action surrounding her. (Many readers will recall how her defeat of the Rat King usually involves her throwing a slipper at his head. In 2015, she
wields a sword instead). The setting of this production, which is typically a generic European Christmas of centuries past, is now set firmly in 1850s Russia, and the beautiful, elaborate costumes of the party guests in the first act show how much time and research the set designers and costumers took in bringing McFall’s vision to life. As the story progresses, the stage is transformed into a Winter Wonderland, complete with snow for the audience, and only becomes more charming from that point on.
The performances of the dancers itself are so breathtaking that it is almost hard to put into words. Each performer, no matter how large or small the role, gives it their all, and there was not a weak link to be seen. Old favorites, such as the Trepak dancers and the Mother Matrushka, make appearances, much to the audience’s delight. The dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, as performed by Rachel Van Buskirk and Christian Clark, might just be the greatest ballet performance this writer has ever witnessed in her life. Buying tickets for THE NUTCRACKER is worth it just to see this number alone. It is seriously that good.
An astounding cast, intricately beautiful sets and costumes, and a unique take on a classic tale all come together perfectly in Atlanta Ballet’s 2015 production of THE NUTCRACKER. If you’re looking to experience both a piece of Atlanta history and a ballet production unlike any other, be sure to get your tickets to THE NUTCRACKER sooner than later.