2014 Review from the Buffalo News
As a result of another amazing year of the Nutcracker production, the Buffalo News delivered a rave review of the performance which can be viewed below.
I first saw "The Nutcracker" performed live more than 30 years ago, and my hazy recollection of that elementary school auditorium performance could be summarized in two words - creepy mice.
Suffice it to say, a lot has changed in three decades, chiefly my appreciation for one of the greatest holiday tales of all time.
The American Academy of Ballet brings its version of "The Nutcracker" to the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts this weekend, and those who bypassed holiday shopping for a few hours were treated to a magical afternoon of dance.
By now, you know the story: a Christmas Eve long ago, a family celebrating the trimming of the tree, and then young Clara (Emily Fretz) is given a nutcracker and drifts off to sleep before taking the audience on a magical adventure in her imagination.
There is so much to love about "The Nutcracker," and about this version in particular. Award-winning dancer Misa Kuranaga is absolutely breathtaking as the Sugar Plum Fairy. For every little girl in the audience with a burning desire to one day become a ballerina, Kuranaga fans the flames with a performance that is absolutely mesmerizing.
Joining her to headline the talented cast is New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Daniel Ulbricht (the Mouse King and Cavalier). Together, the two close out the show with a series of dances, both together and solo, that on Saturday drew a thunderous applause from the full house. The power and precision with which they both dance is matched only by the grace with which they effortlessly glide across the stage - the crowd hanging on their every pirouette.
But lets not rush things; the beauty of this story begins back in the living room of the Stahlbaum family.
Director Maris Battaglia has her hands full. She is charged with bringing together dancers from a half-dozen local studios, blending them with the immensely talented students of the American Academy of Ballet, and dropping in the star power of Kuranaga and Ulbricht. It could be a recipe for chaos or one for brilliance onstage, and under Battaglia's tutelage, the latter is the case.
Act 1 is made unforgettable thanks, in part, to the famed snowflake dance. There is something amazing about two-dozen dancers in white, snow drifting down from the rafters, dancing to hauntingly powerful, timeless music. Kudos as well to Philip Wackerfuss, who offers a nice turn as the sinisterly spooky Herr Drosselmeyer.
But Act 2 is where this production really finds its legs and soars. Opening to heavenly angels, the audience is treated to perhaps the best example of the three strengths of this performance - a beautifully intricate set, gorgeous costumes and, of course, a talented troupe of dancers.
As the slumbering Clara takes us on a world tour, with stops in Holland, China, Spain and France, each dancer seems determined to outshine those who came before, an increasingly difficult task given the talent on stage.
The scene that takes the cake - or better yet, the candy cane - is a visit to Santa's workshop at the North Pole. You'll love watching the smiles on their faces and the spring in their steps as these young and dancers let loose with a high-energy, whimsical performance, set to a jazz-infused version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
Living in an age of 24-hour technology and nonstop communication, in a world where the average person speaks between 7,000 and 20,000 words per day, you might be hesitant to take your little ones to a show in which actions - not words - tell the story. Don't be.
"The Nutcracker" will leave them in awe from the opening scene until Clara awakens from her magical journey through dreamland.