Dance Review: Nashville's Nutcracker
November 21st, 2018
By Chad Young
Now in its ninth year, Nashville Ballet's beloved holiday production brings magical child-like charm and wonder to all ages.
Nashville Ballet presents:
Nashville's Nutcracker (Dec. 3 - 23; All ages)
TPAC's Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 • nashvilleballet.com
Remaining show times: Dec. 10, 17, 18 & 22 at 2 & 7 p.m.; Dec. 11, 21 & 23 at 2 p.m.; Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $28 - $89
Nashville Ballet celebrates the most wonderful time of the year with the ninth season of its family-favorite holiday tradition, Nashville's Nutcracker, with the Nashville Symphony providing Tchaikovsky's magnificent musical backdrop.
For the uninitiated, and for families new to Nashville this year, Nashville Ballet's version of this holiday tale has a definitive local twist while maintaining all the classic components that you'll recognize if you're familiar with a traditional Nutcracker production. The local influence comes by way of the story's setting during the Tennessee Centennial Exposition at Nashville's Parthenon in 1897. Other scenes with local roots include Shelby Bottoms, the Parthenon Garden, Clara's home fashioned after the Belle Meade Mansion and the presence of Andrew Jackson with his cavalry.
One of the most unique aspects about Nashville's Nutcracker is Nashville Ballet's inclusion of many children in the cast, and this year boasts the biggest youth representation ever — 251 local kids rotate through different casts during the run of the ballet; each performance features between 60 - 75 kids. In keeping with Nashville Ballet's mission to build community, a portion of the youth cast is made up of local, everyday kids from the Middle Tennessee area who auditioned for roles this past fall. They share the stage with children who are students in the School of Nashville Ballet along with the company's professional dancers.
The children in the youth cast perform roles including party goers at Clara's home, mice, Native Americans, frontier soldiers, Andrew Jackson's cavalry, garden fairies, Russian dolls and lambs. The kids add an undeniable spark to the production, infusing it with much whimsy and charm that effervesces off the stage. It's certainly a great experience for them, and it's a lot of fun for their peers to watch them from the audience. The Battle Scene in Act I with the mice remains a tried-and-true favorite. (Side note: In case you're wondering why the kids aren't part of the curtain call at the end of the show, with the exception of Clara, it's because of logistics; the stage is too small to accommodate the entire cast, and the kids from Act 1 are typically in the audience with their parents for Act II).
The most notable young person on the stage throughout the show is Annie Cater as Clara. Her excitement to play this role is obvious, and she brings pure youthful joy to the ballet (two other girls alternate the role during the run of the show).
Nashville's Nutcracker is a show filled with much Christmas magic as well as a nice dose of eye-popping sleight-of-hand magic and illusions, too, which Judson Veach executes with expert skill as Clara's mystical uncle, Drosselmeyer. Veach dazzles young and old alike with a huge amount of dramatic flair, proving to be a standout talent in the show.
Despite a couple of missteps with the Snow Queen and King (Katie Vasiloupolos and Jon Upleger, respectively), Act I's ending Snow Scene featuring a dozen snowflake dancers is an audience favorite as the dancers beckon the falling snow onto the stage before Clara is whisked away to the magical kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy in Act II.
The second act opens with the colorful Parthenon Garden scene where the Dew Drop Fairy (Mollie Sansone) and Nutcracker Prince (Brett Sjoblom) prove to be a delightful pairing as they dance a beautiful waltz for Clara.
One of the most memorable parts of Nashville's Nutcracker is entering the vibrant, enchanting world where the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kayla Rowser) and her Cavalier (Christopher Stuart) invite Clara to experience their friends from various lands like the Spanish, Chinese and Russian dancers, the Snake Charmer and Snake Lady from Persia, the Swiss Shepherd and Shepherdess and their little lambs, and Madame Bonbonniere with her bon bons from France. Each sequence exudes a lot of energy and excitement, with exemplary performances by Rowser and Julia Eisen (Snake Lady).
Nashville Ballet certainly maintains its oomph with this annual production, and it's fun to see the new elements different dancers bring to their roles each subsequent year. For me, experiencing Nashville's Nutcracker each year remains the official signal that the Christmas season and all its festivities are in full swing!
More about: Chad Young
Chad Young is managing editor & entertainment editor for this publication.