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PBT's 'Nutcracker' begins its second decade

| Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, 12:54 a.m.
A scene for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Rich Sofranko
A scene for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Rich Sofranko
A scene for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Rich Sofranko

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's lavish production of "The Nutcracker" begins its second decade this season, a continuing example of holiday fare that delights young and old alike. The production by artistic director Terrence Orr sets the action in Pittsburgh.

The Saturday matinee performance at the Benedum Center seemed to have a higher proportion of children than evening performances, which was audibly apparent from their laughter when Grandfather, previously stiff and feeble at the Christmas party in Act I, breaks into contemporary popular dance steps.

That's but one detail in Orr's richly conceived setting of the lengthy party scene. Soloist Eva Trapp dominated the early portion of the party, showing off her new dancing slippers. Her younger brother Fritz, perfectly played by Hanna Chen, of course becomes a problem.

Trapp was a wonderful Marie, danced with precision and excellent time. She was appealing at each stage of her development in the ballet, starting with the joy with which she acted out bits of childhood fables in her room after receiving her slippers as an early Christmas present before the party.

Nicholas Coppula offered a winning account of the Nephew, the Nutcracker and her Prince, also a portrayal which develops during the course of the ballet. He was athletic in solo work and partnered superbly with Marie both in the tentative moments of their initial attraction and more romantically later in their Pas de Deux at the end of the first act.

Drozzelmeyer's magic tricks were confidently presented by Alejandro Diaz. His life-sized animated dolls were well portrayed by Makoto Ono as Columbina, Amanda Cochrane as Columbina, and Nurlan Abougaliev as the Pirate.

The Dance of the Snow Flakes at the end of the act developed from flurries to the full ensemble of women of the corps de ballet. Orr's bold choreography was full of variety and very well performed - except for one dancer who was consistently behind when they were arranged in straight lines rotating around a central point.

Most the second act is a Divertissement for Marie and her Prince. Most impressive Saturday were the Spanish and Arabian Dances, the latter featuring sensuous performances by Christine Schwaner and Nurlan Abougaliev.

The Pas De Deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier in Act II, just before the action returns from the Land of Enchantment to Marie's home, was well danced technically. Julia Erickson's precision of placement and elegance were impressive, as were Alexandre Silva's combination of speed and strength. But the pacing felt slow for these dancers, and was determined by a recording made long ago.

Given how well the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Orchestra played in "Giselle" under music director Charles Barker earlier this season, it was a reminder that the ballet should restore live music for "The Nutcracker."

Orr's multiple casting for this season's run of this ballet provided many delights during the Saturday matinee. It not only highlights the depth of talent in the company's roster of dancers, it also helps develop it.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of "The Nutcracker" will be repeated at 7 p.m. Friday, and Dec. 21 and 28; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, and Dec. 22 and 29; noon and 4:30 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 23; and noon Dec. 30. Admission is $22.75 to $95.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or www.pbt.org.

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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