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REVIEW: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Nutcracker' dancers exquisitely captivating in Christmas story

| Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 3:42 a.m.
Rich Sofranko
Christine Schwaner plays Marie and Alexandre Silva is the Nutcracker in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker' December 2013
Rich Sofranko
Christine Schwaner played Marie in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker' in December 2013.

The many elements that make “The Nutcracker” an enchanting joy were on full display at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's afternoon performance Dec. 7: Beautiful individual and ensemble dancing, and the inspired music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, brought the story of a magical Christmas eve to life.

The production by the ballet's artistic director, Terrence Orr, debuted in 2002 and is set in Pittsburgh to add to the immediacy for young and old alike. The sets and costumes are colorful and well-varied. Performances continue through Dec. 29.

Alexandra Kochis was captivating as young Marie, whose dreams of dance and romance are fulfilled during the evening. The exhilaration she feels when she receives pointe shoes as a present near the start of the ballet is vividly expressed in many ways, including by the speed of her legs and feet. This is a young lady ready for those shoes. She wears them in the party scene that follows, and when her younger brother tugs on the back of her skirt, she moves backward on pointe.

Yoshiaki Nakano's performance as the Nephew and as the Nutcracker showed why he deserved to be promoted to soloist this season. He cut a fine figure as the Nephew, with sterling technique and beautiful, clean lines. He also conveyed the range of his character's emotions, from uncertainty as he approached Marie for the first time to joy when they are a couple.

He comes to the party with uncle Drosselmeyer, who is played with plenty of personality by Stephen Hadala. His many magic tricks are very well-realized in Orr's production. The biggest is transforming his Nephew into the Nutcracker, one of Drosselmeyer's life-size animated toys that are a hit at the party. Later in the first act, the Nutcracker is transformed back into human form to be Marie's handsome prince.

“The Nutcracker” has a huge cast. In the first act, they are mostly individual roles at the party. Some of these roles stand out more than others, such as Robert Moore's Grandfather, who leads the children in hip, angular dancing no one associates with the elderly.

At the end of the first act, Amanda Cochrane's elegance and impeccable timing made her enchanting as the Snow Queen. Her able partner was Alejandro Diaz as the Snow King.

The second act is mainly a series of characteristic dances, called Divertissement, presented for the delight of Marie and her Prince. The Waltz of the Flowers is one of the big ensemble pieces and is followed by national dances for smaller groups. The Spanish dance is for six dancers, the Chinese features two dancers with others moving the paper dragon, and the Russian is a lively trio. Christine Schwaner and Nurlan Abougaliev were excellent in the sensuous Arabian dance.

Julia Erickson and Alexandre Silva gave glittering performances as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier. They were superb partners in the Grand Pas de Deux, and showed off delightful technique in their individual variations.

Dozens of children and teens from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School add special charm to this ballet, including in the second act as bumblebees, sheep and especially clowns.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of “The Nutcracker” will be repeated at 7 p.m. Dec. 13, 20 and 27; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 14, 21 and 28; noon and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 8, 15, and 22; 7 p.m. Dec. 19, 23 and 26; noon, Dec. 29; and at an autism-friendly performance 2 p.m. Dec. 27 at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

Admission is $25.75 to $96.75. 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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