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Review: New details keep Pittsburgh Ballet's 'Nutcracker' fresh

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Monday, Dec. 5, 2011

Theatrical evergreens need the constant attention of a loving gardener to maintain their freshness.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's artistic director, Terrence S. Orr, introduced his locally themed version of "The Nutcracker" in 2002. In it, the story of Marie's magical Christmas Eve begins and ends in Shadyside, and takes in the vista from Mt. Washington on the way to the Land of Enchantment, where most of the second act takes place.

Orr tweaks the production every season, and gains further variety from the combinations of his rotating casts. "The Nutcracker" certainly worked its charms at the noon performance on Sunday at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

Two members of the company stepped up to leading roles on Sunday. Amanda Cochrane, a member of the corps de ballet, was adorable as Marie, combining youthful emotions in her pantomime with energy and finesse in her dancing. Luca Sbrizzi, who advanced to soloist from the corps this season, was impressive in the dual role of Marie's nephew and the Nutcracker.

Orr brought new elements to nearly the entire first act. The details of children at play were the initial life of the party, hosted by Marie's parents, although the Grandfather's surprisingly hip dance -- as danced by Joseph Parr -- was a highlight, too.

New strategy and tactics were at play in the battle between toy soldiers and mice and rats that starts at midnight, when everyone but Marie is in bed. Sunday's performance had a large roster of child dancers. The little toy soldiers moved in some massed formations, but of course, victory was achieved when Marie distracts the Rat King to allow the Nutcracker to strike the fatal blow.

The battle won, Marie and the Nutcracker begin their journey. Principal dancers Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski brought flair and maturity to their roles of the Snow Queen and Snow King near the end of the act.

The Dance of the Snowflakes, which ends the act, was new elegant choreography, more formal than the swirling version seen last season.

The entertainments in The Land of Enchantment in Act 2 are for Marie and her beau, all under a lit carousel. The Waltz of the Flowers featured cute little bees danced by children, as in past seasons.

The six characteristic dances of The Divertissement feature brilliantly colorful costumes in different styles, including a dragon in the Chinese Dance. Nicholas Copula, Joseph Parr and Yoshiaki Nakano brought splendid energy to the Russian Dance. Nakano was also superb as Mr. McTavish in Act 1. Julia Erickson and Alexandre Silva were the sensuous pair for the Arabian Dance.

The Grand Pas de Deux for the Sugarplum Fairy, Elysa Hotchkiss, and Sugarplum Cavalier, Alejandro Diaz, featured strong variations for each dancer. The end of the coda boasted three perfectly judged poses for the final chords.

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



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