Under the artistic direction of Robert Mills, Oklahoma City Ballet's annual production of “The Nutcracker” just gets better and better. The company dancers are stronger and more accomplished each year, while it seems that even the ballet itself grows, much like the magical Christmas tree in Act 1.
This year, Mills has made some changes to the production, enough to keep things interesting while retaining all of the charm and comfort of a ballet so strongly associated with the holiday season.
Perhaps the most significant change was having a company dancer play the role of Clara, which has traditionally gone to a young ballet student. Opening night's Clara was Callye McCollum, a petite dancer originally from Peru who has been with the company since 2006. McCollum radiated youthful joy throughout the evening, first at the Christmas party, then dancing with her Nutcracker Prince in two pas de deux later in the ballet.
Mills also added a first act character, Hans, an apprentice to Drosselmeyer, who appears at the party and is later transformed into the Nutcracker Prince. Tye Love danced this role opening night and was suitably gallant and chivalrous dancing with Clara during the snow scene in a pas de deux that replaced that of the Snow King and Queen. While this reviewer rather missed the traditional Snow pas de deux, McCollum's sheer exuberance was enchanting.
The corps de ballet Snowflakes were splendid, and the lush sets and sparkling white tutus seen through the gently falling snow were a breathtaking finish to the first act. With a small company such as the Oklahoma City Ballet, dancers perform multiple roles, meaning that most of the Snowflakes also have solo roles elsewhere in the ballet. Watching them perform is, in fact, seeing a group of soloists and principal dancers onstage together.
As Clara and her Nutcracker Prince arrived in the Kingdom of Sweets, they were greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy (Miki Kawamura) and her Cavalier (Yui Sato). Mills puts their solo variations at the beginning of the second act, which was a little like having dessert first.
Gracious and inviting, Kawamura's exquisite control and delicacy of movement made the difficult variation look light and airy as a favorite confection. Sato leaped across the stage and ended his variation with multiple pirouettes in suitable bravura style.
The second act variations flowed across the stage, from the fiery Spanish dancers to the sensuous Arabian pas de deux. The Marzipans, led by Grace Medaugh, were precise and elegant, while the ever popular Russian dancers entertained with their jumps and turns.
In another departure from tradition, Mills had Clara and the Nutcracker Prince dance a pas de deux intertwined with the corps de ballet during the Waltz of the Flowers, taking the place of the Dew Drop Fairy. The finale of the second act was the pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, which concluded with a virtuosic display of fouettes by Kawamura and pirouettes by Sato.
No review of “The Nutcracker” can be complete without mentioning the children, and as always, they were charming. From Party Children to Bon Bons, each year they seem to be technically more capable.
During the first act battle scene, Mills made a casting choice guaranteed to captivate and amuse the audience by introducing the tiniest child in the production as a plump little white mouse who spent a delightful moment chasing Clara in circles around the stage.
Accompanied by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, the Oklahoma City Ballet's “The Nutcracker” is not to be missed. It's a perfect way for the whole family to experience the beauty of ballet and the joy of the holiday season.
— Kathleen Redwine
• When: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.