The Nutcracker, A Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory Performance Project

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The Nutcracker
Symphony Space
December 6, 2014 (3 PM matinee)

Dance Conservatory Performance Project
Artistic Director, Valentina Kozlova
Music, P.I. Tchaikovsky
Choreography Act I, Margo Sappington
Staging Act II, Valentina Kozlova

This version of the beloved holiday classic, The Nutcracker, is less a focus on technical brilliance and more a charming family event with a host of young (and very young dancers). I went with two teenage girls, both veterans of other performances including the iconic New York City Ballet version. We agreed that the dancers worked hard and danced their little hearts out and that a huge amount of time and effort, to say nothing of a lot of rehearsals, went into the performance.

“Where is the transition?” one teen asked me. “One minute we’re at the family party and then we’re suddenly in the middle of the mouse battle. For a minute or two I was confused.” She had a good point. Because this presentation caters to relatively inexperienced performers, classic choreography is sometimes swept aside and simpler steps substituted. The same simplicity is true of the sets of which there are two, a backdrop for the  holiday party at the  family home for Act l and another for Act ll’s Land of the Sweets. The scene where Clara dreams in bed while snow falls and we’re swept to the woods isn’t staged as such, hence my companion’s confusion.

“I thought the person who comes to the party with presents was a man,” said the other teen. I explained that gender had been switched to accommodate Margo Sappington, who has morphed into the elegant, imposing Baroness Drossselmeyer.

On the very positive side, the kids are adorable and well-trained right down to the group of prancing reindeer (not part of the 1882 version choreographed by the great Marius Petipa) who would draw smiles from the Grinch himself. So what if some groups of fairies or snow angels don’t quite have their steps down? They’re working hard and are entirely into the show.

Among the standout performances, Mari Bell and Revital Naroditski caught the wind-up toy action of the Ballerina Dolls beautifully while astonishingly young Nikita Boris made a pretty-in-pink Sugar Plum Fairy and her Pas de Deux with her Cavalier had a lot of soul if a few glitches in the lifts. Brecke Swan wrung every inch of Odalisque manner out of the Arabian solo while Caroline Grossman danced a poised, convincing Clara. The costumes, especially those in Act l, are good-looking although the peach and green dresses in one Act ll divertissement were floppy and lent pounds to even the most svelte bodies.

The production relied largely on students from the Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory of New York that trains pre-professional and primary students for professional careers in dance. Everyone involved with this large, thoroughly enjoyable undertaking deserves all the applause – and bouquets – they received.

Mari S. Gold

About Mari S. Gold

Mari S. Gold is a freelance writer who contributes to many magazines and websites. Her blog, But I Digress… , on cultural events, travel, food  and other topics is at www.marigoldonline.net. She lives in New York City.

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