City Ballet’s Lovely “Nutcracker” Makes Me Want More

Erica Alvarado as Clara (Saturday matinee cast).
Photo: Anna Scipione

The 104-year-old Spreckels Theatre with its sumptuous Baroque interior is hands-down the top venue in San Diego for “The Nutcracker,” the Victorian-era Christmas ballet. And that’s not the only reason to catch the production by City Ballet of San Diego, running at the Spreckels through December 23.

City Ballet’s superb “Nutcracker” features bravura dancing by the principals, sets and costumes created with loving detail (acquired from Nevada Ballet Theatre), and a decent orchestra playing the Tchaikovsky score. Choreographer Elizabeth Wistrich varies the steps and/or staging each year, so it doesn’t get stale. And, in the well-drilled corps de ballet, I particularly noticed the uniformly lovely hands, fingers extended but relaxed.

In Friday’s opening-night cast, Erica Alvarado was a radiant Sugar Plum Fairy—quick, precise, joyous. She was thrillingly partnered by Ryosuke Ogura in a pas de deux that featured a meltingly beautiful adagio and multiple full-press overhead lifts. (Most of the major roles have rotating casts.)

City Ballet casts an adult dancer as Clara, and Karin Yamada, wearing virginal pink and doing a fetching dance as Herr Drosselmeyer (Kevin Engle) “played” the violin, nicely suggested the ballet’s erotic undertones. I do wish Wistrich had kept more of the deep squats (like a second position plié, but with an earthy, folk-dance feel) of  previous years, that picked up on the notes of chaos in the party scene score.

Geoff Gonzalez as the Nutcracker Prince joined Yamada for a charming Kingdom of the Snow pas de deux. Though a couple of lifts looked a little tenuous, Gonzalez was a dashing prince. He was also delightful as a tipsy Herr Stahlman in the party scene.

In the character dances in Act II, Megan Jacobs and Brian Heil stood out with a sinuous “Arabian.” Gonzalez joined Lucas Ataide for a Russian dance with power turns versus Cossack leaps, though Ataide came through with the classic trepak in the finale.

Ariana Gonzalez and Sean Rollofson (matinees)
Photo: Gary St. Martin

And Ariana Gonzalez was a regal, high-leaping Rose in “Waltz of the Flowers.” (She and Sean Rollofson alternate with Alvarado and Ogura in the lead roles.)

This year’s City Ballet “Nutcracker” is as good as ever … and that leaves me wanting more. I’d like every character dance and featured role to be equally strong. And City Ballet has always had the ballet-school kids take a back seat to the pros, but there seemed to be more kids this year, and it made for a muddy second act opening. The City Ballet Orchestra has improved over the years, and conductor John Nettles was moving as vigorously as the dancers. There were still some musical clunkers, though, in particular an earthbound celesta for the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance.

I’ve watched City Ballet of San Diego progress one small step at a time. I’m eager to see this company make a grand jeté to the next level.

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