LIVE: The Nutcracker, Keller Auditorium, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

I’ll never be exactly sure why, and I’m not even sure my own mother knows why, but one year, my mother took me to see The Nutcracker. I was maybe 8 at the time, and we went the next two years, because – and I don’t think my mother really counted on it happening – I became somewhat engrossed by the production. I was a strange kid, but ballet was not, for all intents and purposes, “my thing”, at least not at that age. I’m 23 now, and despite having seen it twice more since my childhood, I can’t seem to shake it. I went as far as proposing to my wife during the second act, as the Sugar Plum Fairy was being hoisted above the Cavalier, further cementing it as a true part of my bloodline.

Five years later, we returned to the Keller to take in opening night of the 2013 run of the old classic, and I found, to my surprise, that the Oregon Ballet Theater seemed intent on breathing new life into things. Chalk it up to the dreamlike quality of everything, but I spent a lot of my time unable to shake the feeling that, despite my familiarity, I was watching something completely different. The set seemed much more vibrant, the set dressing proving to be incredibly dazzling, no matter where in the crowd you might have been. Every single performer on stage was on top of their game at all times, giving the feeling that you weren’t just watching people, you were watching a well-oiled machine.

All of the old magic is still there, and then some: the charm of the party scene in Act I isn’t just the children playing, but the fact that, no matter where you lay your eyes, you’ll find other people doing something worth watching. It can prove dizzying, trying to take everything in there – and, really, throughout the entire production – but it’s well worth it. It’s a feeling that has lingered in the background for years now, but the words for it have only finely come to the fore: watching a production of The Nutcracker performed by people who truly feel it in their bones is, once you’re wrapped up in the world, simply hypnotic.

I’ll spare you a long, drawn-out breakdown of just how good everyone was this year, but I’ll condense it down to two observations:

  1. The dancers who play the Cavalier and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Xuan Cheng and Brian Simcoe, respectively) have the most captivating chemistry I’ve seen on a stage in a great while, which will never cease to be amazing, considering the fact that the two never speak to each other.
  2. The man who plays the ever-entertaining Drosselmeyer, Kevin Poe, was downright impossible to look away from. The man’s attention to physical comedy is truly a thing to behold.

Really, my only complaint about the evening I can think of has very little to do with the performance itself, and more to do with the extremely rude man who took it upon himself to mock one of the youngest dancers to his companion, before promptly falling asleep and snoring throughout the entire second act. I’d launch into a tirade about that kind of behavior, but it’s not quite Festivus just yet.

Terrible theatergoer aside, very little could be done to improve the night. The crowd reacted to everything with rapt admiration, and you could tell that the love in the room fed the performance, which is always something truly wonderful to witness.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always been a bit of a grump around the holiday season. It feels like a mark of quality that, despite that grumpiness, a great performance of The Nutcracker can remind me of just how magical the season can be.

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