The annual Anchorage Concert Association presentation of "The Nutcracker" has the same workaday sets, gorgeous costumes and basic plot nuances we've seen before in this production by Oregon's Eugene Ballet Co. But the show had an air of energy that went beyond the familiar this year. The reason: terrifically athletic dancing by the Oregon professionals.
The first show on Friday featured winning Yoshie Oshima as Clara, the girl who falls in love with a toy soldier and has a dream (or is it a dream?) about it. Her Nutcracker Prince was danced by Reed Souther, who also had the part of the nephew of the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer who gives Clara the doll.
Hans, the nephew, is usually a small part, one splash of color in Tchaikovsky's fantastic mural. But in this show the sparks between Hans and Clara were made clear in the beginning, which made him more important and made transformation into her hero more convincing. (It's also much closer to the original story.)
Oshima and Souther were outstanding in their connectivity, coordination and energy. Yuki Beppu and Hirofumi Kitazume were even more amazing as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Beppu was en pointe almost the entire time and Kitazume's multiple lifts were always clean.
The small solo parts, including the Mouse King (Cory Betts, substituting for Antonio Anacan), Jack-in-the-Box, Mechanical Doll, and Arabian dancers, showed a high degree of athleticism, spending a lot of time in the air. But not all the performers were from the Lower 48.
Local dancer Kali Dey was equally airborne as Clara's trouble-making brother, Fritz. Alone with the baby mice, angels, soldiers, gingerbread children and lion dancers (the Lion Dance is an add-on in this production), Anchorage-area dancers were also featured in the "Waltz of the Flowers."
The Anchorage Symphony, conducted by Brian McWhorter, has sounded better than it did Friday afternoon. It's said musicians weary of music they play year after year, but it's Tchaikovsky, for crying out loud. It needs heart and as much attention as you'd put into Tchaikovsky's disciple, Mahler.
However, the choreography in this show is carefully timed to the music and the dancers were careful to match the beat. It made for several breathtaking moments, such as the climax of the grand pas de deux.
I still miss the growing Christmas Tree in Act One, but the Eugene production's replacement of that scene with an ominous pirate ship and strobe lights is also pretty effective. And a number of small touches made the show a lot of fun to watch.
But the main fun came from watching a strenuous and polished execution by dancers who were committed to selling their roles.
THE NUTCRACKER will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday in Atwood Concert Hall. Tickets are available at centertix.net.