By Matt Chandler
For many families, the holiday season isn’t complete without the tradition of storytelling. Families coming together to share in such timeless classics as Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, A Christmas Story, and Miracle on 34th Street, are part of what makes this time of year so special. In that same vein, few tales of Christmas feel as warm and magical as a live presentation of the Tchaikovsky ballet, The Nutcracker.
By now you know the story — it’s Christmas Eve long ago, and the Stahlbaum family is celebrating the trimming of the tree when young Clara (Claire Cullen) is gifted with a nutcracker from her wonderfully creepy Godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer (with Phillip Wackerfuss reprising his role brilliantly). But the true magic begins when Clara drifts off to sleep and the Nutcracker (and friends) come to life … at least in Clara’s dreamy imagination.
There is so much to love about the Nutcracker, and this version in particular. New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Daniel Ulbricht returns in his role as Cavalier. Joining him this year as a new addition to the cast is Jeanette Delgado, principal dancer with the Miami City Ballet, as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Together, the pair closes out the show with a series of dances, both together and solo, that will leave you in awe.
Ulbricht and Delgado have a wonderful chemistry together, commanding the stage and leaving the audience wanting for more. But let’s not rush things; the journey of The Nutcracker begins long before we meet our principal dancers.
The magic of Act I lies in the opening scene as the family gathers for their Christmas party. The combination of the elegant costumes, the beautifully designed set, and the sparkle of having so many starry-eyed children in the cast will have you yearning to leave your seat and join the Stahlbaum family Christmas celebration.
Following a brief intermission, the slumbering Clara takes us on a world tour, with visits to The North Pole, Under the Sea, and everywhere in between. Along the way the audience is treated to amazing costumes (you won’t want to miss Mother Ginger on your stopover in France), wonderfully rich music, and graceful, elegant dancing.
It would be near-impossible to single-out a high point of this magical production, but if pressed, I might point to the trip to the Land of the Sweets as the, dare I say, sweetest moments of the show. From the gumball dancers to the dancing bakers, from the candy canes to the Baby Bon Bons, it is pure joy the likes of which you’ll rarely get to see on stage.
Director Maris Battaglia once again has her hands full. Blending together the talents of dancers’ from nine different local studios, with students of The American Academy of Ballet, as well as the principal dancers, might seem impossible. But Battaglia makes it look effortless with a production that shines in every scene.
That being said, it really is the children that make The Nutcracker so magical. Whether it is young Clara and her brother Fritz (Paige Kerr) or any of the dozens of other youngsters gracing the stage, they infuse the production with such a wonderful energy and feeling of hope and happiness. From the tiny mice dancers to the adorable flower pot toddlers and the Sugar Plum babies, the show’s youngest performers will melt your heart.
The result for the audience is a retelling of a classic tale that has plenty of new wrinkles and twists to keep things fresh. And if you are worried you’ll never get your youngsters to sit through a two-hour ballet, I’ll bet you two dozen dancing mice, a troupe of sugar plum fairies, and an acrobatic caped-magician that they will be glue to their seats in wonder of the spectacle brought to the stage by these incredible dancers.
With the Bills facing a tough task at home Sunday, a matinee of The Nutcracker may be a welcome alternative. But if you don’t make it out this year, you’ll want to mark your calendars for the return of The American Academy of Ballet to UB in 2018. You won’t want to miss it.
American Academy of Ballet Presents
UB Center for the Arts
Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 1 p.m.
Tickets are $19.50-$28.50, www.ticketfly.com