Tag Archive: Nutcracker


Photo by John Beane

Insurgo Theater Movement debuted a new version of what is becoming a classic tragicomedy clown “Nutcracker” Dec. 19-Jan. 7 at the Plaza, this year including two glib, flightless birds as protagonists.

The show opens witha a strategically lit set made of plastic, draped and stapled to the back of the stage. A frosty, arctic climate is the setting, as it turns out; a white stage and two waddling penguins (Michelle Meyer and Melanie Ash) confirm the locale.

Comical exchanges between the birds comprise the bulk of the show, but it is no less poignant because of this. Sweetness abounds, and the appearance of a dashingly dressed — and superbly acted — Nutcracker (Brandon Oliver Jones) provides yet another avenue for wordless warm fuzzies.

The plot itself is Insurgo nuance at its best. A Nutcracker mysteriously appears in an enormous gift-wrapped box and decks out a chilly set with Christmas cheer. Penguins cavort, Santa’s jolly offstage presence is implied and, especially for an offbeat production, the show ends optimistically.

However, stealthily woven throughout the plot is a thread of references to such issues as overfishing and ocean pollution. Suffice it to say that a hungry penguin gnawing on a plastic bottle isn’t 100 percent funny, and it probably wasn’t intended to be. It’s clear that director John Beane and assistant director Daneal Doerr have some big topics on their minds, but this does little to dampen the whimsy of the show.

From a choreographic standpoint, “The Insurgo Nutcracker” is spot-on. Clutzy, cuddling penguins carom around the small stage, bumbling into each other, the  Nutcracker and various inanimate objects. The effect is darling and makes for  most entertaining versions of “Nutcracker” classics like “Waltz of the Flowers” and the snow scene from George Balanchine’s original. And with a 40-minute running time, the production is accessible to all but the most staunch of Scrooges.

Needless to say, this might not make the list for balletomanes. However, for the rest of us, “The Insurgo Nutcracker” warrants recognition as a holiday tradition in the making. Sugarplum is nice, but until you’ve seen a pique-turning penguin in a tutu, you have yet to witness the full embodiment of “sweet.”

“During this Christmas season, from the early days of December until mid-January, London is clogged, blighted, with stagings of The Nutcracker.” It is a state of affairs which would seem ludicrous were it not so artistically stultifying, and so horridly typical of artistic policies and artistic funding.”

So writes Clement Crisp in the Financial Times. He elaborates on this statement throughout the article, citing the myriad productions of the holiday standby and total potential theater capacities (250,000 audience members, by his reckoning) as evidence. Inertia rules, as he puts it, and even if you’re a sugarplum addict, his article is worth a read. Find the full version here.

What are your thoughts on Nutcracker traditions? Is the production perfect as a classic or in need of some reworking? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Nevada Ballet Theatre crowned its year of milestones on Dec. 17-24 with a version of the “Nutcracker” that was a sweet sip of tradition and contemporary creativity. This year, the company turned 40, the “Nutcracker” tradition turned 30 and this year marked NBT’s third year performing at Paris Las Vegas. Don’t let the long history fool you, though. Artistic director James Canfield’s partnerships with choreographers like Ballet Idaho’s Peter Anastos contributes to the progressive feel of classic works like “The Nutcracker.”

Anastos was the choreographic brain behind this year’s production and his whimsical movement, while not vintage “Nutcracker,” somehow suited the Las Vegas aura. Holly Madison of “Peepshow” at Planet Hollywood also had a brief cameo in a matinee performance. Balletomanes might be cringing, but it’s hard to argue with something that makes a classical ballet more approachable to a wide audience.

As a whole, the ballet fit the bill as a sugary-sweet holiday confection. Warm pantomime set the scene in the first act, with children carrying garlands and gifts madly dashing around decked-out adults. An air of geniality mantled the party scene and the exuberant academy students lent a rosy glow.

Marcus Bugler as Herr Drosselmeyer was wisely cast; his effervescent animation of the magician was infectious as he ushered the children and the plot along. Josue Calderon and Betsy Lucas as Fritz and Clara, respectively, embodied bubbly excitement admirably. The brief pas de deux between Clara and Preston Swovelin’s Nutcracker Doll in the first act was delightfully sweet and sincere.

Leigh Hartley’s Ballerina Doll would have been the perfect object of a young girl’s affection, blowing kisses and tottering about. The Mouse Doll, danced by Ariel Triunfo, was spunky and precise, eliciting laughs from the audience in short order. The battle scene, populated as it was by munchkins in mice costumes, continued the adorable ambience.

The Snow King and Queen, danced by Grigori Arakelyan and Leigh Hartley, amplified the dreamlike nature of Anastos’ choreography. Hartley’s airy suspension suited the role, although the multitude of partnered penches left the audience with an inkling that Hartley could do more — with one of her exemplary side extensions, perhaps. Nonetheless, the delicately falling snow was another Las Vegas Easter egg and the frosty royalty, accompanied by flurries of Snowflakes, concluded the first act well.

The Kingdom of Sweets, enchanting as it is, was further exemplified by Anastos’ playful choreography. Sarah Fuhrman’s pert Sugarplum and Amy Von Handorf’s Arabian variation stood out as especially fresh, and Jeremy Bannon-Neches as a grandiose Cavalier was a strong complement. While purists might dispute the contemporary riffs, the modifications were refreshing for a ballet with such tenure. Zachary Hartley was outstanding in an unorthodox, one-man Russian variation, wowing the audience with robust displays of double fans, coffee grinders and high-flying leaps.

Alissa Dale’s Dewdrop Fairy flounced delicately with a company of flowers in the iconic waltz, the length of which was offset by the activity that remained at a nice simmer. The Spanish chocolate was full of spice and sass and the reed flutes number was a gilded and candy-sweet affair. The bright and chipper Chinese tea number and NBT’s signature saltwater taffy sailors rounded out the act in fanciful style.

Overall, NBT and Peter Anastos seem to be a good match. Perhaps the biggest tragedy in the show was the lack of live music, especially in a city that is full of more-than qualified musicians.

Beyond the holidays, though, Canfield’s willingness to experiment bodes well for a company that will soon have large slippers to fill. In May, the company will be stepping into a theater at the Smith Center that will seat more than 2,000 people, which is a daunting prospect for any regional company. However, NBT seems well positioned to make this transition, and being backed by the Las Vegas Philharmonic (also at the Smith Center) likely won’t hurt either.

Nutcrackers are creaking to life all over the city, trailed by sugarplum fairies and tragicomedy clowns alike. Nevada Ballet Theatre’s classic production is holding down the fort for the ballet purists while Insurgo Theater continues its tradition of a postmodern stage show at the Plaza.

NBT’s expansive, pointe shoe-clad cast will be debuting at Paris Las Vegas on Dec. 17 for an extended 10-show run. This year’s production is choreographed by Ballet Idaho’s artistic director Peter Anastos, hailed for his light-hearted choreography and whimsy. The show features more than 100 roles for children and the full pantheon of Nutcracker royalty from the sugar-coated Land of Sweets. (For a review of last year’s “Nutcracker,” follow the link here.)

Update, Dec. 20: Click here to read Julia Osborne’s review of NBT’s “Nutcracker” on the Las Vegas Review-Journal website.

Ticket prices range from around $38 to about $131 and matinee and evening performances are available. For more information and to reserve tickets, click here or call 702-946-4567.

Insurgo is turning tradition on its head in typical indie-theater style. “The Insurgo Nutcracker,” now in its third year, will run from Dec. 19 through Jan. 7 on the third floor of the Plaza Hotel and Casino downtown. This year’s iteration will incorporate new characters with a cast of the tried and true. The performance will feature dancer and actor Michelle Meyer and actress and vocalist Melanie Ash, with actor Brandon Oliver Jones as the titular Nutcracker.

Running time for the Insurgo show is about 40 minutes and it’s suitable for adults and offspring alike. Tickets are $15 plus taxes and fees and sponsored tickets for families in need are available. For more details about tickets and venue, visit the show’s event page here. (A review of last year’s show is available here.)

Happy holidays from the Las Vegas Dance Insider! May your heads be filled with visions of sugarplums, or dumpster-diving Samuel Beckett-style traicomedy clowns, or whatever. Cheers!

The Vegas Nutcracker season was wrapped up and topped with a bow by NBT’s rendition, performed at the Paris Las Vegas Theatre from Dec. 17 to 26.  The ballet was choreographed by Peter Anastos and displayed a commendable balance of visual razzle-dazzle and simplicity in its production and choreography. The company, under the artistic direction of James Canfield, was well-polished and the students, from the Nevada Ballet Theatre Academy, did a very respectable job.

Anastos’ choreography contributed a revitalizing energy to a show that has been performed by NBT for 29 years. The production quality, from lighting  (by Nicholas Cavallaro, executed by Peter Jakubowski) to costuming and sets by A. Christina Giannini, was excellent. The theatrical nature demanded by Peter Tchaikovsky’s iconic score was beautifully presented in the dramatic red, black and gold theater.

For those already familiar with the story of Clara and her beloved nutcracker doll, there were few surprises. The story began with Clara (Leigh Hartley) and her brother Fritz (Benjamin Blomquist and Gene Mesheryakov) joining their parents for a festive party in honor of the season. Children and adults alike danced in turn, with both groups embodying the rosy-cheeked holiday spirit.

NBT’s version featured several notable sections in the party scene. The children performed a garland dance, May-pole style, in the middle, and their sliding chasses were a credit to their training. Spirited characters like Clara’s grandparents (Jamey Gallagher and Tara Foy) added a good measure of humor.

Drosselmeyer (Marcus Bugler), the magician that presented Clara and the other children with the nutcracker doll (Griffin Whiting) mechanical mouse (Aimee Schleimer and Ariel Triunfo) and ballerina doll (Betsy Lucas and Kelly Callahan), was properly dramatic and set the magical aspect of the story into motion.

After the battle scene between the Mouse King (Anthony Paparelli), white mice (played by children and an NBT addition to the original) and the Nutcracker Prince, the prince took Clara on a journey to the Kingdom of Snow and the Land of the Sweets.

This is where the meaty dancing comes in. Fierce snowflakes in the Kingdom of Snow, coupled with the commanding presence of the Snow King and Queen (Jeremy Bannon-Neches and Sarah Fuhrman), did justice to Anastos’ regal and flurry-ful choreography. Strong technique was evident in seamless  turns and extension, fluid partnering and Bannon-Neches’ grand pirouettes. The “snow” falling onto the dancers was a nice theatrical touch.

Fog and the demur bourreeing of angels en pointe heralded Clara and Co.’s arrival in the Land of the Sweets. Alissa Dale’s Sugar Plum Fairy, with neat footwork and elastic port de bras,  shimmered in an iridescent purple tutu. With her Cavalier (Grigori Arakelyan) beside her, she introduced the rest of the delectable treats heralding from the Land of the Sweets.

Each of the national dances was distinct, lending (if you will kindly pardon the pun) unique flavors with each variation. Another sweet addition came with the miniature corps, small both in terms of size and in terms of stature: Young ballet students constituted a supporting cast for each of their full-sized counterparts, scuttling around as travel-sized Spanish chocolate, French marzipan and the like.

The second act also featured some NBT innovations that made nice addenda to the original. Pint-sized bakers assembled a three-tiered cake and salt water taffy sailors bounced buoyantly with aquatic-themed props.

The Dewdrop Fairy (Krista Baker) and her company of flowers glimmered as a high point in the act. The dancers were clad in flouncing romantic tutus in a pink gradient and looked appropriately like gumdrops, albeit graceful ones, with spidery limbs. Developes en menage, coupled with the skirts, created a particularly striking visual and Baker’s controlled suspension and pristine fouette turns were not to be discounted.

The grand pas de deux that led into the finale of the show was a revitalizing, candy-coated affair. Anastos’ choreography entailed a good measure of both solo sections and unison, allowing the audience to see the individual personalities of the variations before wrapping the entire thing up neatly. Dale’s Sugar Plum, backed by her Arakelyan Cavalier, again directed the proceedings. With a partnered quadruple pirouette to a picturesque arabesque, she was the beautiful bow on top.

What do two clowns, a nutcracker doll and a rock version of Tchaikovsky’s “Sugarplum Fairy” theme have in common? They were all part of the “Nutcracker” vignette that took place from Dec. 17-19 and 21-22 at the Insurgo Bastard Theater.

A cast of three (Sandy Stein, Breon Jenay and Michelle Meyer) presented the 45-minute show in wordless, exaggerated and, indeed, comical style. The crew (Geo Nikols, Daneal Doerr, Brandon Jones and director John Benae) ran the tech side of the show smoothly.

No bones were made about this being classically-inspired; a few of the key story elements stayed the same, but the vast majority of it was a product of the minds at Insurgo. It was a very comgenial compromise: if we’re only allowed to have one holiday ballet, making it clown-ridden, unorthodox and avante garde was a welcome change.

Based on a simple story, the plot followed two hard-bitten but endearing characters, a man and a girl he discovered in a dumpster, living on the streets. A boom-box, circa 1980, cranked out music while each danced in turn, trying to one-up the other and proffering a hat hopefully at the end of each routine.

Before long, both characters had bedded down in blue twilight and the girl set about exploring the man’s camp. A heavy-metal version of the familiar “Sugarplum” theme heralded the arrival of a nutcracker doll that the girl pulled out of the dumpster in the corner. The classic child-falling-in-love-with-a-toy story commenced.

Eventually, the man disappeared offstage and took the doll with him, leaving a hysterical girl begging alone. When a pack of rats (but no, not the Rat Pack) invaded the camp, a fully alive nutcracker bounded out of the dumpster and came to her rescue, also bearing a small tree, gifts, long tangles of wrapping paper and a shoebox of snow.

After the nutcracker heel-clicked leprechaun-style to a few of the original Tchaikovsky variations, the girl fell asleep to the lullaby of the “Arabian” theme and the nutcracker disappeared back into the dumpster. The girl woke up, alone once again, and the rats, like any persistent villains, returned shortly thereafter.

The epic battle between the nutcracker the the mouse king took place in one of the most action-packed areas of the set: the dumpster. As in the ballet, the nutcracker vanquished over the rodent and tragicomedy-clown-fantasy sanity was restored. After a moment of silent suspense, the man emerged from the dumpster with the nutcracker doll in hand, much to the delight of the girl.

What the story lacked in depth was absolutely made up for by vivid characters. Stein and Jenay both did an exceptional job with no lines to speak of (or to speak at all, actually) and the show was nonetheless enlivened by their gregarious acting.

There was no party scene, no Kingdom of Snow and no Land of Sweets populated by gumdrops and marzipan. However, Insurgo’s take on the Christmas classic is a valid addition to the holiday scene in Las Vegas. After all, if we an call hookers on the Strip dressed up as Santa festive, then “A Nutcracker: a tragicomedy clown fantasy” can certainly be included.

For ticket information, visit insurgotheater.org or call (702) 771-7331. Bring canned goods for $1 off the ticket price per can, up to five per ticket.

The good people at Vegas Seven, one of the city’s alternative weeklies, ran an interesting feature on the experiences of three Nevada Ballet Theatre students as they auditioned for different roles in”The Nutcracker.” Follow the link below to read their take on “Trying for Tchaikovsky.”

NBT’s “Nutcracker” opens today, Dec. 17, at Paris Las Vegas! Visit the link here for ticket information and watch for updates from the Insider coming soon.

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