The Brown-Forman Nutcracker

Photo Courtesy of SAM ENGLISH

Photo Courtesy of SAM ENGLISH

Contributing Writer

It had been decades since I had seen a performance of “The Nutcracker,” until last Saturday. I am happy to say that the show, as it exists today, still stands as an essential holiday experience, which I’ve sadly neglected. Everything I remembered about its magical splendor is absolutely real and not just some inflated childhood memory.

Kentucky Center’s gigantic Whitney Hall stage filled with stupendous set designs, vibrant colors and exuberant dancers, accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s transporting score, is the kind of escape you can’t often find.

Brown-Forman has sponsored our city’s ballet and orchestra with a high-caliber show through the ballet’s artistic director, Robert Curran with the visiting support from choreographer Val Caniparoli, conductor Tara Simoncic, and many other talents brought in for the show. Many dancers in the company are from around the world, but it is worth pointing out that The Nutcracker himself was played by Louisville’s own, Ryan Stokes, during the performance I viewed.

Photo Courtesy of SAM ENGLISH

Photo Courtesy of SAM ENGLISH

The dancers are excellent. My only criticism regarded the fellow playing the godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, in the show I saw. In Act I, this character has a notorious music cue during his ominous entrance to a party scene, yet this dancer played him with a big friendly smile.

What continues to amaze me about this show, is how its two-hour runtime of instrumental music and dance packs in parents and children, who are equally spellbound by its presentation. I’m used to seeing movies aimed at kids, which are filled with insane action and slapstick stupidity, trying so hard to win their attention. “The Nutcracker,” on a giant stage, in a dark theater, has more amazing special effects to transfix the eyes of kids, big and small, than any movie you’re likely to see soon.

A couple years ago, I was made aware of an animated musical movie of “The Nutcracker,” where dialogue and lyrics were written to the music in hopes that its story might entertain kids of a new generation more effectively. I pray I never see said film.

From an adult perspective, there’s little narrative to provide entertainment. When I was little, I remember my father playing this music through his record of Andre Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. He would describe for me what was happening – at least for the first part. Once Clara (or Marie) arrives in the land of the Sugarplum Fairy, she and The Nutcracker enjoy a variety show of majestic people dancing for the second act… and she wakes up from the dream… The End.

Photo Courtesy of DAVID TOCZKO

Photo Courtesy of DAVID TOCZKO

“The Nutcracker” is probably the most famous and most accessible of all ballets – and possibly in classical orchestral music. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s work is wondrous, exciting and dreamy with an unquestionable influence on crowd-pleasing composers who followed.

The original story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is said to be a little more complex. I didn’t complain about the simplicity of the ballet version then and I’m not complaining now. This deconstructive movie critic mind of mine usually takes a rest when dazzled by a moving gallery of captivating imagery set to gorgeous music.

Tchaikovsky was said to be very critical of this work. But decades later audiences continue to love it.

Escaping the chilly and bleak winter day into a warm auditorium with the aroma of roasted candied pecans and hot chocolate was bliss. But seeing this wonderful show with friends and my lady was the real treat.

The show runs through Sunday, Dec. 21st. Tickets start at $35. For more information, visit www.kentuckycenter.org.

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