By BENNETT DUCKWORTH
It had been decades since I had seen a performance of â€œThe Nutcracker,â€ until last Saturday. I am happy to say that the show, as it exists today, still stands as an essential holiday experience, which Iâ€™ve sadly neglected. Everything I remembered about its magical splendor is absolutely real and not just some inflated childhood memory.
Kentucky Centerâ€™s gigantic Whitney Hall stage filled with stupendous set designs, vibrant colors and exuberant dancers, accompanied by Tchaikovskyâ€™s transporting score, is the kind of escape you canâ€™t often find.
Brown-Forman has sponsored our cityâ€™s ballet and orchestra with a high-caliber show through the balletâ€™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 Louisvilleâ€™s own, Ryan Stokes, during the performance I viewed.
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. Iâ€™m used to seeing movies aimed at kids, which are filled with insane action and slapstick stupidity, trying so hard to win their attention. â€œThe Nutcracker,â€ 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 youâ€™re likely to see soon.
A couple years ago, I was made aware of an animated musical movie of â€œThe Nutcracker,â€ 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, thereâ€™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 â€“ 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 actâ€¦ and she wakes up from the dreamâ€¦ The End.
â€œThe Nutcrackerâ€ is probably the most famous and most accessible of all ballets â€“ and possibly in classical orchestral music. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovskyâ€™s work is wondrous, exciting and dreamy with an unquestionable influence on crowd-pleasing composers who followed.
The original story, â€œThe Nutcracker and the Mouse Kingâ€ is said to be a little more complex. I didnâ€™t complain about the simplicity of the ballet version then and Iâ€™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.