The Nutcracker amazes, excites crowds

For its 51st year, the Atlanta Ballet is putting on the holiday classic, The Nutcracker. A perfect holiday show combining the holidays themselves and fantasy, the Atlanta Ballet again augments the wonder of the spectacle with awe-inspiring sets, costumes and, of course, dancing at the always fabulous Fox Theater. The spectacle is a holiday tradition (with good reasons), and the Atlanta Ballet’s own version dazzles the senses.

The Atlanta Ballet actually dances their very own version of the show. This version is set in St. Petersburg, Russia. Choreographed by John McFall, the artistic director, this version premiered in 1996. Before this, the company performed the famous Balanchine version, which was performed for the first time outside of the New York City Ballet by the Atlanta Ballet. Trying to remember the story of The Nutcracker proves difficult mainly because there is surprisingly little story. Compared to opera, ballet generally has much simpler stories, and The Nutcracker is no exception. There is not a plot or story and really, no resolution at the end. The classic moment when the Rat King is taken down by a shoe is not here. The story can be summed up as follows: At a party, a brother and sister receive gifts which, along with a little imagination, entertain the children. It is very simple, and there is nothing to follow.
While the story is not that interesting, the costumes and sets are very attention-worthy. Both are lavish and very detailed. It was a pleasure to look at the decoration on the stage and the large crowds of people are almost entertainment in itself. This makes this production of The Nutcracker really a spectacle and not a story-based show. It is about the feast for the eyes and enjoying just watching the stage without having to think too much. The combination of live music, scenic eye candy and feats of dancing make an easily-enjoyed show, especially for those without much of an attention span.
The Atlanta Ballet performs The Nutcracker at the fabulous Fox Theater in Midtown, just a stone’s throw from The Varsity. The theater is almost as interesting as any show that passes through. Originally opened in 1929, the Islamic/Egyptian-styled edifice is unique. Even from the street, it screams lavish luxury from yesteryear. During intermission, it is easy to miss the beginning of the second act while exploring the many nooks, crannies (and bathrooms) and details of the historical landmark.
For the past two years, the Atlanta ballet used live music only on the show’s opening weekend. However this year will feature live music at all 23 performances for the first time since 2006. There is an indescribable something that live music brings to a multifaceted production like The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s romantic (and then quite experimental) score sounds much more nuanced and engrossing live than any recording can produce. The Atlanta Ballet Orchestra is one of the highlights of the show.
The only aspect of the show that seemed lacking was, ironically, the dancing. While at times virtuosic, there were at least commensurate occasions of strikingly bad footwork or timing. The arms and upper half of the dancers was almost always approaching perfection. Arms and their positioning definitely got much more attention than footwork or synchronization. However, with a show that has as many children it is much harder to maintain a high level of execution.
The Nutcracker is a tradition, especially with parents and children, and it is very easy to see why. The show is a spectacle with scant story which is easily digested by anyone of any age. The live music, costumes, scenery and feats of dancing make a visual and auditory feast. The Fox is a fantastic venue that only adds to the wonder and uniqueness of the experience. While the dancing is at times shaky, the show is a solid success. The show’s sparkle is hard to resist and gets anyone in the holiday spirit.
The Atlanta Ballet will host The Nutty Nutcracker, which will be “unchoreographed by the Atlanta Ballet Dancers.” It is rated PG-13 and is one night only, Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m.


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