Warren Gerds/Review: ‘Nutcracker at The Weidner’ | WFRV Local 5 – Green Bay, Appleton
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – “Nutcracker at The Weidner” is a new name.
The music in it is storied – so beloved it inspires major effort by many in a sweeping array of artistry.
The gentle overture sounds recorded, though performed by an unseen orchestra intent on beauty.
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Cofrin Family Hall is built for such lovely, live music.
People in a story from a time gone by, each dressed in finery, flow past a colorful backdrop. The spectacle befits the hall, too.
Snapshot of one of the impressive sequences in Friday night’s first of three performances: Following scenes with multitudes of dancers – 67 in the production overall – the Sugar Plum begins a very solo solo. The audience is dead silent, watching every meticulous move of Taylor Ayotte. Every note has an en point presence, as if a dot here, a dot there for one toe and the other in rhythmic perfection. This music box dancer is the magic of live.
Magic happens to be a theme of “Nutcracker at The Weidner.” An uncle in the story arrives at a lavish family party and sets oh so much in motion with his magic.
And it’s all a dream.
At Christmas time, a girl is gifted a nutcracker in the form of a dashing prince, and that night she dreams vivid, imaginative, loving dreams. With dancing snowflakes, sweets from exotic lands and royalty, this is a super-sized fantasy.
That template is constant with “The Nutcracker.” But live productions are not movies – not chiseled in stone.
From year to year, this production is like putty for Timothy Josephs, artistic director of Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization. Depending on his lineup of young dancers, he shapes the look and flow of scenes. The music is the same, but presentations change to whatever he imagines for his dancers. And others add ideas, too, such as the live voices singing from the Green Bay Girl Choir to fill out the sound of “Dancing Snowflakes.”
Changes/differences aside, the production transports the audience through the illusions of Uncle Drosselmeyer (Scott Ronsmans) for his graceful, sweet niece, Clara (Clare Schueller). Clara’s mischievous brother, Fritz (Leah Gissendaner), instigates part of the storyline by breaking the toy nutcracker, which eventually comes to life.
Most of the dancers are local, from youngsters to folks who have been around dance for a long time. With costumes that often include amazing detail – angels with wings – they provide showcases of images and motion.
Professionals come from the Carolina Ballet. Yevgeny Shlapko is crisp and snappy as the Soldier Doll and Nutcracker Prince. As the latter, he teams with Elder Clara (the supple McKenzie Van Oss, dancing again with her home company) for many sweetly gliding and glowing sequences in the second act fantasyland. The wonderful scene-making is capped by the Sugar Plum (Taylor Ayotte) and The Cavalier (Kiefer Curtis) for showy and precise artistic physicality in the climactic pas de deux and coda.
All along, the orchestra conducted by Randall Meder pours the foundation with the richly far-ranging music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
The production is a thing of beauty – big, elaborate and vivid.
Timothy Josephs’ program statement has a special warmth. Such as:
- “… it has been my great pleasure to work with such lovely and dedicated dancers representing many different schools, communities and dance studios.”
- “… My special thanks to Jeffery Entwistle (his huge set pieces create a visual aura), Emily Paulsen (her costuming vision is another visual landscape of imagination), Shelby Edwards, Wendy Huber, Jenevieve Lee (their guiding of arrivals and departures is like clockwork)…”
- “A very special thank you to all our guest dancers… for sharing their amazing skills, talents and professionalism with us.”
- “A most exceptional thank you to the Weidner Philharmonic and conductor Randall Meder for bringing the magic of live music to the production.” Performances of “The Nutcracker” with a live orchestra are not common in this area, so it’s a big deal.
- Friday night’s performance with a substantial audience drew a standing ovation.