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Ballet review: 'The Nutcracker' from Los Angeles Ballet

December 7, 2009 |  2:12 pm

Nutcracker As Los Angeles Ballet matures, so too  does its first full-length production, Colleen Neary and Thordal Christensen’s version of “The Nutcracker.”

Los Angeles Ballet’s co-artistic directors have been tweaking their Angelino-specific story since it premiered four years ago at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills. Most of the choreographic refinements have been welcome additions, and this was true again as “Nutcracker” season is in full swing and Los Angeles Ballet opens its fourth season.

At the Sunday matinee in Glendale’s Alex Theatre, the ballet had a distinctly warm and cozy feeling (the run continues at UCLA's Royce Hall and in Redondo Beach). The relationship between the Nutcracker character --  played by a living, breathing lad throughout -- and the ballet’s tween heroine Clara popped into focus with the propitious casting of the accomplished 15-year-old Harrison Coll. He is a student at the School of American Ballet and was entirely comfortable with the leading man duties. He showed off clean beats, an etched technique and a lovely and sensitive presence. Pairing him with the younger, less mature Helena Thordal-Christensen (the directors’ daughter) as Clara helped to realize the ballet’s potential as a sweet story of first, innocent love.

The Waltz of the Flowers has a new ballerina part, the Rose, to which Melissa Barak brings an expansive, lyrical style. Barak, ever confident, but never haughty, emphasizes the accents in Tchaikovsky’s most glorious waltz (the company uses recorded music). In a series of three grand jétés, she caught an updraft and hovered at the top of a perfect arc. The corps de ballet beamed throughout and floated easily in and out of synchronized geometric patterns. They had us swaying in our seats.

Snowflakes Still, clunker moments remain. The ballet has some life-sucking dead zones, where the choreographers are unable to match Tchaikovsky’s rich melodies. Children and adults don’t always have enough to do in the party scene. Clara and the Nutcracker actually jog (in place) to the Land of Snow, which is a distraction at the very least. One wishes that the original grand pas de deux had been restored.

The dance-heavy second act is where Los Angeles Ballet shines, which is to be expected from the city’s only fully professional classical company. The company’s sincere dancers do not disappoint.

Monica Pelfrey, brand new to the troupe, was thrust into the ballerina role Marie, a character meant to represent Clara’s favorite doll. She showed pleasing potential, with a magical lightness in her footwork and an expressive way of communicating to the audience with her whole upper body.  Her Prince, guest artist Kenta Shimizu, also making his Los Angeles Ballet debut, was a confident soloist. They bobbled at points as a duo, but maintained their aplomb.

Arabian Katie Tomer was the flexible, sensuous, but always strong Arabian dancer. Partner Drew Grant, who gracefully remains Tomer’s obedient servant, hefted her about his body without strain. Audience favorite Sergey Kheylik returned to wow everyone with new and even more astonishing vaults and floor rolls as the Cossack Doll and in the Russian variation. In the latter section, Tian Tan and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp joined him for high-flying leaps.

The ballet’s children, all from the Los Angeles Ballet School this year, gave their all with a mixture of spunk and discipline. Billy Schaffer was especially charming as the unappreciated, misunderstood Fritz. LA Weekly dance writer Ann Haskins was again happily stuck in the gingerbread house chimney wearing a smoky black wig as Mother Ginger. Andrew Brader was the flamboyant Uncle Drosselmeyer, managing to enliven the first act with oversize bonhomie.

Los Angeles Ballet shows that even a flawed “Nutcracker” can please if the dancing is passionate --  and the tree grows impressively.

-- Laura Bleiberg

"Nutcracker." Los Angeles Ballet, UCLA’s Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19; 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 20.  Also: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 26; 2 p.m. Dec. 27. $15-$95; (310) 998-7782.

Photos, from top: Helena Thordal-Christensen as Clara and Harrison Coll as the Nutcracker; the Snowflakes; and Katie Tomer and Drew Grant as the Arabian dancers. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Related:

Where else to see "The Nutcracker"

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