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Eugene Ballet Company's "The Nutcracker"

According to German folklore, nutcrackers were given as symbols of good luck and protection. And who couldn’t use a little of that right about now?

Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ lighter adaptation of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story, the ballet was set to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa, for its 1892 Moscow premier.

Though critically well received, The Moscow Imperial Theatre’s Nutcracker didn’t enjoy great success at first, and the acrimonious dynamic between the composer, and his Sugar Plum[p] Fairy, Antonietta Dell'Era, is legendary.

But the fantastical story of Marie (here Clara), her battle with the Mouse King and her journey to the Land of Sweets, endures.

The ballet’s ascendency, to a place of such beloved recognition and lore, is a testament to this music, and to the power of this incredible, indelible story.

After hopping the pond in ’44, with a performance by the San Francisco Ballet, and in ’54, with George Balanchine’s version in New York City, this ballet has delighted generations. The Nutcracker has become a no-miss holiday tradition for many, and as keepers of the torch, the Eugene Ballet Company’s sturdy production twinkles and delights as ever: There is much to love about EBC.

What a delight to enjoy live music.

Brian McWhorter’s Orchestra NEXT and the Cantible Collective, under direction of Chris Dobson, elevate the effort from enjoyable to resplendent.

Live music feels a salve these days, and McWhorter is clearly enjoying bringing terrific live music to audiences. He makes the work approachable, connected, inspiring audience members not to distance themselves from the music, but to enjoy it as though they are taking part in the making of it, through McWhorter’s irrepressible energy and spirit.

And not enough can be said about Toni Pimble’s choreography.

Have I seen this Nutcracker before? Sure, more times than I can count. But it works, and watching it, all I could think was “generous.” There is something inherently humane in Pimble’s eye for detail. Her deep passion for technique and perfection is there, and exacted by her dancers, but Pimble creates something so much more than that. This work is an invitation to audience members to access dance, many for the first time, or for the only time all year. Pimble stewards this art form, holds it, keeps it, with each moment of comic timing, every lush pathway or relationship, every lift, nod, gesture.

Pimble’s artistic acumen and vision stands shoulder to shoulder with giants.

Hats off to the production design team, sets, costumes, props, and lighting: They successfully create Clara’s mysterious and ever-changing world. This show is pure fantasy, yet it’s rooted in glorious, rich detail. The dance shines against an immersive and thorough backdrop.

On to the performances:

Isaac Jones lends a mischievous zip to Drosselmeyer, a character who can come off as a little scary to the younger set. Not Jones’ interpretation, though: His uncle is fresh and lively, with a bouncy, impish quality.

As Hans/the Nutcracker, Reed Souther lends cartoon pilot good looks, and tremendous energy and technique. Souther’s a pleasure to watch, strong and relatable, with terrific acting chops.

As Clara, Yoshie Oshima shines, an incandescent depiction of youth on the cusp of maturity, of hope, and strength. Clara’s a tough cookie! She has a really weird night! And Oshima is up for it: Infusing each step, each gesture, with meaning and connection. She seems fragile and doll-like one moment, and achingly sanguine the next. In her hands, we don’t love Clara. We are Clara.

Yuki Beppu as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Hirofumi Kitazume as her Cavalier, are compelling and vibrant. They come along in act two as a kind of tonic, a pure, powerful expression of beauty. Even the tiny kids seated next to me couldn’t look away: They were simply transfixed. It’s like watching real damn fairies.

Children from the Eugene Ballet Academy add an element of genuine “Aw” to the effort, from baby mice to angels to Bon Bons and Party Goers: This show is special because there are so many kids involved.

And as an ensemble, EBC glows. Too many shout outs to mention, but the whole smorgasbord in the Land of Sweets – coffee, tea, cocoa, etc - delights. 

Can it be “Nutcracker” season again next week? Please?