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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Staying on Your Toes

From the Vault Dept.: This year, the Albany Berkshire Ballet gave its 43rd annual tour of “The Nutcracker,” which played at The Egg in Albany on Dec. 9 and had performances as far afield as Pittsfield and Springfield, Mass., and Burlington, Vermont. Here’s my review of what came to Proctors in Schenectady 30 years ago.


ISN'T IT ASTONISHING how far-fetched a plot can be and still convey a spirit of Christmas? “The Nutcracker” is downright absurd, wandering as it does through fantasy into sci-fi, going from simple anthropomorphism into a snowbound ethnic pageant.

A more recent "Nutcracker" photo
from Albany Berkshire Ballet
Yet there’s magic in the ballet yet, as was evidenced by the Berkshire Ballet’s production yesterday afternoon (and evening) at Proctor’s Theatre. Princes and queens, fairies and angels and a swarm of children took to the stage to present the tale of the little girl who saves her Christmas nutcracker from destruction by a horde of angry mice – and is rewarded by a trip to the Kingdom of Sweets.

Ashley White danced the part of young Clara for the matinee with laudable grace; she played the part of the holiday-happy kid with no affectation, and did the most difficult part – watching the Act Two progression of fancy dances – with perfect aplomb.

Students from twenty area dance students were part of the two performances, giving us a sturdy procession of soldiers, a menacing array of mice, angels and diminutive clowns and scene-stealing reindeer.

Choreographer Madeline Cantarella Culpo has an especially good talent for giving young dancers steps that challenge them enough to bring off an impressive performance, but not so challenging as to seem beyond their reach. To do so with so many kids is very impressive.

Her interpretation of the story as a whole also was very professional, showing her company’s polished talent. The plot sequences are the most accomplished; in the more abstract routines, such as the various ethnic dances, it would be nice to see more character developed. The “Danse Chinoise,” for example (which featured an oversized teapot complete with steam) was ably performed by Teresa Eckmann and Dean Serio in charmingly Chinese costume, but ultimately was only a progression of acrobatic steps with no dramatic peak to the number. 

So many fine dancers participated that it would be numbing to name them all; Jeremy Lemme doubled as the Nutcracker and the Trepak dancer (and lurked beneath all that makeup as the first act Grandfather); Deidre Duffin, Troy Hoggart, Verna Carter and Mark Yin as the Sugar Plum and Snow Queen couples performed the difficult pas de deux in the two acts.

Michelle Noel was the lithe Dew Drop in the Waltz of the Flowers, while Michelle Duffin performed the exotic Arabian Dance.

The costumes, by Rita B. Watson, were in every case tooled with stunning detail; Carol Vollet Garner also deserves credit for the specialty costumes for the kids in the first act and the huge “Mother Ginger” skirts – out from which her lavender-costumed little clowns emerged.

Robert M. Boland designed the sets, lavishly-painted drops nicely suggestive of living room, forest and fairytale kingdom. And the show made nice use of Proctor’s snowfall devices, the third such use this month – but better snow onstage than on the streets, right?

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 21 December 1987

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