Atlanta Ballet enchants and stuns in new ‘Nutcracker’

Airi Igarashi & Nikolas Gaifullin. Photo by Gene Schiavone
Atlanta Ballet's Airi Igarashi & Nikolas Gaifullin. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

The Fox TheaterAtlanta, Georgia.
December 9, 2018.

The story of The Nutcracker is an old tale, told by many dance companies around the world every year. However, the world premiere from Atlanta Ballet is fresh, new, contemporary and something else entirely.

A talented team of artists and designers assembled over the past two years to create an incredibly magical theatrical experience. The hard work, creativity and commitment to this world premiere was evident in the scale of all aspects of the design and in the small details seen throughout the show. 

Visually and choreographically, The Nutcracker was breathtaking. I was most impressed with how all of the crew, cast and team of designers collaborated so well to transport the audience to a new realm. 

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov, lighting designer David Finn, costumer Sandra Woodall, scenic designer Tom Pye, video designer Finn Ross, the Georgia Youth Choir, conductor Garrett Keast, and Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin, along with all dancers involved, brought brilliance and uncompromising dedication to this production. 

Remi Nakano & Nikolas Gaifullin. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Remi Nakano and Nikolas Gaifullin. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

The bar for how integrated the technology and choreography are throughout the show is set extremely high from the first moment the curtain opens to reveal a projected roller coaster ride through the small German town in which the story is set. Suddenly, the main story conduit Drosselmeier appears within the projection, seemingly flying throughout the landscape and moving objects in his path. Young Company member Nikolas Gaifullin does a splendid job characterizing his role with hints of mystery, magic and excitingly executed movement. 

After a witty scene from the partygoers and talented young children dancers, the story transitions to nighttime. But instead of the dream world around Marie coming to life in a “normal” way with a backdrop and music change, the proportion size and scale of all the furniture grows. The red chair and armoire suddenly transform into giant set pieces, leaving audience members in awe. 

Airi Igarashi & Sergio Masero-Olarte as Marie & Nutcracker Prince. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Airi Igarashi & Sergio Masero-Olarte as Marie & Nutcracker Prince. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

One difference with Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker as compared to how it is typically danced, the roles of Marie and The Nutcracker Prince are much more involved. Instead of using different men and women for each big pas de deux, dancers Airi Igarashi and Sergio Masero-Olarte showed professional stamina and elegance as the show’s driving force. Igarashi’s graceful port de bras and Masero-Olarte’s strength as a partner made the two easy and exciting to watch. They sweep the audience away with their chemistry and ability to perform Possokhov’s demanding choreography with almost flawless technique.

The second act brought another wave of fresh movement and themes, including a sky-high story book that opened and closed on its own, while continuing the story through themed projections on the book’s pages.

Among the different country’s variations, stand-outs include the Chinese Dance, danced swiftly and succinctly by Fuki Takahashi, and the Arabian Dance, danced by Monika Haczkiewicz, Keaton Leier, Moises Martin and Jonathan Philbert. The Arabian Dance, while being the longest in length, was also the most intriguing with its snake-like movement and the obvious connection between the dancers. 

Keaton Leier & Monika Haczkiewicz in Arabian. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Keaton Leier & Monika Haczkiewicz in Arabian. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Two corps de ballet highlights are the Waltz of the Snowflakes and the Flower Waltz. While the principal dancers are brilliant and technically sure, the corps dancers for each of these sections truly shine. Possokhov’s transitions and contemporary floor movement were executed seamlessly, and the dancers simply seem to enjoy their time on stage.

This world premiere of The Nutcracker is an intersection of classical and contemporary ideals. From the integration of choreography and video projection, to a fly system, a live children’s choir, real ice skaters, stunning costume choices, simple story-telling, and draped with mechanics and an industrial steam punk aesthetic, Atlanta Ballet’s new Nutcracker is an unpredictable and new age experience that will certainly please audiences for years to come.

By Allison Gupton of Dance Informa.

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