Sublime, spectacular, stunning — These three words immediately came to my mind after witnessing Atlanta Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” at the Fox Theatre. The intricate and elaborate costumes and chiseled dancers left me breathless. The extravagant stage design and nostalgic music rendered me speechless. The choreography in this exquisite world encapsulated and mesmerized me from start to finish.
Though almost every facet of the performance is incomparable, the star of this brilliant, nearly $6 million production is the special effects. With visuals spanning enchanting clockwork machinations to astronomical sky charts to everyday objects that change in scale to humongous props, Atlanta Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” clearly spared no expense. The high-tech video projections were frequently met with shouts of “brava” and gasps of “wow” from the enthralled audience who, like me, remained captivated throughout the performance. The submerged orchestra concealed beneath a mesh surface, the expansive and iconic stage and the central location of the Fox Theatre were collectively conducive to empowering “The Nutcracker” to astound and inspire.
Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov with artistic direction by Gennadi Nedvigin, the performance is an explosion of vivacious holiday spirit, mythical winter wonder and otherworldliness. This layered entertainment experience included all the hallmarks of a holiday outing, featuring colorful lighting, breathtaking dancing, scenic props and detailed video projections. However, the beauty of this nuanced performance shone through as a result of Possokhov’s simple yet flawlessly elegant choreography, which paid homage to E.T.A. Hoffman’s original 1816 tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”
This rendition did not include the traditional Sugar Plum Fairy or the Snow Queen and, as a result, focused on the young protagonist Marie’s romantic and loving relationship with her Nutcracker Prince. With butterflies in my stomach, I marveled at the surreal silhouettes before me as dancers Jessica Assef and Moisés Martín pranced, dove and circled around the stage, gracing every corner and touching every soul in the audience as they performed Tchaikovsky’s Grand Pas de Deux.
The performance was not all traditional, however, and included sparse, yet equally spectacular culturally diverse displays in the interlude between the phases of Marie and her Prince’s relationship. These exhibitions included a Chinese version adorned with deft fan work and characteristic bamboo trees, a comical French version in which little children dressed as chicks stole all the attention, a Spanish version with bullfighting and some spicy salsa, and an Arabian version in which the dancer, Jessica He, awed the audience with her cat-like reflexes. Although these exhibitions could have cast the cultures in a stereotypical light, they were not culturally reductive in the least, and each tradition contributed to the ebullience of the show. These effervescent acts placed “The Nutcracker” within a global landscape and added a whimsical touch and radiant detail to the age-old classic.
The panoramic splendor and melody of the “Waltz of the Flowers” highlighted the beauty of dancers ranging across a plethora of skin tones. This key visual point likened the stage to a bouquet of flowers in Alice’s oversized Wonderland world. The dancers’ delicate steps contrasted the crisp and refreshing harmony of the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Ari Pelto. The dancers’ stamina merits high praise, as they completed leap after leap and pirouette after pirouette. The phenomenal duo of Marie and the Prince, in particular, deserves immense acclaim for its uninhibited exhibition of trust and loyalty toward each other as they seemingly became one on stage.
The costumes appeared to be right out of the pages of a fairy tale, resembling a tangible vision of every magical dream a young child has. Sandra Woodall, the costume designer, manifested and sewed shimmering slivers of sparkle, fantasy and fascination into every costume, which dazzled as the dancers journeyed through the stage space as if inhabiting an imaginary world. The effortless and refined beauty of the costumes shone even brighter when juxtaposed to the luminous background displays including the green aurora borealis and a quaint and serene village scene.
Ultimately, this classic, which has served as a quintessential part of the wonder surrounding Atlanta’s holiday celebrations for the last sixty years, will bring you into the holiday spirit, revive your childhood nostalgia and pervade your dreams with its utopian nature. It will allow you to reminisce about the small delights of your childhood, especially when freshly fallen snow, sparkling tutus, larger-than-life gifts, gold-leafed storybooks and mystical magic factor into the equation. This fabulous performance is well worth experiencing and enjoying, especially before it permanently moves to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre next year.