Keller Auditorium, Portland, OR; December 13, 2014

Dean Speer

Oregon Ballet Theatre in George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker'.  Photo © James McGrew

Oregon Ballet Theatre in George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’.
Photo © James McGrew

I note that we made the annual trek down I-5 to see Oregon Ballet Theatre’s presentation of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”, on Twelve/Thirteen/Fourteen, but every year – even one without fun sequences of numbers – it’s always worth it. Portland provides a pleasant ambiance and backdrop to this cranberry-colored confection.

Compared to some versions, Balanchine’s telling of the “Nutcracker” is a very simple one with little production fuss and muss and a clean and uncluttered choreographic stage. He tells a straight-forward story, partly based on his own childhood recollections of holidays and chilly winters at his family’s dacha in Finland, and of his participation in the Petipa St. Petersburg production of his youth, pre-Revolution. It’s both nostalgia and fantasy, myth and magic rolled together into one marzipan creation.

Conceptually and choreographically, my only reservation is Marie’s bed running around the stage in Act I…and I certainly understand it’s code for the weaving and casting of a magical transformation, but to me, it wastes some of the most glorious music with non-dancing. Clearly too late to recall Mr. Balanchine to come back and fix, but wish it could be so never-the-less.

As with each yearly outing, this year’s OBT cast was technically very proficient and artistically sound, with only one minor partnering snafu in Act II’s grand pas de deux.

Ansa Deguchi as the Sugar Plum Fairy had many striking moments – great balances and consistently controlled execution throughout. Dewdrop, re-made for Mimi Paul in 1964, is a showstopper and Xuan Cheng gave us bright sautés rond de jambe en l’air and is a part that seems to enliven the atmosphere.

The Waltz of the Flowers contains some of Balanchine’s best choreography – very theatrical with its many swirling patterns — as does Mirlitons, which I consider brilliant – at a diamond level, sparkling and fun.

Brett Bauer as both Drosselmeier and later in Act II as Mother Ginger was superb as each, and a complete riot as the latter, larding us with great humorous bits such as being shocked as seeming herself in a hand mirror and loudly banging a tambourine as the mighty mites danced in front. And of course, who cannot put be suitably impressed by the enormous wedding cake creation she comes floating in on, only to reveal her many children underneath.

Maestro Niel DePonte led the mighty – and very welcomed – OBT Orchestra. But I wish the live music wasn’t miked. At one point during the Waltz of the Flowers, this became particularly obvious, slightly over amplifying the sound, and was distracting. What I’m guessing is the use of a recording for the angelic choir is also perhaps misplaced. Using two singers, as is done effectively elsewhere, a much better solution.