Plums and prunes in Washington Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’

Traditionally, Clara’s dreamy journey in Act 2 of “The Nutcracker” is called “The Land of Sweets.” The Washington Ballet employs a local alternative: “Springtime Under the Cherry Blossoms.” Gorgeous pink, metallic scrims drape the sides of the stage and an impressionist vision of the Tidal Basin dangles as a backdrop.

Still want sweets? Buy your children cotton candy in the Warner Theatre lobby. Then just see if they can sit still for two hours.

(Tony Brown/Handout) - Ayano Kimura, left, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Brooklyn Mack as the Cavalier in The Washington Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

’Tis the season for families to go to the ballet. Septime Webre, the company’s artistic director, came onstage Friday to give the audience a pep talk. No talking, he said. And engage your abdominals so you can sit up straight. Some little siblings of dancers and random rude grown-ups chattered regardless, but for those who paid attention, there were delights to be had onstage.

As Clara, Katharine M. Lee was poised beyond her 12 years but still wide-eyed with wonder at the lively party scene, the frightening battle of butt-wiggling rats and the parade of colorful characters in Act 2. There are nearly 90 local children onstage in each performance, plus about two dozen dancers (including apprentices and junior company members) from the Washington Ballet.

This “Nutcracker” is, for the most part, an adorable combination. But there’s no orchestra in this production, and the snow scene — which featured a corps of student and professional dancers — looked more like a harried pre-storm dash to buy bread and milk. Tchaikovsky’s music was recorded at too fast a tempo for some dancers to fit in all of their steps.

The sound’s not awful, but it certainly quells the climaxes during already tepid pas de deuxs for the Snow King and Queen and the Cavalier and Sugar Plum Fairy. Far more enjoyable were the splashy “Springtime” divertissement dances. Chong Sun was the high-flying soloist in “Chinese,” and Brooklyn Mack flashed a wide smile as he circled the stage doing jetés en manège during the “Frontiersman” dance set to the music for the traditional Russian trepak.

The best duet in the show comes when Webre replaces the traditional shepherds’ dance with a caper for a cardinal (Morgann Rose) and a cat out to eat the Virginia state bird. Cleverly, Corey Landolt supported Rose through her turns and jumps even as he appeared ready to pluck her feathers. He doesn’t, of course, because this is family entertainment, fun whether you’re 4 and high on a sugar rush or a grown-up looking for sugar plums.

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

“The Nutcracker” continues with 21 performances through Dec. 29.

 
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