Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Washington Ballet led off the local "Nutcracker" season at Lisner Auditorium Thursday in a mood of company togetherness and felicity. Everything seemed to go especially smoothly for an opening night. The orchestra, led by Lloyd Geisler, played the Tchaikovsky score with more spirit and precision than in any previous year I can recall. The Christmas tree expanded with nary a hitch. And the dancing was generally splendid.
The home-grown production by Mary Day and Martin Buckner holds up well. It looks far grander than its means, and its modesty and tastefulness are very becoming. And by force of circumstances, it may well be closer in mold and idea to the original St. Petersburg production than any other version locally available on state or TV screen.
The main thing, of course, is that the production manages to capture the aura of childhood wonderment and euphoria that inspired the music, despite the compromises necessitated by the scope of the company and its restricted budget.
The mime of the party scene seemed particularly clear and focused in this performance, allowing its nice little humorous touches to take full effect. Bruno Fusco plays Herr Drosselmeyer as a kindly old doddered; it wouldn't hurt to have a little touch of the sinister or at the very least, of mystery in a production so dominated by sweetness and light.
One detail of the stage action that tends to be obscured (as it does often in other productions) is Clara's toss of her shoe at the Mouse King - since it's a key element of the story, better visual underlining would be a distinct advantage.
Patricia Miller, a former Washington Ballet dancer now with the Joffrey company, showed flair and elegance as the Sugar Plum Fairy, with the promising James Canfield as her Cavalier. Gifted Madelyn Berdes looks younger and surer this year as the Snow Queen; guest artist Timothy Fox made a striking partner.
It's good to see some of the younger company men dancing so well, especially Ricardo Mercado but also Terry Lacy. Maya Larson was a sprightly Star, Mary Quinn a charming Clara, and the three lead couples in the "Waltz of the Flowers" were also impressive.