There's very little entertainment these days that really has something for everyone, but unless you're afraid of tutus, the Washington Ballet's "Nutcracker" is a holiday show to please all ages and most tastes. If you hate ballet dancing, the kids are adorable. If you hate children, there's enough good dancing to keep you interested.
The production, which has been a Washington Christmas tradition for eons, opened a two-week run at the Warner Theatre Friday night. The costumes and sets are pastel pretty; the story of a little girl's Christmas dream easy to follow; and the dancing, especially that of the company's women, clear and musical.
Half the fun of "Nutcracker" for ballet fans is the chance to see tomorrow's stars in their first solo parts. This year, 14-year-old Elizabeth Gahl, who danced the Christmas tree Star with amplitude and buoyancy, is definitely one to watch. Another teenager, Jonathan Jordan, danced quite impressively as the Nutcracker Prince. And, miracle of miracles, there were real little boys, instead of girls pretending to be boys, in the Mother Gigogne number.
The dancing of the grown-ups was a bit uneven. The corps was fine, in both the Snowflake Waltz and the Waltz of the Flowers, and Rosa Maria Barua--leggy and gracious--was a stunning Snow Queen. But with her steely technique and fixed grin, Ju Hyun Jo was not an ideal Sugar Plum Fairy. Among the men, the company's senior members weren't quite up to their assignments and some of the newer recruits have physiques more suited to modern dance than to classical ballet.
The Washington Ballet's "Nutcracker" has been content to be charming during a time in which charm is not a meal ticket. It was a bit disheartening, therefore, to see that some coarseness has crept into the production, in both the dramatic scenes and the overtly presentational style of some of the dancers.
In the first-act party scene, while the children were as fresh and natural as ever, many of the grown-ups dished up too much ham. Both the Grandmother and Herr Drosselmeyer were so doddering and tremulous as to be offensive, and the Nurse was so dominant that the parents seemed like guests in their own home.
This whole scene could use some freshening. It looked as though the producers have been putting on "Nutcracker" for so long that they forgot they're telling a story, not just moving people about the stage.
Despite such quibbles, this "Nutcracker" is still a sure-fire first night at the theater for children. The production, with several changes of cast, runs through Dec. 26.
CAPTION: Earning their stripes: Each year "Nutcracker" provides a chance to see the troupe's future stars.