Beer-ri-ta-tion, noun: The state of feeling annoyed when latecomers to “The Nutcracker” squeeze past your knees to get to their seats, carrying shopping bags from the concession stands and full cups of suds.
Hoping the drinks don’t slosh on your dry-cleanables takes you out of the ballet, for sure. But that is part of the Washington Ballet experience at the Warner Theatre, where a bro-friendly “Nutcracker” opened Friday night.
Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre, who created this version, might take issue with my assessment — after all, he gave an affectionate pre-curtain admonition to slouching audience members to “sit up straight. I can still see the turkey in there.” Nevertheless, there is a casual air to this ballet, with its boisterous energy, jumbled aesthetic, taped music (sadly, this has become a tradition), and kids bounding around everywhere.
Those youngsters, who seem to tumble onstage by the dozens, nearly steal the show in spots. During the battle scene — with all the chest-bumping rats and wee, distraught dolls — my eye was drawn to the rows of snappy little soldiers, peeling off into crisp formations while keeping time together with remarkable precision. Their formality sparkled amid the chaos.
In the same way, the second act’s youthful Frontier Girls caught my attention with their jolly charm and the easy, soft sweep of their arms and shoulders, while the excellent Frontiersman Andile Ndlovu whirled around like a flying circular saw. If you’re wondering when “The Nutcracker” went rustic, Webre’s version puts a Colonial, vintage American spin on the holiday classic.
Physical power was smoothly reined in by the Anacostian Maiden and her Brave (an awkward designation). Performed by a miniskirted Sona Kharatian and a bare-chested, square-jawed Tamas Krizsa, this was an adult moment: dignified, but with heat.
The more conventional ballet parts of this production are among the weakest. You feel a bit breathless watching the Snowflakes and the waltzing Cherry Blossoms whip around with their windmill arms. Too many steps, too many details — all the air is squeezed out.
Thankfully, Friday’s performance was capped by the shining elegance of Maki Onuki’s Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier (Gian Carlo Perez). Here, the delicacy and mystery of the Tchaikovsky music was best matched by the dancing. After all the color and excited rushing about, what left the greatest impression were these moments of timeless beauty.
The Washington Ballet performs Septime Webre’s “The Nutcracker” through Dec. 27 at the Warner Theatre, 13th and E streets NW. 202-783-4000. washingtonballet.org.