Forget about the upcoming visit by Britain’s Prince William. The Washington Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is full of nice-looking royals.
There’s a lot of regal male muscle in Artistic Director Septime Webre’s Washington-centric account of the holiday ballet, which opened its run of performances Friday at the Warner Theatre. Let’s start with Tamas Krizsa’s pectorals, which are exuberantly liberated in his minimalist costume as the Anacostian Brave. There is thrilling aerial choreography in his pas de deux with the Anacostian Maiden, a quietly magnetic Sona Kharatian in a fetching buckskin bikini. But really, this segment, known as the Arabian dance in traditional “Nutcrackers,” is all about the slow burn of skin on skin.
After Krizsa, lying on his back, lifted and lowered Kharatian as easily as if she were a tea tray, a look of distinct gratitude flashed in her eyes. Undoubtedly, the entire audience was as dazzled by his strength as she was.
But back to the matter of princes. Stefan Goncalvez, as the Nutcracker Prince, has a composed, gentle bearing and beautiful leg line that mark him as a young dancer to watch. A Washington School of Ballet student, he was a gallant escort for Brianna Marie Sosa’s animated Clara. Sosa is also a highly accomplished student, one of many who fill out this production with distinction.
A shining example: Ranks of diminutive soldiers dominate the battle scene with their finely engineered march through some of the ballet’s trickiest kaleidoscopic choreography. Their glory over the Red Coat Rats (did I see one of their furry number doing the Dougie?) is well-earned. Kudos for their drill sergeants — er, ballet masters — too.
The men stand out in this production. In many cases, the women are driven to forcefulness by the fast tempo. The men are more elastic, more plush in their movements, even when flying through the air.
There’s no end to bravura turns here, from the bounding mechanical dolls of the first act, to Miguel Anaya’s snapping flamenco in the Spanish dance and the acrobatic Brooklyn Mack as a 21st-century frontiersman crossed with an extreme-sport junkie. (How those YouTube heroes crow about their lack of ropes and wires. But could they top Mack’s fearless, whirling stage feats, with nothing but air and music between him and certain doom?)
This “Nutcracker” also showcased the subtler but no less inspiring polish of Jared Nelson as a Snow King with warmth and Jonathan Jordan as a cleanly styled Cavalier. Their ballerinas — Esmiana Jani as the Snow Queen and Maki Onuki as the Sugar Plum Fairy — were sharper-edged, however, and watching them was a less luxurious experience.
Webre’s production, marking its 10th anniversary, does not encourage a light or measured approach. The Tchaikovsky music — which is taped, as has become the Washington Ballet’s unfortunate tradition — rushes along. In their haste, the dancers sometimes find themselves ahead of it.
That is not of much consequence. The ballet makes clear that its focus is on the visual qualities, such as Webre’s spirited choreography, the rich decor of the first act’s Georgetown mansion, the opulent Victorian costumes as well as those of the adorable creatures of the wild.
Why, then, does it not completely satisfy? It begins to feel tiring about halfway through the second act, in the blur of dancing clowns, cherry blossoms and crimson cardinals. If you are looking for a cheerful family diversion, this ballet delivers in abundance. But the work does not prompt thinking on deeper themes of love, growing up or the poetic mysteries of life. There is no time for contemplation. Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I miss that.
For better or worse, the production is suited for our times and our town. Fast-paced and driving, a showcase of the fleeting pleasures of wealth and lavish entertainment: This “Nutcracker” is a reflection of Washington in more ways than one.
Performances continue through Dec. 28, with cast changes, at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. 202-397-SEAT (7328) or visit www.washingtonballet.org/season-performances/nutcracker-2014