The grandeur of Tchaikovsky’s venerable “Nutcracker” is whittled down to quaint pleasantries with Saratoga City Ballet.
The student ensemble, which is performing the holiday treat to sell-out crowds this weekend at Skidmore College, doesn’t fuss with out-of-town stars, opulent designs nor what it deems as unnecessary pas d’action in the first act. Rather, the mainly female troupe centers its capable talents on dancing. And since the group has few boys, even fewer adults and a tiny stage, it’s a sensible choice.
To accommodate the modest size and scope of the company, there are adjustments to the ballet. The first act party, which can be quite indulgent in some productions, is a mild children’s party with one set of tame parents supervising.
Minus the adult’s champagne guzzling, flirtations and the grand processional dance, the story is tighter. It cuts right to Clara receiving her gift of the Nutcracker to the tree growing (but not too much, which is disappointing) to the scene where the mice battle the toy soldiers.
While I’m not a fan of changing a classic, Saratoga City Ballet earns points by transforming Fritz into Fritzie, Clara’s cranky sister. On Friday night, this sister act worked well. Natalie Pendergast as Clara is all sugar and light, while Margot Hartley is downright peevish. They play off each other beautifully and thus are great fun to watch.
William Otto is also terrific as Drosselmeyer. He portrays the eccentric guest with as much dignity as he would if he were still dancing with New York City Ballet.
With an abbreviated first act, the company is able to conserve its energy for the Kingdom of Snow and the Land of the Sweets where each of the main dancers play multiple roles. Though the company skimps too much on the snow in the forest, the dancing in the first act finale swirls across the stage with mirthful zeal.
The second act, among the mounds of ice cream and candy, pops with animated color and joy. The Sugarplum Fairy, the proficient Gaia Waisbrod, nails her pointe work with steely precision while her lush port de bras is open and generous. In her solo, however, it feels as if she rushes through, not savoring it as much as she could. Certainly, the audience would have liked to luxuriate in her dancing some more.
Dewdrop, danced by Abby Gaylord, does relish her role as she parts the dancing petals and hastens to take center stage again and again in the long waltz.
Also enjoyable are the tea, marizpan and candy canes, all of whom wear florid, crisp costumes that add dash to the motion.
Although there are many soaring moments, those who long for tradition might find Saratoga City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” disconcerting. Yet while this “Nutcracker” skims the surface, it also lands the important steps just right.
Saratoga City Ballet will repeat its version of “The Nutcracker” at 2 and 7 p.m. today and noon and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Dance Theatre at Skidmore College. Every show is sold out.