When it comes to regional productions of “The Nutcracker,” there are a myriad from which to choose. But few, if any, are any better than Albany Berkshire Ballet’s.
For nearly 40 years, ABB’s Artistic Director Madeline Cantarella Culpo has not only spun out some of the area’s best dancers — at her two schools in Pittsfield, Mass., and Albany — but has also presented, with consistency, the most excellent “Nutcracker.”
With a cast of such fine dancers and choreography that is inviting to the eye, Culpo’s version always comes out on top. In addition this rendering, which will make its final stop at The Egg next week, is gorgeous. The costumes and sets sparkle, as they did on Saturday afternoon at the Colonial Theatre, one of the company’s many stops on its northeast “Nutcracker” circuit.
Culpo wisely doesn’t take chances with the Tchaikovsky ballet. She follows the standard storyline of a young girl coming of age on Christmas Eve. It’s the little things, however, that make ABB’s version so enchanting. The adults, at the Silberhaus Christmas party, have character. Sure, they do the usual such as pat children on their heads or wag their finger at the domestic, but they have personality too. It gives the party scene, which often feels dragged out, some spunk and depth (though one-dimensional it might be.)
Clara, danced by Olivia Furlong, is a lovely, tall and lanky dancer, who takes on this central role with poise. She gets through the tricky parts, such as miming the battle with the mice, with grace.
Chuck Paquette is an agile Drosselmeyer, kicking up his heels like few in that role can. Aside from his makeup, which was overdone in the first act, he is a jovial toymaker. (His good humor and facile face serve him well as the gushing Mother Ginger too.)
The dancing doesn’t begin until the snowflakes fall in scene II. It opens with Marie Buser and Benjamin Biswell in the snow pas de deux. Unfortunately, they rush through the early parts, looking nervous with the lifts. They find a better balance by the end of the snow scene. Still, neither savor the moment as they swirl and leap through the glittering forest.
In contrast, the snowflakes captivate as they create a whirling kaleidoscope of whites and cool blues.
A beauty and fun mingle in the Kingdom of Sweets, with a round-the-world tour of dancing. Salome Trujillo is alluring in the Arabian dance. The swirl of her hip spirals up through her spine, lending a feeling of continuous motion. She also slides in splits and rolls along the floor, an understated seductress.
Ruslan Sprague is also a standout in the Russian trepak dance, in which he bounces into air splits, one after another.
Most wonderful are Mariko Ishikawa as the Sugarplum Fairy and Fernando Ursuga as her Cavalier. Their elegant grand pas is flawless. And unlike many area productions that rely on superstar ballet artists hired these parts, ABB’s does not look lopsided with us and them. Ishikawa and Ursuga do not overshadow anyone. They blend in with the other ABB dancers as one, well-formed and happy ensemble.
Albany Berkshire Ballet will repeat its production of “The Nutcracker” at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. today at the Colonial Theatre. But you can catch it closer to home — at The Egg — at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18. Tickets and more information are available by calling The Egg at 473-1845 or visiting www.theegg.org.