Despite the threat of freezing rain, Dance Wisconsin's performance of Nutcracker Fantasy last Saturday at Wisconsin Union Theater was very well attended. This version of Nut, an annual production, was reassembled from the original by Dance Wisconsin artistic director JoJean Retrum. It's a showcase for the pre-professional company plus studio kids at her school, Monona Academy of Dance.
Nutcracker Fantasy's gentler than the spooky E.T.A. Hoffman tale at the core of the standard Christmastime ballet. It's got a hybrid score, part Tchaikovsky, part carols, part local composer Taras Nahirniak. It plays mostly to the parents of Retrum's students. It's also a viable small show, with some solid dancing by company members and guest principals from American Ballet Theater.
The 2009 production was big for Michael Hartung, who's been stealing Dance Wisconsin's shows for several years. Hartung -- a high school senior with a bright future in ballet -- is a natural-born dancer and a talented ham. His jack-in-the-box role always wows the crowd. His cabrioles have ballon; his grande pirouettes à la seconde are confident. He flips and cartwheels, and a break-dance spin plants this dance in the present.
Hartung, moving into partnering roles this year, invested the Spanish divertissement with crispness. His partner (her name's not clear from the program) was equally good, flaunting a fan, flicking her feet. Hartung, with Mary Kate Hartung, also danced this year's Snow pas de deux. It wasn't perfect, but it was as good as any pre-professional pas I've seen.
That's testimony to Retrum's strengths. And while the student-iness of this production is unavoidable -- the ballerina dolls in Act One and the corps de ballet in the Ice Forest dance were gangly teens in their first pointe performance -- most of Retrum's dancers, from the littlest elves up, have keen character skills. A tiny girl's pas de deux with the giant teddy bear -- she balanced in arabesque on his bent knee -- was cute and touching. Three little Swiss dolls, especially the boy, got hammy with the score's oom-pah-pahs. Even Button Dahm, the Lhasa Apso in the sleigh, did her part with aplomb.
Among Retrum's other advanced pre-pro performers, Michelle Hanson, who's been the female harlequin doll several years running, looked strong. Teresa Lackey stood out in her pas de deux with Henry Wroblewski in "Poinsettias," Retrum's "Waltz of the Flowers." Anthony Andersen, a company apprentice, turned in classy leaps in the ice skating scene. Young Marie (Emily Jamieson), the central character, was still wobbly on pointe, but she didn't let that get in the way of her joyful little solo at the end of the snowman scene.
Last but not least, ABT soloists Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky, husband and wife in real life, did a nice, clean, fly-in / fly-out, stock-in-trade Sugar Plum pas de deux.