It took Balanchine a decade to build a professional company from the students in his School of American Ballet. Somewhat similarly, Madison Ballet, still a fledgling studio troupe (the School of the Madison Ballet's less than two years old), should eventually grow into the lavish Nutcracker sets purchased for artistic director W. Earle Smith's newly choreographed yuletide production three seasons back. I enjoyed some of Nut's little goodies last Friday night at Overture Hall, but the show still needs work.
There were staples among the treats - the clean-as-a-bell sound of Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Tim Vandenburg's fancy capework as magician Drosselmeyer, Kelle Adams' slapstick maid routine in the party scene (Act I). Peter Kuzma, outfitted as Grandfather with mocking humor, Fidel Castro beard and Sergeant Pepper coat, stood out among the invitees. Ken Adams' over-the-top Mother Ginger in Act II never fails to entertain me.
The studio company offered some dance delights, enhancing the mix. The ballerina and soldier dolls (Brooke Taylor, Maddy Kasprzak), emerging from Drosselmeyer's cabinet of mysteries to entertain the little party guests, finessed their fouette turns and cabrioles. Krystal Davis stood out, too, as one of the three Merlitons in Act II.
Second-time guest soloists Joy Atkins and Michael Lively, both of Bruce Wood Dance Company in Fort Worth, Texas, repeated last year's success with their hedonistic Arabian duet. Madison favorite daughter Genevieve Custer and partner David Bier, both Bay Area pros, were relaxed and happy doing the Snow pas-de-deux. Custer sparkled as Dewdrop in Waltz of the Flowers. Guest principals Christina Fagundes and Ben Huys were as music-box perfect as always in the grand pas-de-deux, so decadently sugar-plummy in Madison Ballet's lush flowerland set.
Fagundes and Huys have close ties to Madison Ballet, and they're nuanced, polished dancers, but they've done the Sugarplum pas here several years running. I'm hoping Santa brings an unexpected surprise pair of guest stars for Nut '07.
Overall the Snow pointe corps did a much better job this year than last, but the Swan Lake-like arms in this dance are too fast. Prima ballerina assoluta Natalia Makarova, the ultimate Odette/Odile, could almost take flight with her rippling limbs, but such swift lyricism is lost on student dancers. I'd change the choreography, or ask maestro Sewell to slow down next year.
As usual, the divertissements needed dollops of spice. The kids in Russian and Siamese hammed it up a little, but more condiments would help. Madison Ballet's performers-in-training have yet to clinch the knack of Spanish dance. The Flowers corps started off out of synch. Nutcracker's little bonbons - kidlets in the party scene, itty-bitty garden angels, the petite Puchinellas hidden in Mother Ginger's skirts - were sweet, but their routines looked slightly unstructured this year.
No, Virginia, it's not a rave review, but as Madison Ballet stretches toward its potential over the next several years, it'll be fun to watch.