The Nutcracker is one of the most famous ballets in the world today—especially around the holiday season. This semester, Columbia University Ballet Ensemble (CUBE) has been working hard to choreograph and produce their own version of this classic show, and Bwog was lucky enough to be able to send Arts Editor Sarah Kinney to sit in on dress rehearsal Tuesday night.
CUBE, known for both its incredible talent and inclusivity, casts every dancer who auditions. Because of this, the show featured dancers of every level—from beginners to ex-professionals. The curtain opens on Kayla Glaser (BC ’20) en pointe as young Clara, who then welcomes all of her friends and family to her family Christmas gathering. Many of the dancers portraying her friends are only beginners, but with Clara leading them in simple yet elegant movements, the scene is engaging and uplifting. This pattern continues throughout the show; with roles from children to mice to bakers to sugar plum fairies, the the whimsical tone of The Nutcracker lends itself well to incorporating dancers of all levels. Glaser’s portrayal of Clara herself is lively, inviting, and technically advanced, making her the perfect leader for the entire show.
The set, however, is somewhat lacking. With cardboard clocks and blow-up turkeys, the set certainly toned down the professionality of the production. That being said, the costumes—although not crafted specifically for this show—were creative and striking. The choreography was modeled after CUBE artistic director Elizabeth Neureiter’s (BC ’18) hometown studio production, but the student choreographers for each specific piece were granted artistic discretion to make changes as they saw fit. What ended up coming together was a genuinely student production—in a good way.
Throughout the show, there were a number of characters who stood out thanks to their playful personalities. Fritz (Clara’s brother), played by Michael Wheatley (CC ’19), was funny, witty, and technically interesting to watch. Wheatley’s chemistry with the rest of the cast on stage proved that he was a beloved character. Aunt Drosselmeyer (Wing-Sum Law), donning a floor-length black lace gown, black cape, and huge white wig, commanded the stage with her overdramatic gestures. The Mouse King, played by Trevor Menders, was grandiose and impressive; Menders’ incredible ballet technique combined with his tall stature made him the perfect rodent monarch.
The end of act one through all of act two featured many different small groups of dancers, all of whom were able to show off their varying levels of technique. The snowflakes, who were all en pointe, were graceful and lovely in white and silver tutus. The “coffee” dancers, lead by Anna McEvoy-Melo en pointe, were intriguing as they danced behind golden fabric draped from their arms. McEvoy-Melo’s poise and flexible extension lines, combined with a somewhat modern take on traditional choreography, made this scene stand out in particular. After the coffee dancers, however, were the candy cane dancers, starring the four male dancers in the show. This scene featured dozens of dramatic jumps, each more impressive than the last. The men were clearly having fun showing off their strength beyond just lifting their partners. It was truly the most exciting two minutes of the entire show to watch.
The finale of The Nutcracker is, of course, the dance between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Both dancers, Ellen Lou and Roland Spier respectively, are ex-professionals—Lou danced with the American Repertory Ballet, and Spier with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Whether watching the show as a dancer yourself or simply a third party observer, Lou and Spier’s duet is utterly breathtaking. With turn after turn and lift after lift, you will marvel at the beauty and ease with which these young dancers own the stage.
Overall, CUBE’s production of The Nutcracker is well worth seeing. With a wide array of talent, new interpretations of classical choreography, and charismatic characters, CUBE pulled off one hell of a show. Performances are this Thursday night at 10 pm and this Saturday at 1:30 pm (both in Roone Auditorium). Tickets are 7$ with a CU/BC ID and can be purchased here. Be sure to share the event on Facebook!