By Jacqueline Jedrych and Noelia Veras
The Nutcracker is one of the most recreated shows by practically all ballet companies, and right here in D.C., the Washington Ballet performs a very unique rendition of it each year. The company’s take is unique because it commemorates the history of the District and past presidents. This year the performances began on November 24 and will continue on past Christmas until December 29, as the company celebrates its 75th anniversary.
The THEARC Theater was packed for the opening night of The Nutcracker in the intimate theater. Prior to the beginning of the performance, the theater was bustling with families and friends chatting in thrilling excitement. As soon as the lights were dimmed, the audience went silent in pure anticipation and the journey began.
According to its website, the Washington Ballet is currently in its 74th year and will soon celebrate its 75th anniversary. The Washington School of Ballet was created first and opened in 1944 which then eventually led to the inception of the company which was established in 1976. The artistic director of the company, Julie Kent, is dedicated to the expansion and growth of the Washington Ballet, aiming to cultivate a world-class company. Kent delivered a brief yet beautiful speech before the performance, delineating the hard work and dedication that every single dancer put into this show and expressing gratitude for the supporters of the Washington Ballet.
The plot, adapted by the company to specifically fit D.C.’s unique culture, opens on an extravagant Christmas party in 1880s Georgetown thrown by Clara and her parents. The guests entered with exuberance, culminating in a chaotically beautiful party scene. Each guest was costumed uniquely and had a distinct personality, giving the scene a sense of authenticity and vibrancy. This scene also included many young children, just as disciplined in their performances as the adults, demonstrating their impressive technique.
After the guests entered, Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer entertained them. First, there was a puppet show. Next, he brought out dolls who danced an impressive pas de deux. This dance is different from most traditional ballet training, featuring flexed feet and rigid movements. Their strength, control, and precision evoked images of real dolls. They were also dressed in shiny patriotic outfits, adding to the quintessential D.C. feel. As the party continued, Drosselmeyer gifted Clara a nutcracker. Her jealous little brother Fitz, tried to steal her new gift, accidentally breaking his arm in the process. A heartbroken Clara placed the Nutcracker under the Christmas tree as the guests departed.
In the middle of the night, Clara snuck back down to get her Nutcracker. Before she could leave, she was surrounded by little mice. Clara eventually left and fell into a deep sleep. In her dream, her godfather cast a magic spell, making the Christmas tree grow while transforming the simple mice into rat soldiers. Toy soldiers appeared in an incredibly synchronized battalion, led by the Nutcracker, who had the face of George Washington, and warded off the evil Rat King. However, the toys could not hold the rats off forever, and when the Rat King almost wins, Clara threw her shoe at him. This distracts him, allowing the Nutcracker to kill him. Upon his death, the Nutcracker turned into a handsome prince. Snow falls, symbolized by a beautiful corps dance. The Snow Queen and King’s pas de deux was breathtakingly delicate yet strong and the corps utilized their incredible technique to deliver a spotless performance.
As the scene transitioned from winter to springtime, the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier appeared to Clara with her attendants- butterflies, bunnies, mushrooms, and all manner of woodland creatures. The Nutcracker Prince explained how Clara saved his life, and the Sugarplum Fairy asks her subjects to perform for them. The performances featured Spanish and Chinese themed dances as well as an Anacostian brave and maiden dance with mind-bending flexibility. There were dazzling red cardinals that pranced with a sly Tom Cat and a frontiersman along with pioneer girls that thrilled with their impressive jumps. Further, Mother Barnum and her circus clowns left the audience giggling due to their antics. The traditional “Waltz of the Flowers” became the “Waltz of the Cherry Blossoms”, showing off the dancers’ impressive stamina and poise, led by the Dew Drop Fairy. Finally, the Sugarplum Fairy and the Cavalier performed a skillful pas de deux that brought the audience to their feet. Just before the curtain fell, Clara and her Nutcracker appeared asleep on her couch, bringing an end to her whimsical journey.
“I like how unique our rendition of The Nutcracker is,” said dancer Olivia Lipnick who played Clara’s mother. “It’s tailor-made for D.C. and no one else is doing what we are doing.”
The show is extremely unique as the Nutcracker himself is made in the image of George Washington. The backdrop of the stage at one point was a breathtaking image of cherry blossoms and monuments hidden beneath the flowers. The show portrayed an exceptional image of Georgetown and the embodiment of the District’s history. This is a special take on The Nutcracker and is constantly redone and improved as it is done every year by the company, and helps the dancers naturally get to work their way up through roles as they age.
“Sometimes I like to think of The Nutcracker as the progression of our careers as dancers,” said Lipnick when asked about the importance of The Nutcracker in her own life.
Ultimately, the show was emotional and one of a kind. The dancers, choreographers, and the entire staff at the Washington Ballet worked tirelessly to present this moving performance and it is well worth a watch. The rest of the showings will be at Warner Theatre and student discounts are available for 50% off ticket prices.