BalletMet's 'The Nutcracker' returns to the Ohio Theatre stage after a year's hiatus

Margaret Quamme
Special to The Columbus Dispatch
Phoebe Ing performs as Clara as she dances with the Nutcracker for the opening night of BalletMet's production of "The Nutcracker" at the Ohio Theatre

Friday night's opening of BalletMet's “The Nutcracker” might not have been as well-attended as in the past, with what appeared to be at least a third of seats vacant, but those in the audience were happy to see the annual holiday event back in the Ohio Theatre again.

Melissa France, 44, of Etna has been to BalletMet's production every year for the past 15 years, with the exception of last year, when it was canceled.

“Last year, we dressed up and watched a streaming version in the living room,” she said.

She was there with family including her aunt, Sally Hale, from Raleigh, North Carolina, who had never seen any version of the ballet before.

BalletMet:Attitude of gratitude: BalletMet has new appreciation for returning 'Nutcracker'

Alexis Williams, 25, of Portsmouth was there with her mother, who was purchasing an ornament for her nutcracker Christmas tree.

Snowflakes dance in BalletMet's production of "The Nutcracker" on opening night.

“It's exciting to be back,” Williams said. “It's a mother-daughter tradition by now.”

Elizabeth Connor, 8, of Dublin was also there with her mom, Heather Connor, 41.

“I like that there's a lot of dancing and music and beautiful costumes,” Elizabeth said.

With guests arriving steadily from 6:30 p.m. on for the 7:30 show, and with plenty of people available to check ID's and vaccination cards, lines outside the theater, on a relatively warm night with a gentle rain, moved along quickly.

Ashley Soria, 11, and her mother Kelly enjoy a photo with the "Nutcracker," before Friday's opening night performance.

Though the production is using recorded music this year rather than orchestral accompaniment for budgetary reasons, it remains otherwise lavish and magical.

“The Nutcracker,” with its Christmas Eve setting, romantic music and general air of spectacle has always served as a gateway to appreciation of ballet. The first act in particular, with its comic bustle and energy, strong narrative line, special effects and strategic use of young dancers (and human-sized mice), is designed to appeal not only to ballet-struck youngsters but also to lovers of live theater.

'Thet Nutcracker':Opening night of BalletMet's production of the Nutcracker

At a lavish Christmas Eve party, demure young Clara and her mischievous brother Fritz (both played by alternating members of the BalletMet Academy), along with a slew of other children, are entertained by the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer (Austin Powers), who gifts Clara a nutcracker, along with various magical visions that will recur in her later dreams.

BalletMet performs "The Nutcracker" on opening night at the Ohio Theatre. The production was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

The long scene is filled with entertaining action, both front and center and along the edges, including a comic turn by Clara's grandmother (Rachael Parini).

(Four sets of dancers appear in various performances, so the ones mentioned here may not be the ones you will see.)

After Clara falls asleep, she sees the room transformed and invaded by a troupe of seriously scary overgrown mice, the nutcracker turns into a handsome prince (Jim Nowakowski) and Clara herself, in a version of wish-fulfilment shared by much of the audience, into a poised and graceful young woman (Jessica Brown).

The fantasy continues with an enchanting scene in which snow falls and is tossed with abandon during the ethereal “Dance of the Snowflakes.”

By the second act, the storyline subsides, to be replaced by a more pure emphasis on dance, as if gently leading the spectator away from energetic spectacle into a quieter focus.

Here Caitlin Valentine and Jonathan Jordan shine as the Sugarplum Fairy and her cavalier, in controlled, precise passages, interspersed with the lively Arabian Dance and Trepak, and the comic gymnastics of Mother Ginger (Johnathon Hart) and her many children.

At the end of a year where magic has been in short supply, the sort of wonder this production supplies in abundance is all the more welcome.

margaretquamme@hotmail.com

At a glance

"The Nutcracker" will performed at noon and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15, 16 and 17; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18; noon and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 19; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21-23; noon Dec. 24; and noon and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 26 at the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St. Masks and proof of vaccination or negative COVID test are required for all attendees 12 and older. Tickets: $37 to $105.25 (614-229-4860, www.balletmet.org)