The lights go down, a strikingly bright red curtain rises and a familiar soundtrack begins as Montclair State University’s Memorial Auditorium suddenly turns into a winter wonderland during the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble’s (NJDTE) rendition of “The Nutcracker.”
As a well-known, widely adored holiday classic, this ballet transports audiences to a dream world of gorgeous scenes and beautiful dances that Clara (played by Samantha Wolf) creates in her mind because of a present she receives from her family for Christmas. While all of the other girls are presented with dolls, Clara’s gift is unique: a nutcracker. However, it is not an ordinary nutcracker. To her, he is the Nutcracker Prince (played by Will Pettigrew) who sweeps her off her feet and rescues her from the evil Mouse King (played by Donald Grennon) and his minions.
As the story progresses, Clara is welcomed into the Kingdom of Sweets by the Sugar Plum Fairy herself (played by Marie Lorene Fichaux), along with the residents of the land – Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Chinese Tea, Russian Trepak, Sugary Almond Marzipan and Mother Gigogne (played by Christopher Bloom) with her Bon Bons. Then comes a special performance from the Enchanted Flowers, the Dew Drop, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Each of these performances holds a special place in Clara’s heart. Even when she wakes up, she never forgets her journeys or the Nutcracker Prince.
The choreography was executed by NJDTE artistic director and long-time choreographer Nancy Turano, who constructed a careful precision and beautiful homage to Tchaikovsky’s original ballet. The dancers’ feet were light and airy each time their pointe shoes hit the stage, making the audience feel as if they were on a cloud. The solo performances were especially breathtaking. Even if they were short and seemingly effortless, they still managed to dazzle the room with simplistic beauty.
It was obvious that each performer put their all into the roles they were playing. The lead dancers, Wolf as Clara and Fichaux as the Sugar Plum Fairy, had astonishing routines that made it easy to keep an eye on their characters. Each dance of the sweets had their own individual scene stealers, complete with air splits, endless pirouettes and teamwork that sometimes literally held dancers high above the rest.
Costume designers Linda Fitzgerald and Holly Harper created stunning, detailed ensembles that complimented each performer’s theme. There were subtle but gorgeous differences between each gown and tutu, and the audience could see every inch of glitter that shone off of the fabric. The bright and colorful costumes went well with the set, which had clever props such as a clock with hands that twirled, a bed that moved across the stage on its own and holiday flourishes.
A moment that had the audiences’ eyes going wide was the snow falling down from the ceiling, making the dancing snowflakes on stage even more iridescent. From the brilliant lights on the ever-glowing Christmas tree to the mice heads with beady red eyes to Clara’s candy-coated throne, it was a sight to be cherished.
Moment after moment, NJDTE’s “The Nutcracker” was an enthralling masterpiece that put Montclair State students as well as other joyful patrons of the arts in the holiday spirit.