For the last fifteen years, Piedmont Dance Theatre has produced The Nutcracker, with the first performance being in Kannapolis. For eleven years, they have been joined by the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Hagy. The Piedmont Dance Theatre, as well as its associated Piedmont School of Music and Dance, were founded by Rebecca Massey Wiley; her husband Daniel Wiley is co-director. This arrangement gives many of their students a chance to shine in this annual production, in addition to their teachers and professional dancers brought in for the occasion. There is a great advantage – something noted ruefully by those trying to produce new productions of new works! – in an old, tried and true, familiar chestnut like The Nutcracker. The sets and many of the costumes (designed by Kathryn Prince) are the result of many years labor and investment, and everyone knows the music. There are also difficulties; I invited friends to come with me to this performance, and two said that they had gone in years before, sometimes many times over, and just couldn't see a reason to do it again. This was a first attendance for me to this ballet, so I could see it with fresh eyes, although not fresh ears. And it was wonderful to see all ages in the audience, after so many classical music concerts attended almost exclusively by the older set (like me). It was clear that many of the little girls in attendance had dreams of being a ballerina themselves.
The dance school clearly has high standards. The student dancers represented a wide range of ages, from what appeared to be early elementary school through college; and the faculty dancers were experts, enjoying the show. Tonight's production was choreographed by Rebecca and Daniel Wiley, which given the special needs of including a stage full of dancers with different skills, was probably a necessity. I hardly think a ballet off the shelf could have worked anywhere nearly as well.
The pit orchestra spilled out onto the wings of the stage; there wasn't enough room below for such a large orchestra called for by the Tchaikovsky score. To the left were timpani and two harps; to the right, three trombones, more percussion, and at one point a small children's chorus. That wasn't the only thing spilling. Late in the first act, theatrical fog rolled in from the wings and covered the floor. Naturally, the pit orchestra in front of the stage was even lower than the floor, and as you may imagine, the fog dropped in for a visit.
As this is such a well-known work, I will not go over the story line. Suffice it to say that it is in two acts; there is a story to follow in the first act, but the second act is basically an excuse to dance in exotic costumes, and that's good enough. The show started at a kid-and-geezer-friendly 6:30 pm, and lasted a manageable two hours.
The solo dancers deserve mention individually. Daniel Wiley was Drosselmeyer, the magician-cum-toymaker at the center of the plot. In addition to some quite athletic dancing, he displayed several magic tricks that had me completely puzzled, including a floating wand. His wife Rebecca was not scheduled to perform, but she substituted for the missing Emily Bowen in the role of the Grandmother. Rebecca is not a shy dancer, and gave this role a welcome dose of enthusiasm.
Samuel Chester has had a career as a soloist in productions in many countries, and serves on the faculty of Piedmont School of Music and Dance. The fellow is built like a linebacker, and that came in handy given the demands of hoisting ballerinas. He danced the roles of the Snow King, was one of the two Spanish Chocolates, and (under heavy and unrecognizable drag) Mother Ginger. Rachele Buriassi was the Sugar Plum Fairy. She has danced extensively with the Stuttgart Ballet, and is currently a soloist with the Boston Ballet.
David Greenburg is a young dancer, having graduated high school in 2011, but has great skills. He has performed lead roles with the American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey, and is based in New York City. He danced as the Soldier Doll and in the Russian Trepak.
The final guest artist was Yury Yanowsky. He has a lot of experience, as a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet for over two decades, and is on the faculty at Harvard. He danced as the Cavalier in the second act, with the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The orchestral performance was quite good; the balance was decent, even with the trombones and kettledrums unleashed out of the pit. And it's always fun for the audience to be able to see the slides in action, and the sticks swinging. The strings were audible, which is not always the case in such productions. This is not an easy piece to play, but it is clear that the musicians were well-prepared after so many years repetition.
The attendance was near capacity on this opening night, with much applause throughout the performance. It should be noted that in addition to the large orchestra and stage full of dancers, there was a long list of volunteers and other helpers involved in bringing this production to life.
For an enjoyable night out in the holiday season, especially with kids, I recommend this production. If you miss it this year, I'm sure it will be back next December, and so on through the decades. You'll have another chance. (That, and the Messiah, which will always come again, even if only in oratorio form.)
This performance repeats on December 17. See our side bar for details.