November 27, 2022

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Poor Thanksgiving, overshadowed by Christmas before the turkey is even in the oven. It has become a new tradition. At least at the Kennedy Center, where “The Nutcracker” — performed this year by the Kansas City Ballet — opened Wednesday night with a lively blizzard of satin and tulle, along with smart marzipan, a towering Mother Ginger and all the trimmings.

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“The Nutcracker” has always been a ballet suitable for children, but this production is aimed particularly at young people. There are plenty of wonderful comic touches, and the spotlight is on quick-thinking toys and clever animal characters. A pot-bellied, chubby teddy bear who’s grown to a gargantuan size is equal parts fierce and adorable. He is the star of the Silberhaus family’s Christmas party in Act 1. Drosselmeier, the puppet maker who created him and whose other enchanted gifts ignite the ballet’s fantastical journey, enjoys whizzing around in midair, his black cloak swinging him into flight.

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The ballet’s many child actors easily steal the show. There are, of course, hopping, excited little partygoers in the first act and the tiny puppets that come to life at midnight when the Silberhaus parlor is transformed into a battlefield. The Tin Soldiers use a particularly nimble combat strategy to crush an invasion of mice. What collective might (and dynamic choreography) it takes to stand strong against their lovably puffed-up enemies who bravely – hopelessly – pushed forward with broken forks and fountain pens!

Inspired by the Rockettes, this ‘Nutcracker’ also features reindeer prancing enchantingly through the kingdom of snow in antlers and elegant, leggy bodysuits. A giant hot air balloon decorated with unicorns whisks away the young protagonist Clara – the fun-loving Elise Pickert, a dancer with lovely musical phrasing – and her Nutcracker prince, embodied with glamor and panache by Company member Joshua Bodden.

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The Kansas City Ballet last performed here in 2017, when this highly engaging version of The Nutcracker, created by the company’s Artistic Director Devon Carney, was fairly new. It’s still fresh and bright, with colorful backdrops and props by French painter Alain Vaes: presents on the tree, snow on the window panes and, in Act 2, a sugar-sweet wonderland where colonnades of mint sticks overlook a garden of gummy candies. Veteran costume designer Holly Hynes designed the Victorian attire in tastefully muted tones that don’t compete with the sets. Very important: The lush robes and dresses for little girls look even more beautiful in motion.

The professional dancers are charming and capable, but be aware that this company overall isn’t quite the caliber typically showcased by the Kennedy Center in its ballet subscription series. The Kansas City Ballet is a relatively small troupe, about 30 dancers and apprentices. His “Nutcracker” list includes his second company, KCB II, trainees and many young ballet students. Indicative of where the company stands in terms of technical strengths, it employs a member of the Pacific Northwest Ballet – guest artist James Kirby Rogers – as the cavalier of Kaleena Burks’ charming Sugar Plum Fairy. That’s a smart move; Rogers’ high classical brilliance and majestic poise lend considerable star power to the ballet’s closing moments.

Ramona Pansegrau, Music Director of the Kansas City Ballet, led the Opera House Orchestra to one of the greatest delights of any “Nutcracker” performed at the Kennedy Center: the incomparable score of Tchaikovsky performed live.

The Kansas City Ballet is performing The Nucracker at the Kennedy Center Opera House through November 27. $49-$189. www.kennedy-center.org.

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