The first thing one notices about the Berks Ballet Theatre’s 45th annual production of “The Nutcracker” is the lighting.
The gorgeous, gorgeous lighting. Like a painting by Rembrandt, the golden light illuminates the delicate limbs of the ballerinas as they sway in the hail of artificial snow. Their shadows dance with them.
The warm, dreamy glow, combined with the contours of the Scottish Rite Cathedral in West Reading, gives the illusion of peeking into a toy theater filled with Herr Drosselmeyer’s (Nathan Bland) magical automatons. Either that, or a candlelit window on a frigid, dark December night. The lighting designer is not credited in BBT’s virtual “Nutcracker” program, but whoever it was, my hat is off to them.
“The Nutcracker,” performed live at the Scottish Rite for the first time since 2019, is pure, unadulterated Christmas.
It’s egg nog injected directly into your veins. It represents the infinite wonder and imagination of childhood, represented by a soaring Tchaikovsky score and little girl named Clara (Hennessey Kehs-Rossi at the performance I attended) in a nightgown clutching a candle, watching out for the vampy Mouse Queen (Gretchen Kimmel).
The choreography by Bland and Kelly Barber comes complete with a theatrical battle between the mice and toy soldiers, and the thrilling Waltz of the Snowflakes.
Act II features the famed Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (a breathtakingly elegant Ellie Folga) and the lovely Waltz of the Flowers. Just seeing “The Nutcracker” performed by a live orchestra is enough to warm the cockles of even Ebenezer Scrooge himself, and under the baton of Dr. Willis M. Rapp, the Reading Pops Orchestra has never sounded better.
I would argue that the most important character in the “Nutcracker” story is not Clara, not the Nutcracker (Daniel Mayo) or the Cavalier (Jace Coronado) but Drosselmeyer.
He is the one who gives Clara the nutcracker and transforms him into the dashing Cavalier. Drosselmeyer doesn’t have the high-flying acrobatic choreography of his cast mates, but his role is central to the story. He is like the Wizard of Oz – a bridge between the magical world discovered by a young girl, and the “ordinary” world she leaves behind.
In an interesting take, Drosselmeyer guides Clara throughout Act II, remaining as a father figure in the Land of Sweets. I don’t remember Drosselmeyer having such a prominent role in BBT’s 2018 and 2019 “Nutcracker” productions.
The thing about traditions is that you can see them refine themselves year after year. At this rate, I look forward to seeing the “Nutcracker” that 2022 brings us.