I’ve attended the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker countless times. I went as a young, aspiring dancer growing up, and in the past few years, have the renewed the tradition as an adult. This year, as any other, I was dazzled.
As I mentioned in a previous article, the PBT’s production of The Nutcracker is set in Gilded Age Pittsburgh, in a Shadyside home (where the Kaufmann and Heinz families are guests). The giant clock mounted at the proscenium is modeled after the old Kaufmann’s clock, and during “The Waltz of the Snowflakes,” the backdrop becomes an antique view from Mt. Washington. It’s a delightful change that brings the story closer to home for the audience.
The opening scenes at the Christmas party are full of energetic and joyful, full of laughs, magic tricks, and humorous characters. The journey through the woods is transcendent (and my favorite), and the Land of Enchantment is full of, well, enchantment, and a circus-like display of vibrant colors and dancing. I enjoyed how Marie was portrayed a bit differently this year: playful and curious as a girl on the brink of an adventure ought to be, and less like the typical, innocent damsel waiting for her Prince Charming. Less Cinderella, more Alice. A refreshing characterization.
The sets, costumes, and choreography amazed everyone in the audience, as usual. Snowflakes falling, a Christmas tree growing larger than life, impossible clown cars, and spinning carousels descending from the sky left nothing to the imagination. The lead dancers were all on point (no pun intended), the ensemble routines were gracefully in-sync, and the youngest little dancers charmed as sheep, mice, and bumblebees.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen this production many time but not much changes from year to year. The costumes and choreography remain largely the same. This could be taken as a criticism, but instead I think of it as watching one of your favorite holiday films or making a family recipe– A Christmas Story and grandma’s cookies don’t change from year to year either, but they’re just as delightful every time. PBT has found something that works, and works well. It makes sense to stick with it.
The PBT dancers are extremely talented and their art is commendable, but I’d argue that what has really helped this production stand the test of time is making the ballet accessible to everyone. For children that have never been to a ballet before, for adults that think ballet is boring or snobby, and for the die-hard ballet supporters, all the same, here is laughter at the clowns’ and antics, and awe at the Sugar Plum Fairy’s and Cavalier’s pas de deux. It’s the perfect mix of holiday and Pittsburgh nostalgia to tickle everyone’s memories in some way.
My only real issue with this production is the lack of live musicians. Tchaikovsky’s music always deserves a full orchestra. It’s a shame to miss out on that, but it’s certainly understandable why they opt for a recording instead. Either way, it’s difficult to remain disappointed however you listen to Tchaikovsky’s score. Each movement is like a special treat, just as familiar as a favorite Christmas carol.
The Nutcracker is playing at the Benedum until December 27. The Benedum is stunning at this time of year, and this show is perfect as a family outing or a date night. It’s a wonderful Christmas activity to add to your list (and perhaps a tradition to begin). You can purchase tickets and read more about the show here. Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for complimentary press tickets.
Photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.