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arts jacobs school of music performances

IU Ballet Theater’s new ‘The Nutcracker’ is a triumph of talent

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With each changing projection, the audience audibly gasped. With each pirouette, they applauded enthusiastically. For each moment of magic, the adults in the room became children again, awed and enraptured by the beauty brought to life by the Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater department. 

“The Nutcracker,” newly imagined by Sasha Janes, professor of music in the ballet department, had its world premiere on the stage of the Musical Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30. Performances will be held with different casts at 7:30 p.m. Dec.1-2 and 2 p.m. Dec. 2-3. 

Welcoming the audience to the opening night of “The Nutcracker,” Sarah Wroth, professor of music in the ballet department, introduced Janes. Janes provided a brief overview of the work put in by various departments in the Jacobs School of Music — sets, costumes, music, choral and ballet. 

Boasting all new costumes by Linda Pisano, IU chair of theatre, drama and contemporary dance, each dancer’s outfit from Act One to Act Two glittered with its own life and vitality. The intricate detailing on each costume is a treat in itself. Drosselmeier’s cape resembling owl wings — another nod to the novella — is truly something to behold. 

Janes’ production is noticeably different than past productions, drawing more from the original novella by E.T.A Hoffman. Act One welcomes the audience to an Austrian Embassy where Marie, the protagonist, and her family welcome ambassadors from China, Spain, Russia and Morocco on Christmas Eve. 

The party scene, which occurs through most of the first act, is a true joy to watch. Janes’ direction brings depth to the scene, not grabbing one's attention with background action, but rather offering something to gaze upon should ones eye wander. 

The choreography of the party scene is also stellar, with elegant footwork and purposeful, pointed hand motions to convey the relationships between characters.  

After Marie received the titular Nutcracker as a gift, that evening the mice begin their attack. The mice and Mouse King, played by IU sophomore Bryan Gregory on Nov. 30, provided excellent comic relief. The reimagined battle scene quickly became a source of laughter for the audience while simultaneously awing them with increasingly larger props that must be seen in person. 

Once Marie, played by IU senior Maddie Tyler, saves the Nutcracker’s life in battle, played by IU senior Aram Hengen, the set transforms into that of a snowy forest beset with sparkling trees and hanging snowflakes.  

A noticeable change to the plot audiences may be used to occurs at the end of Act One, with the Nutcracker joining Marie on her sleigh ride into the magical world Drosselmeier beckons her into. In the program, Janes explained his decision to bring them into the dance world of Act Two rather than simply observe it. 

The Nutcracker and Marie observe the cultural dances before joining in. The two also dance the Grand as De Deux, giving it more emotional weight as the two characters finally get a chance to dance a full divertissement by themselves, hinting at the young love that may exist between the two — spectacularly executed to much applause by Tyler and Hengen. 

Over the course of the two acts, the set by Thaddeus Straussberger remains the embassy — tall white marble walls with intricately arched doorways. However, they are also the walls of a canvas for the projections of Greg Emetaz, which turn the walls into a myriad of different scenes like a forest, a battlefield and a lake. 

Act Two of “The Nutcracker” opens with a stunning lake projection that seems to ripple into the audience. Child dancers played the role of fireflies, which elicited many coos from the audience as they moved with the older dancers.  

The decision to use projections to change the scene rather than change the entire set is a striking one, but one that suggests the power of magical imagination that can transform even the most familiar setting into one of mystical intrigue.  

The cultural divertissements were performed by the same dancers portraying the ambassadors in Act One, giving the performance a more culturally proud feeling. The Spanish, Moroccan, Chinese, Russian and Mirliton movements were danced with high energy and complex technique, highlighting the skill of each dancer. 

The Moroccan dance performed opening night by IU junior Kelly Gleason and IU sophomore Bryan Gregory was a particular showcase of controlled strength, with Gleason’s slow contorting movements across Gregory’s figure highlighting the dissonance and powerful orchestration. 

Watching the group numbers — from snowflakes, to flowers, to the finale where the cast dances as a whole — almost intrusive. Looking across the stage at the dancers glancing at one another imperceptibly to smile felt like watching something for just them, a reminder of the beauty of dance and the power of the performing arts at IU. 

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