Lustig’s The Nutcracker, 2017

Graham Lustig’s, The Nutcracker
Oakland Ballet – Paramount Theater, Oakland

Nuts and Sweets

Graham Lustig’s “Nutcracker” keeps getting better and better. This year, besides the virtuoso performance of Ramona Kelley as Marie, Lustig cast Jacke McConnell both as Cousin Vera and as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Kelley and McConnell are beautifully skilled. Seyong Kim partnered Kelley; Thom Panto partnered McConnell. This made for the highly skilled execution of the many duets these dancers shared and for a delightful finale to the show.

More than 40 young dancers, ages 7 to 17 participate as snowballs, mice, soldiers and candies. The audience consists of many more children, parents, grandparents and fans of ballet who love seeing their kids onstage. Through the many scenes of the story, from the Stahlbaum’s ‘at home’ party where the naughty brother, Fritz, danced by Sanchit Babbar, breaks the Nutcracker, through the battle of the rats and toy soldiers, to the land of the frozen forest where snow maidens and snowballs appear, Lustig keeps the story moving. Dressed in saucy costumes by Zack Brown (who is also responsible for the magical sets), the dancers ultimately move to “Confiturembourg,” a land of sweets and surprises.

There Marie and the transformed Nutcracker (now a charming prince) meet all the cooks, bonbons and candies as well as dance divertissements from Spain, Arabia, China, Russia and Germany. They are also entertained by clowns, the tiniest played by Mackenzie Seto-Nguyen. And too, they join in the Waltz of the Flowers, a well-known Tchaikovsky favorite. It all moves along with great charm: the shallow Paramount stage can hardly contain them all.

Michael Morgan conducted the Oakland Symphony with good sound and only a few blunders. (I understand from a dancer that some moments of the score was omitted.) The Piedmont East Bay Children’s Concert Choir sang and a good time was had by all.

Credits go to Patty Ann Farrell, lighting, Christopher Dunn, wardrobe supervisor and Bat Abbit, ballet master and education coordinator.

In the seven years that Graham Lustig has led the Oakland Ballet, each of the company’s offering has grown in size, stature and execution. He and the growing company are to be congratulated on its success. In a planned Spring offering, March 10 at Skyline High School, the company will be joined by Nadhi Thekkek from Nava Dance Theater presenting Inidan dance forms and Indian ragas in Lustig’s “Jangala.” In late May, the Oakland Ballet has scheduled a Spring season. We expect will be more of the promise this company has shown.

Joanna G. Harris

Ramona Kelley and Seyong Kim float into the land of snowflakes and snowballs.