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It’s that time of the year again, when the music of Tchaikovskyreigns supreme across the land, and a myriad of productions of The Nutcracker can be found. Dances Patrelle’s production of the Yorkville Nutcracker, set in the Olde New York of 1895, gives a fresh twist on the holiday favorite. Francis Patrelle’s complex and witty choreography was enhanced by his acute knowledge of theatricality and humor. Along with professional dancers, students from Ballet Academy East, ABT/Jackie Kennedy Onasis School, School at STEPS, The Ailey School, The Joffrey School Young Dancer Program, LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, The Ballet Hispanico School, and 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center, were showcased in this lovely production.

NYCB’s Jennifer Ringer and Jared Angle as the Sugar Plum and Cavalier in Dances Patrelle’s Yorkville Nutcracker: Photo by Rosalie O’Conner

Act I began with a party at Gracie Mansion hosted by the Babcock family for the newly elected Mayor Strong. Also in attendance were the families of the International Consul Generals. The mysterious Uncle Noah Wheaton, elegantly portrayed by Don Paradise, entertained the children as well as the adults and gave his niece, Mary Strong, a nutcracker doll. Much as in the traditional tale, Mary’s brother, Putnam Bradlee Strong, broke the doll and set the ballet into motion.

The dancers in the party scene were excellently rehearsed and set the bar high for the evening. It was a treat to see choreography during the long overture — I have often wondered why more choreographers don’t make use of this beautiful music in their productions. The highlight performance of the party scene was given by Becka Vargus, who delivered laugh out loud hilarity in her portrayal of the “Maid.”

In Mary’s post-party dream and battle scene, the audience experienced a high-octane showcase of a technical battle that never lost it’s humor. Upon the defeat of the Mouse King, Mary is led to Central. Here, the Snow King and Queen, danced with ease and power by Amaker Smith and Therese Wendler, ‘ice skated’ through their snowy pas de deux. The Snow Boy, danced by Ballet Academy East’s Alexandros Pappajohn, delivered a most impressive display of artistry and line. Patrelle boldly has the ensemble as ice skaters rather than the traditional snowflakes. Clad in long, dark winter coats, they kept their arms in mufflers almost the entire time, which showcased the strength in the dancers legs and upper bodies.

Act II took place in the New York Botanical Gardens, where the Sugar Plum Fairy presented an array of divertissements. The Spanish dancers sometimes fell out of sync, but it was forgivable because of the strength and excitement displayed by the young artists. Julie Voshell and Jason Stolz were roughly sensual in Arabian. The Chinese dancers were precise and clear in their tight footwork and gorgeous use of their √©paulement. The Russian Dance was incredibly exciting, as the dancers wowed with their ability to control the lines of their flexible bodies. Patrelle’s choreography for Marzipan was perhaps one of the most difficult I’ve witnessed. The five ladies involved rose to the challenge and nailed the fast and ferocious footwork. Maureen Duke was a playful and flirtatious Mother Ginger as she reigned in her devious gingerbread children. Lily Seo, as Dew Drop, lead her beautiful pink roses with aplomb, performing with an assured presence.

The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced by New York City Ballet Principals Jennifer Ringer and Jared Angle, executed their pas with the technical mastery and artistry that only comes from being seasoned dancers. Upon completion of her seemingly effortless variation, Ringer’s calm, yet commanding persona elicited well deserved cheers from the audience. Angle partnered Ringer with ease and expertly attacked the tricky male variation. The electricity in the audience after the couple’s performance was complete was exhilarating. It was a gift for the students involved to have the privilege to dance alongside such experts in the field of dance.

Finding a new way of approaching this centerfold of the holiday season while staying true to the story is tricky. Nutcrackers run the gamut from traditional productions such as George Balanchine’s all the way to Mark Morris’s zany telling of The Hard Nut. Francis Petrelle’s creative reimaging of the story combined with his neo-classic flare makes this family friendly production a welcome addition.

Written by Matthew Donnell

Matthew Donnell

A graduate of North Carolina School of the arts, Matthew Donnell is a freelance dancer, actor, clown, instructor, and film maker residing in NYC. After a decade with the Kansas City Ballet, he turned his focus toward musical theater and teaching. He strives to bring the humor of his life into his art in order to promote artistic health for himself and those around him.