Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy from Minnesota Dance Theatre is a Gorgeousity of a Production

Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy is a variation on The Nutcracker Ballet performed to the classic score by Tchaikovsky. The basis for which is a short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Probably most peoples introduction to ballet is some version of The Nutcracker, whether it be from a segment on TV, a film version, or the live experience. It’s a timeless tale of a little girl Marie, her Godfather Drosselmayer, and the dream she has that her Nutcracker toy has come to life. After a Christmas party at her home, Marie falls asleep under the tree. Drosselmayer, the toymaker and wizard awakens her in a dream where her Nutcracker and his toy soldiers defeat the Rat Queen and her army after a fierce battle. After her Nutcracker has transformed into a Prince they travel with her Godfather Drosselmayer through the the Kingdom of Jam and the Land of Marzipan Sweets to the Castle of the Sugar Plum Fairy. It’s highly encouraged to read through the full plot synopsis in the program before it begins so that you will have some idea what is happening. But really, the key is not to get hung up on the details of what is happening but to sit back and let the beautifully performed score, exquisite dancing, and sumptuous visuals wash over you.

As soon as the lights go down we know we are in good hands with the 44-piece Nutcracker Orchestra conducted by Philip Brunelle. There is something about a full orchestra that brings out the full power and beauty of classical compositions. No CD or MP3 file can compare with being in the room with the orchestra as they perform Tchaikovsky’s masterwork. I am not a orchestral music connoisseur by any means, there are few pieces I can recognize by ear. But The famous “Nutcracker Suite” is certainly one of those I can. Going all the way back to what I am sure was my first exposure in Walt Disney’s Fantasia which I can remember seeing in the theatre in 1977 as a young lad. My new favorite from the show is “Scene XIV – Pas De Deux: Dance of the Prince & the Sugar-Plum Fairy” I cannot place it, but I have recently heard some piece of music that was clearly inspired by this segment. It’s a subtly romantic movement wonderfully performed by Philip Brunelle’s Orchestra.

I do not know enough about dance to write intelligently about it. Nor can words do justice to the beauty and eloquence of this dance company. All I can tell you is that I was enchanted by what I saw and amazed at the athleticism of these dancers. It isn’t just the dancers in the three or four lead roles you can identify, there has to be about three dozen dancers in this production. I’d like to single several of them out, but it is difficult, because it isn’t clear who they all are. Dario Mejia as Godfather Drosselmayer is a standout, as is Lily Scott as Marie. Another favorite with the entire audience was the dancer performing as the windup toy, unfortunately I cannot determine who that was from the program. But again, it would be impossible even if you could determine who was who to single everyone deserving out as this is certainly a dance company in top form from the oldest to the tiny little kids who play the mice.

Classical music may not be your jam, and watching Ballet dancing might not be your idea of a fun evening. But when those two are performed so superbly and then combined with the amazing set designs, lighting, and costumes it’s really hard to imagine anyone leaving the theatre not in awe of what they just experienced. Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy is the perfect gateway to nurturing an interest and appreciation in dance and classical music. There’s always something wonderful to hear or see. I was really impressed with the set designs and lighting work. The sets are by James Gunther, Bruce Allen, Tim Burton, Margaret Allen, John Clark Donahue (Snow Scene), and Laura Hohenshelt (Nuremberg and Pink Ball). They work beautifully in conjunction with the Lighting Designer Michael Murnane efforts. Though I will say that for all the spectacle and creativity with which the show opens with Drosselmayer’s Toyshop and the Parlor at the Christmas party, Act two is a little sparse in terms of new reveals. What keeps amazing from scene to scene though are the costumes by Costume Designers Judith Cooper, Sarah DeMers (Snow Corps de Ballet), Kari Holmberg (Snow Soloist Tutus), Kathy Johnson (Comedia), Nancy Pohl (Cavalier Jackets), Vanessa Lopez (Divertissement III), and Katie Danielle Johnson or Robyn Peterson (Sugar Plum Tutus). The mouse costumes I have to give a shout out too, as they were just the most fabulous little costumes and they were worn by what must be the youngest members of the cast with the tiniest little legs dancing around in them, adorable.

Minnesota Dance Theatre has been presenting Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy for decades. For many attending this is already a tradition, it’s certainly going to become one for me. Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy an enchanting evening or music and dance with production design and costumes that create a neverending whirlwind of new wonders to behold with every scene. The production runs through December 22nd at the State Theatre in Downtown Minneapolis. For tickets click here Nutcracker Fantasy