Dec 092014
 
It's Nutcracker time!

It’s Nutcracker time!

The Christmas season is not complete for us without seeing a performance of the Nutcracker! We looked forward to our season ticket performance of The Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker. This is their 10th anniversary celebration.

A few days before the performance, I just happened to notice on Twitter that The Washington Ballet was hosting a “Family Day” with special activities in the morning on the same day as our performance. I wasn’t sure what to expect but we weren’t going to miss it. We woke up early and drove into the city. Because we were so early, we even snagged prime parking in the garage right across the street from the theater.

As we walked into the Warner Theater, we found it alive with dance. There were dancers posing all over the hallways and balconies. The pairing of the gorgeous theater with its gold and chandeliers and the elegant ballet dancers was stunning.

The children were given an activity booklet with assignments to have their pictures taken with the performers. They received a stamp for each activity completed. If they completed all the activities, they would get a special prize during intermission.

My girls weren’t in the best of photo taking moods that day but grudgingly complied with my request for pictures with all the dancers. The dancers were all very gracious and welcoming.

A gorgeous ballerina.

A gorgeous ballerina.

The delightful jack-in-the box.

The delightful jack-in-the box.

Posing with the Chinese dancers.

Posing with the Chinese dancers.

Clara and Fritz.  Clara was portrayed by Katharine M. Lee and was one of the best Clara's I have ever seen!

Clara and Fritz. Clara was portrayed by Katharine M. Lee and was one of the best Clara’s I have ever seen!

My girls loved the craft table where they cut out and assembled paper Nutcracker ornaments for our tree.

My girls loved the craft table where they cut out and assembled paper Nutcracker ornaments for our tree.

The most genuine smile from this child all morning!  Enjoying her Nutcracker creation.

The most genuine smile from this child all morning! Enjoying her Nutcracker creation.

The company dancers were warming up along the railing as a demonstration for the crowd.

The company dancers were warming up along the railing as a demonstration for the crowd.

Their stretches put my yoga to shame!

Their stretches put my yoga to shame!

An impressive split!

An impressive split!

One dancer said she stretched about an hour and a half each day.  This type of flexibility takes dedication.

One dancer said she stretched about an hour and a half each day. This type of flexibility takes dedication.

My girls attempting some ballet moves with a "cardinal" dancer from the cat and the cardinal birds solo.

My girls attempting some ballet moves with a “cardinal” dancer from the cat and the cardinal birds solo.

Saluting with the soldiers (English style).  These soldiers had the cutest personalities.  One girl was giving out high fives and another fist bumps to all passers by.

Saluting with the soldiers (English style). These soldiers had the cutest personalities. One girl was giving out high fives and another fist bumps to all passers by.

Septime Weber rehearsing a group of child dancers on stage.

Septime Weber rehearsing a group of child dancers on stage.

Luis R. Torres was Drosselmeyer.  In addition to being an amazing dancer, he could not have been more charming chatting with the children and posing for photos.

Luis R. Torres was Drosselmeyer. In addition to being an amazing dancer, he could not have been more charming chatting with the children and posing for photos.

After the activities, we had a few snacks from the theater and headed to our seats for the show.

Santa gave me my wish .  . . Maki Onuki as the Sugar Plum Fairy!

Santa gave me my wish . . . Maki Onuki as the Sugar Plum Fairy!

The show was wonderful! Every time we attend the ballet, I find something new to appreciate. This time, it was appreciating the fact that while on stage, your face and facial expressions are the most important aspects of your performance. A beautiful face with a pleasant expression, no matter how difficult the choreography, is the mark of a truly great performer.

Another wonderful thing to appreciate about The Washington Ballet’s performance was that they freely mixed races in their casting. During the party scene, for example, an African American mom was paired with a white daughter with blonde curls. Initially, there was a bit of shock, but that quickly faded into an appreciation for how beautiful this kind of casting is. When there is great contrast between the performers, you end up appreciating more the differences and beauty of each performer. It magnifies each one. A great performance also transports us into a fantasy world and the blind casting helped to heighten the fantasy element as well.

One of the best pairings of the entire afternoon was the Anacostian pas de deux between Esmiana Jani and Brooklyn Mack. You need to be in excellent physical condition to wear the costumes for this dance as they show plenty of skin. Esmiana Jani’s translucent white skin paired with Brooklyn Mack’s chocolate brown was so gorgeous. The contrast again allowed the audience to more clearly focus on each dancer. Sometimes in a pas de deux you tend to think of the two dancers as one unit and some details of their performance get lost. In this performance, you saw each detail and it was just breathtaking.

Maki Onuki, of course, never disappoints. She was perfection as the Sugar Plum Fairy! It is hard to describe what makes her so compelling to watch. There is something in the way she effortlessly lifts her legs into high arabesque, her beautifully poised fingers and hands, and the precision of her footwork and turns. She makes it look so easy. When she is on stage, it is really hard to focus on anything else.

Her partner, Miguel Anaya, however, managed to distinguish himself as well. In addition to amazing jumps and turns, he was the best partner to her in the pas de deux. In most pas de deux, there is a part where the woman does a series of pirouettes and the man helps her to turn by spinning her at the waist. Maki Onuki and Miguel Anaya did this move the best I have ever seen! He spun her so quickly and she remained perfectly straight like a spinning top. There was no wobbling side to side during the turns and they stopped the turn precisely with no jarring movements. Incredible! At the end of their performance, as they were taking their bows, he paused to kiss her hand, a touching gesture that seemed to say, “You are a prima ballerina. Thank you for dancing with me.”

As I mentioned before, Clara, portrayed by Katharine M. Lee, was amazing. Her arabesque is so high, especially for a child dancer. She had great poise and maturity for someone so young as well. There was a scene in the beginning where she looks into a sort of “mirror” and sees herself as the Sugar Plum Fairy with the real life Maki Onuki staring back at her. Perhaps some day this vision will be realized!

I completely loved the entire show and the Family Day experience. It was a bonus to see our good friends from Fredericksburg coincidentally at intermission. We gave them the free Nutcracker tickets we got with our season subscription last year and they went and were hooked! They now make The Nutcracker part of their family holiday traditions as well.

As for my girls, they enjoyed it but found all the activities on one day a bit tiring. One daughter took a nap during the first act and the other during the second. Between the two of them, they saw the whole performance! They did love to point out all the dancers they had met in person and it made the performance even more special for them. They also enjoyed getting their prize, a small Nutcracker ornament, for their efforts. They came home and displayed them proudly on our mantel.

The treasured Nutcracker prizes.

The treasured Nutcracker prizes.

 Posted by on December 9, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
May 062014
 
Taking my ladies to a special Easter ballet!

Taking my ladies to a special Easter ballet!

After consuming our Easter feast and donning our Easter finery, we had one more event to attend to complete our Easter celebration.

We are family season ticket subscribers to The Washington Ballet and were surprised to find that one the performances this year was going to be held on Easter Sunday. The timing was OK for us so we didn’t worry about switching tickets.

I received a call from the ticket office, however, a few weeks prior to the performance that they were cancelling the Easter matinee performance due to schedule conflicts with the cast but they were still holding the evening performance. We switched tickets to the evening show.

The ballet is an event that my girls and I enjoy attending as mother and daughters. This was a real treat for me. My son is showing some interest in attending when he gets a little older. He climbed into his car seat and was ready to join us on the adventure until my husband pulled him out to stay home for a boys night in.

When we arrived at the Kennedy Center, we found that our cheap seat tickets had been upgraded to the fifth row! We were off to the side but still had a wonderful, close-up view!

Septime Weber, the Artistic Director, came on stage to personally welcome everyone. He is such an engaging personality and everyone loves him. I loved that he especially acknowledged the “boys and girls” in the audience of which there were many, adorably dressed in their Easter outfits. Often children in formal venues like the Kennedy Center are viewed by the audience members as a bit of nuisance. Mr. Weber’s welcome seemed to say “You are not a nuisance to us. This performance is for you.”

I have never seen Peter Pan as a ballet before. It is a marvelous choice for small children! Some of the performers are on wires and really “fly” during the performance. This so excited my children. There were many animated discussions over whether they were really flying or if there were wires attached.

There were also some wonderful choreographic moments (courtesy of Septime Weber) made with children in mind, especially Nana the Dog and the boogying Crocodile. My children and the many children in the audience were laughing with delight at so many of these moments.

It has been about a year since I last saw The Washington Ballet perform and I was amazed by the progress that has occurred in that time! It’s not as though The Washington Ballet was shabby before but they are really on fire right now.

Last year, I remember feeling a bit disappointed in some of the performances if Maki Onuki, the prima ballerina, was not performing. She is so much fun to watch. Well, Maki Onuki did not perform at all in this performance and the show was still electrifying! Tinkerbell was danced by Francesca Dugarte and she blew the audience away with her super tight turns and precision. She was the clear audience favorite ballerina of the night. Morgann Rose as Tiger Lily was wonderful as well. Although you couldn’t see much of the precision of her movements due to her Mrs. Darling full gown costumes, Kateryna Derechyna, appeared to have mile-long legs and gorgeous extension. It was exciting to know that there are many “prima” ballerinas to look forward to.

The men of The Washington Ballet continue to advance as well. Peter Pan was danced by Jared Nelson whom Hollywood casting could not have found a more suitable Peter. His long blonde curls fit the role perfectly and his dancing was amazing. In the first act there are numerous scenes where he has to alternate flying on the wire and dancing on stage. I can only imagine how it must throw off your balance to execute a pirouette with the wire attached but Mr. Nelson was such a professional you could not see any difference in the pirouettes done with and without the wire attached. His acting and expressions were also first rate. We all believed he really was Peter Pan.

It is often hard for a ballet company to attract a large number of high caliber male dancers but The Washington Ballet has somehow cracked the code. There were so many jaw-dropping male performers. The sequence of the 3 pirate soloists: who I think (it’s hard to tell from the program) were Corey Landolt, Brooklyn Mack (who was instantly recognizable when he jumped 6 feet in the air) and Chong Sun were perfection.

There were also many moments throughout the production when I found myself having to realize when the wires weren’t attached. Some of the pirouettes were executed with such lift in the upper body it looked like the dancers were being pulled up by wires when they were not. Some of the partnered lifts looked so effortless I thought there was a little help from a wire when there was none.

Enjoying art from Jun Kaneko in the Kennedy Center lobby during intermission.

Enjoying art from Jun Kaneko in the Kennedy Center lobby during intermission.

So not only were the principal female and male dancers amazing, the Studio Company (their up and coming performers) have advanced so much in a year as well. The biggest change I saw was that there seemed to be a huge emphasis throughout the production on acting. The facial expressions and the movements on stage when dancers weren’t dancing but were just waiting in the background were so well executed. Their actions exactly fit their characters. This made such a difference to the performance as a whole. If you were watching a lead performer or soloist and your eyes just happened to glance to someone in the background, having that person fully in character engaged with the scene enhanced how the entire performance “read” to the audience.

The best example of how acting was used in the performance came from Jared Nelson’s Peter Pan. As he is saying goodbye to Wendy near the end of the performance he stood on the corner of the stage not 15 feet away from us. At that point, he was supposed to be feeling sad, but the kind of sadness that a boy who refused to grow up would feel. He had to stand there looking sad for at least 2-3 minutes and he nailed the expression and never came out of character once!

I can’t let the performance pass without mentioning the children. There was a surprise (to us) of numerous children appearing onstage in the Never Never Land scene. There were adorable mushrooms and mermaids with tails and big blond wigs that were rolled out on platforms. The kids were fantastic! They added an extra magical touch to the performance. Some of the children I think I recognized from the Washington Ballet’s ARC program aimed at bringing dance education to underserved Washington, D.C. neighborhoods.

It was inspiring to realize that The Washington Ballet not only has a current high caliber cast but is also growing a bench of about 20 years worth of performers. I can only imagine how intense the competition must be within the cast but surprisingly you don’t get any inkling of this from the stage performances. The company seems like they like and support each other. There is a great energy about The Washington Ballet right now and you really feel it as an audience member. While it is fun just to watch great ballet it is even more fun to be around a group of people who are pushing themselves continuously to achieve more and greater things and to join in the celebration of their progress.

Septime Weber is not resting on his laurels with this progress however and notes in the program:

Septime Weber's vision for 2014-15 season

I can’t wait to see what they accomplish next! The program also notes that next season there will be live music for their five main productions, which is huge because 1) it means someone has given them a lot of money to be able to do this and 2) it eliminates the biggest criticism big newspaper reviewers usually make about their productions.

So, bravi to The Washington Ballet! Thanks for keeping it fresh and exciting for your subscribers!

Leaving the Kennedy Center.

Leaving the Kennedy Center.

Next time, I will literally need to leave a trail of bread crumbs to my car.  Between the cavernous garage and several construction projects going on within the garage, we wandered around a good 15 minutes before we finally found our vehicle.  I found it amusing that the garage labels the parking areas in decimal points, which evidently are impossible for me to remember.

Next time, I will literally need to leave a trail of bread crumbs to my car. Between the cavernous garage and several construction projects going on within the garage, we wandered around a good 15 minutes before we finally found our vehicle. I found it amusing that the garage labels the parking areas in decimal points, which evidently are impossible for me to remember.

*Other than being a season ticket holder, I am not affiliated with The Washington Ballet.

 Posted by on May 6, 2014 General Tagged with: ,