Review: THE NUTCRACKER SUITE (American Contemporary Ballet in Hollywood)

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by Barry Creyton on December 7, 2021

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles


There are certain new concepts in theatre of which one has learned to become wary: “color-blind casting”, “gender-blind casting” and most frightening of all, “age-blind casting” are now accepted and inescapable, if often confusing for an audience attempting to discern family lineage. But as the list grows, it becomes even scarier – “participatory”, “bold new imagining”, “not for purists”, “21st Century reinterpretation” and the new fave, “immersive”.

Of all my immersive experiences in Los Angeles, only two have hit the mark with success and warmed the audience. Both were offered by The American Contemporary Ballet under the imaginative leadership of Lincoln Jones.

I wrote glowingly of my first exposure to his work in an evening of Fred Astaire dance. Here, not only were Astaire’s breathtaking routines reproduced with love and agility, but one was immersed in the period in which they were created – a nightclub bar, a lounge piano playing hits of the era prior to the performance, along with a standup comic doing a string of one-liners reminiscent of the period, and a jazz ensemble. The Company’s current offering is no less enchanting – and that’s a word I could use in every paragraph about their Nutcracker Suite.

First, this program of joyous dance is defined by Tchaikovsky’s suite of dances, not The Nutcracker story we’ve been bludgeoned with in holiday season since childhood. The Suite tells no story, but gives us an interpretation of the musical components according to their titles.

But, beginning at the immersive beginning: The venue is a West Hollywood office building under construction. After checking in at the ground floor lobby, we were directed to the sixth floor via an unlined, not-quite-finished elevator, shuffling through wood shavings. Here, in a large, bare room, a bewildered audience gathered under the cool, indifferent eye of two “secretaries” seated at desks, totting up things on notepads, while workmen drilled and sawed behind plastic sheets. At starting time for the program, one of the girls stood on her desk to announce that we’d been directed to the wrong room and would we please relocate to the room at the opposite end of the hallway.

We traveled the length of the hallway, and doors opened onto a vast room, the width of the entire building, the floor covered in snow (something alien to LA), floor to ceiling frosted windows looking out on Los Angeles, a bar dispensing champagne, chocolates and popcorn, a salon orchestra of seven pieces playing Tchaikovsky, and the long, long platform stage as favored by Jones in his Astaire outing. Here, it resembled an ice-skating rink, and indeed, a dancer was roller skating around it as we entered.

Now we were immersed. And happily. It was difficult not to smile at the sheer invention of ambiance, and just as difficult not to smile throughout the entire program.

The dances, lovingly, smilingly performed by an ensemble of young, attractive dancers, covered the well-known Suite from the ballet, each piece interpreted ebulliently in classical form. Most were inhabited by variations of the entire company with only three duos to change mood – the Arabian Dance, Mother Ginger, and the Grand Pas de Deux.

The orchestra under the direction of Alin Melik-Adamyan played with precise, distinctive flare throughout, joined by a small vocal chorus of Snowflakes.

Included in the immersiveness, and choreographed as neatly as the dance program, dancers with trays dispensed goodies to the audience at intervals – small tubs of ice cream and marzipan candies.

Special praise for the entire design which made the production a pleasure to be immersed in, and for the attractive costume design throughout.

Enchanting is indeed the word for this sweet holiday offering. I look forward to revisiting the company’s Astaire evening when they repeat it in early 2022.

poster photo by Victor Demarchelier

The Nutcracker Suite
American Contemporary Ballet
926 N. Sycamore Ave., 6th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90038
ends on December 24, 2021
for a full list of show dates and tickets ($25 – $140), visit ACB

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