For eight performances in December, the Hylton Performing Arts Center was enlivened by Tchaikovsky’s well-known “Nutcracker” music and the professional dancers and students of the Manassas Ballet Theater Academy.
Hearing the lush melodies of the instruments of the Manassas Ballet Theater Orchestra flow from the area under the stage of the Merchant Hall to the rafters of the opera house was exciting and comforting.
Enhanced by vibrant choreography, costumes, lighting and set design, The Nutcracker was remarkably well received by new entrants and numerous season ticket holders. Subtle innovations to previous incarnations of the ballet presented by MBT for more than two decades have been detected. The nuances of the staging, the costumes and the lighting and the dancers as actors, as well as the superior and breathtaking dance moves, delighted the audience.
The prologue sequence and staging with young revelers and the transparent screen allowing the audience to also peek into the great hall of the Silberhaus was a refreshing invitation to be part of the performance. The Military Doll and the Harlequin particularly deserved resounding applause and the joy of young people. The physical rigor and sensuality of Arab dancers and the heights achieved by Masaya Kaneko as a Spanish and Russian dancer were emblematic.
The musicians provided motifs that formed part of the experience beautifully – including celestial flute, viola, cello, harp and celestial passages. Because the pit was once again filled with live musicians, MBT can once again claim their status as the rare company that has its own live band in Northern Virginia.
It also requires a skilled conductor and more rehearsal time for dancers and musicians. Christopher Hite, musical director since 1997, skillfully controls his baton. The Manassas Museum Cannon also resumed its role with timpani to mimic its thunder.
While the Frozen and the Snow King were soloists and partners, the lush stage and the perfect snowfall effect gave a huge view of the whole stage. The pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Rider did not disappoint – with breathless anticipation of the lifts and stamina from both pairs of dancers for the multiple performances. Due to the difficult roles in several scenes, different company members were featured in each of the shows, to provide respite in between. Additionally, the highlighted roles of siblings Clara and Fritz were given to the students of Manassas Ballet Academy with two different pairs – a remarkable encouragement and nod to the talents of the four dancers.
The aspiring young performers of the Manassas Ballet Academy – children invited to the party, mice, soldiers, rats, transition dolls and the taunts of gymnast Mother Gigone – were charming and promising for future roles. They were obviously prepared in both dance etiquette and stage presence and were recognized by the audience for a job well done.
From opening night’s remarkable Salute to the Military through two other nights and five matinees, each audience was a respectable size, from the orchestra to the balconies, due to the effective marketing and regional fame of the caliber of the Company. A multitude of commercial sponsors, program advertisers, and in-kind offerings with meal discounts for theatergoers provided financial and community support.
In order to meet the needs and preferences of its audience, customers could also purchase a streaming ticket to see Manassas Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker from the comfort of their own home.