Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Appleton ‘Nutcracker’ ballet glows in P-A-C

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Talk about a ballet performance being on its toes – that would be the large collaboration for “The Nutcracker” at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

Two full houses – something along the line of 4,000 people – took in two performances over the weekend that combined the Makaroff Youth Ballet, Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and Appleton Boychoir.

There’s something about full houses that adds oomph for everybody.

The production I saw Sunday afternoon ran seamlessly – two hours and 10 minutes of fantastical dance/storytelling on a bed of handsome music.

The coordination was splendid. All the years of preparation and hours of rehearsal resulted in a disciplined product that seemed like “easy” artistry.

The choreography of Jeanette Makaroff carefully weaves a concept of the 125-year-old ballet’s story: At Christmastime, a girl is swept into a fanciful dream world by the magical powers of her uncle. All is vivid – a prince who makes her heart flutter, snowflakes that dance, toy soldiers that battle mice, an exotic showcase of colorfully costumed dancers from far-off lands.

It seems Makaroff has a specific, precise interlocking move to get the story from point A to B to C as action progresses.

The presence of the orchestra raises the standard. Most ballet troupes perform to recorded music – and it is not an annual given for Makaroff Youth Ballet. In sum: The weekend’s production was a bit special.

A smooth, clean flow swept the story along.

Jeanette Makaroff’s interpretation plays strongly on magical elements of the kindly Uncle Drosselmeyer (MJ Marsh). Included are scenes in which dolls come to life and dance, the Christmas tree grows and all the furnishings vanish from the stage (re-appearing quickly at the end in a wowing display of theatrical production technique).

Makaroff gives her dancers difficult passages which show their discipline, including barefoot and pointe (lots of pointe). Professional dancers are woven in, but the Makaroff Youth Ballet’s dancers carry the lion’s share of the elegant movement.

The story extensively involves young Clara (Isabella Collar) and her cousin/Nutcracker Prince (Aydan Hughes Massey) throughout, with the performers dancing and character-creating brightly in this production.

The pros are icing on the cake – Angelica Generosa (of Pacific Northwest Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Green Bay native and Makaroff alum Kyle Davis (also of Pacific Northwest Ballet) as the Cavalier. Generosa and Davis are filled with flash and finesse. Their professional precision included a turn that few can do – Generosa on one toe, her body ramrod-straight perpendicular while Davis maneuvered her ever-so-carefully through 360 degrees. The pair’s energized action was zowie, too.

Notably in this production, Reagan Blohowiak of the company was featured as the Snow Queen in the famous scene in which the story drifts into a snowy landscape with flakes gathering and dancing to angelic voices (Appleton Boychoir in this case). Blohowiak cut a picturesque image – all white, crown on head – as she took command of elegant and exacting movement.

Other big scenes were sumptuous, including the family household and the fully blossoming waltz of the flowers.

Jeannette Makaroff includes humor and surprises along the way. Three sequences spawned reaction Sunday afternoon. One. The scampering mice, all little, darling pests. When a soldier shot one of the little invaders, an “Awww” arose in the audience. Two. Mother Ginger. She toddles out with a huge hoop skirt. Suddenly, her children emerge from beneath – five cute tykes. Three. Four shepherdesses watching over a solitary sheep. A wolf appears. The wolf tries to make the sheep its lunch. The shepherdesses intervene and capture the wolf. Instead of killing the wolf, the shepherdesses offer it a way out – become a vegetarian. The wolf is offered a bunch of carrots.

The orchestra added vitality to the performance, a feeling of completeness. Conducted by Brian Groner, the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra produced a warm sound – large and dynamic when called for. With the orchestra playing in the hall’s pit, it was for the most part hard to tell the music wasn’t recorded. The feat in the production was a dual requirement – the orchestra staying true to the mark of timing and the dancers staying true to movement that goes with the music. The meshing on Sunday afternoon fit to a T.

With fine lines and carefully created costuming, the production was easy on the eye, too. Everyone was dressed to impress, which went along with the effect that the whole experience created. In sum: Impressive.

***

Creative: Musical source: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composer; choreographer – Jeanette Makaroff; music director – Brian Groner; costumes – David Alban; set designer – Richmond Frielund; lighting designer – Jason Lienhard; technical director/stage manager – Frank Tower; Makaroff Youth Ballet executive director – Katy Hopp; Fox Cities Performing Arts Center production coordinators – Amy Gosz, Peter Duecker

***

Program with cast (in order of appearance)

Act I

Herr Drosselmeyer – MJ Marsh

His Nephew – Aydan Hughes Massey

Columbine – Keanna Schulz

Harlequin – Sophie Ulman

Corsaire – Maggie Baus

Party Guests – Rachel Knighten, Terry Ertl, Jeanetta Dorsey, Steve Helprey, Sarah Hestres, Kristine Peterson, Sidney Hestres, Dru Swokoski

Party Girls – Lily Bayer, Olivia Feng, Joy Sarino, Kylie VanElzen

Party Boys – Lucy Hittle, Audra Jenke, Brianna Meyer, Talia Roselaar

Small Party Boy – Lucas Reed

Fritz – Lily Selthofner

Clara – Isabella Collar

Dr. Silverhaus – Raymond Hestres

Mrs. Silverhaus – Kimberly Blohowiak

Maids – Emily Dery, Sarah Wheeler, Jen VanElzen

Grandmother – Karen Laws

Grandfather – Terry Irwin

Battle Scene

Mice – Sophia Brau, Grace Callies, Sophia Golub, Aralyn Peterson, Annika Quinones, Evelina Sippola, Alexis VanElzen, Tessa Wicklund

Mouse Queen – Maggie Baus

Soldiers – Carly Bomier, Andrea Buyze, Audra Jenike, Maggie Nolan, Kathryn Tam, Gretta Tripp, Lydia VanBoxtel, Isabella VanZeeland

Nutcracker Prince – Aydan Massey

Snow Scene

Snow Queen – Regan Blohowiak

Snow Flakes – Kodi Bagwell, Maggie Baus, Ava Dunsirn, Emily Hopp, Maddi Kedrowski, Lily Mittlestadt, Annika Schmidt, Keanna Schulz, Hope Sitzberger, Lily Selthofner, Maria Tretinyak, Sophie Ulman

Act II

Sugar Plum Fairy – Angelica Generosa

Her Cavalier – Kyle Davis

Dew Drop Fairy – Lily Mittlestadt

Angels – Kodi Bagwell, Sophia Syring

Opening Flowers – Audra Jenike, Alice Luo, Gretta Tripp, Lydia VanBoxtel

Ladies in Waiting – Kimberly Blohowiak, Jeanetta Dorsey, Sarah Hestres, Kristine Peterson

Spanish – Emily Hopp, Sophie Ulman

Arabian – Maddi Kendrowski

Chinese – Keanna Schulz, Lily Selthofner, Maria Tretinyak

Russian – Ava Dunsirn, Isabel Hestres, Annika Schmidt, Hope Sitzberger

Shepherdess – Olivia Feng, Lucy Hittle, Brianna Meyer, Talia Roselaar

Sheep – Kylie Van Elzen

Wolf – Sophia Syring

Clowns – Andrea Buyze, Maggie Nolan, Kathryn Tam

Mother Ginger – Rachel Knighten

Her Children – Grace Callies, Sophia Golub, Brooklyn Klug, Arabella Priebe, Aleksandra Resch, Jasmine Zhang

Lead Flowers – Regan Blohowiak, Emily Hopp, Laurene Rottier, Keanna Schulz

Flowers – Kodi Bagwell, Maggie Baus, Ava Dunsirn, Annika Schmidt, Lily Selthofner, Hope Sitzberger, Maria Tretinyak, Sophie Ulman

Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra: Conductor – Brian Groner; violins – Yuliya Smead, Justyna Lutow-Resch, Danielle Simandl, Angelica D’Costa, Jennifer Coopman, Melissa Gurholt, Mishan Han, Dorothy Hollenbach, Sarah Koenigs, Erik Leveille, Lori Murphy, Audrey Nowak, Brian Sas, Jill Sousek, Janet Bond Sutter, Laura Thompson; viola – Barbara Beechey, Renata Hornik, Jane Bradshaw Finch, TJ Hull, Cheryl Konkol, Steven Schani; cello – Laura Kenney Henckel, Heather Anderson, Catherine Smith, Kim Souther, David Veum, Carrie Willer; bass – Susan Sullivan, Scott Breyer, Ronna Swift; flute – Kortney James, Beth Kinzel, Suzanne Bunker Jordheim; oboe – Jennifer Hodges Bryan, Ethan Wegge; English horn – Leslie Outland Michelic; clarinet – David Bell, Orlando Pimentel, Penny Paiser Wilson; bassoon – Patricia Holland, Sharon Peterson; horn – Bruce Atwell, Andy Parks, Liz Olson, Keith Powell; trumpet – Michael Henckel, Justin Olson; trombone – Michael Clayville, Roy Fine, Dave Sawall; tuba – Marty Erickson; percussion – Jim Robl, Scott Elford; tympani – Paul Ristau; keyboard – Sarah Kiefer; harp – Rebecca Royce

Appleton Boychoir: Director – Kevin Meidl; Parker Davis, Hunter Erickson, Logan Foster, Nolan Henckel, Oliver Hestres, Carsten Jungwirth, Coulter Keck, Ethan Kraft, Jedediah Larson-Poeschl, Henry Lenaburg, William Liebeskind, Zachary Liebeskind, Carter Piepenburg, Drew Shellabarger, Charlie Spielbauer, Jadon Yun

***

THE VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level, a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

THE NAME: Thrivent Financial has roots in a life insurance company that was chartered in 1902 as Aid Association for Lutherans, based in Appleton. The corporate name has been Thrivent since 2002.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers,” “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.

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