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This magical production of The Nutcracker was of course enhanced by its setting in the 19th-Century elegance of the Academy of Music, which was built just about the same time that Tchaikovsky created his magnificent score. It doesn't hurt that the ballet consists of two very tightly constructed acts, which means adults and children alike stay focused on the performance instead of shifting in their seats or checking their watches.
Children perform in every act. The little angels who slide across the stage as if they're skating never fail to elicit an awww or ohhh from the audience. Amy Aldridge was excellent in the important role of the Sugarplum Fairy, whom the little angels escort.
Large mice (performed by children) cavort around the Christmas tree. So do toy soldiers (also performed by children) who smartly march around the stage, carrying swords.
Dancing in the aisles
But the first act's grand moment occurs when Marie, the daughter of the house, opens her present and finds a nutcracker. Little Mary Lee Stits was enchanting carrying around her nutcracker and then carefully tucking him into a small bed under the Christmas tree. If Miss Stits continues to working on her technique, she might end up as the Sugarplum Fairy herself relatively soon.
Children in the Academy audience left their seats to dance in the aisles, which is only appropriate: This ballet was created to celebrate the joy that children experience at this season. A hush falls over everyone as the Christmas tree slowly moves upward, expanding from a tidy little Christmas tree into a gloriously huge one. The magic is surely enhanced throughout the performance by the beautiful voices of the Philadelphia Boys Choir.
The Nutcracker is such a local seasonal tradition that in some ways it's no surprise that the Academy fills up, or that the little girls show up in velvet dresses and Mary Jane shoes. Even the boys seem to put themselves totally into this Christmas.
Lauren Fadeley and Francis Veyette performed the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux at the end of the second act. Seeing this real-life married couple dancing together brought to mind memories of all the years that William DeGregory (now the company's ballet master) and his wife Tamara Hadley (now ballet mistress) danced this famous piece every holiday season.
The Pennsylvania Ballet's Nutcracker remains a Philadelphia theatrical treasure, as each new generation assumes the roles first performed by others. It's not merely a delight for the audience; it's a Christmas tradition for the entire metropolitan area.♦
To read a related commentary by Dan Rottenberg, click here.
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