Is there a better way to start December than with a fresh Nutcracker? Can't think of one. So, Haglund ventured into the Connecticut woods – Westport, to be specific – to enjoy Ballet Etudes Company's charming and inventive production that featured a couple of his favorite dancers, Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier.
The stage at the Westport Country Playhouse is small; so, wide-open-throttle dancing was not going to get us to the old checkered flag today, as the mechanics in the ballet crew pits might say. But Yuriko and Jared intelligently paced and measured their movements to maximize their theatrical value and demonstrated that high quality is not measured by height of jump or length of leap or showing off.
Their PdD and variations borrowed a little from this version and a little from that version and included some of Haglund's favorite moments from Yuriko's interpretation of Clara in Alexei Ratmansky's Nutcracker. What a delight it was, once again, to see her beautiful arabesque close with a deliberately slow descent of the leg that segued into a lovely low developpe with the front foot. When Yuriko appeared from the downstage corner just as the string notes of the Sugar Plum Fairy's music lightly plunked, a woman in the audience whispered to her little girl, "Here she comes." Magic, for sure.
And while Yuriko's pirouettes were as musical and brilliant as one could want, much of the credit must go to Jared's extraordinary partnering. He was perfection all afternoon while making it all seem effortless. His own variations included fast turns in a la second which he pulled into perfectly formed pirouettes. The shape and form of his legs and feet were not only classically beautiful; they were masculine and strong, as well. He was the Prince, the Cavalier, a young girl's dream, in every sense of the word.
Yuriko and Jared are each superb and charismatic dancers, but they are absolutely magical together and we should have the opportunity to see them more often. Whether it requires a trip to Chicago to see their Giselle or a trip to Connecticut to see their Nutcracker, it is always worth the extra effort to see them dance together.
This production was loaded with charm. It didn't just have Mice and a Mouse King; it had Mouse Sergeants and Mouse Lieutenants creating a Mighty Mouse Militia – from The Dark Side. True, they lost the battle in the end, but today, many in the audience were rooting for them to win.
The very young Clara and the Nutcracker Prince had many fine moments today, especially in their PdDs during which the promenades and lifts were executed cleanly and confidently.
The Chinese variation included two fabulous big dragons who danced. And what a happy surprise it was when Goldilocks and the three bears showed up. The choreography for the Snow Scene and Waltz of the Flowers was wonderfully musical and interesting, and the dancers managed it all with great energy and aplomb.
Herr Drosselmeyer was deliciously devilish as portrayed by veteran Broadway choreographer/director Matt Williams. Last but not least, what a treat it was to see another of Haglund's longtime favorite ballerinas, Christina Fagundes – Ballet Etudes' Pre-Professional Director – as Frau Stahlbaum. Christina was a brilliant rising star in Baryshnikov's ABT and continued her ascent at a startling speed under Jane Hermann's ABT until Kevin McKenzie took over when she suddenly and inexplicably began to fade from sight. Haglund watched her many mornings in David Howard's ballet class where she out-danced the ABT principals who frequently showed up. It was a sad time when Christina finally left ABT. Today she is still beautiful and looks like she could step right back onto any major stage.
You can catch Yuriko and Jared in performances tomorrow at 1pm & 4pm and next Saturday, December 8, at 1pm & 4pm. They'll also be performing in Bridgewater on December 15 at 2pm with the New England Ballet Company.
The Pump Bump Award, a lovely multi-gemmed stiletto with golden spiked heel, is bestowed upon Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews for always making the trip to see them worth it - no matter the distance.