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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 22, 2002

Talent keeps classic 'Nutcracker' fresh

By Ana Paula Höfling

Honolulu Symphony, guest artists make holiday classic a treat

Ballet Hawaii's "Nutcracker" features Tchaikovsky's score performed live by the Honolulu Symphony, with young local talent and guest performers from the Dance Theater of Harlem and the Miami City Ballet.

Ballet Hawaii

Ballet was meant to be performed to live music. What a treat it was to see Ballet Hawaii's "Nutcracker" performed with the Honolulu Symphony at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall Friday night.

The conductor, Stuart Chafetz, his eyes on the stage, made sure music and dance worked as one for the entire performance.

Choreographers Tom Pazik and Michael Vernon and director Pamela Taylor-Tongg created a lively first act — colorful, well-rehearsed and featuring the children, especially Marie and Fritz.

The role of Marie (this production's version of Clara) is skillfully played by Makena Miller, a young dancer who also proves to be a talented actor. Marie's brother, Fritz, is played by another talented dancer-actor: the charming and convincing Victoria Carpenter.

In the battle scene, the young soldiers, who appeared to be between 5 and 6 years old, demonstrated bravery and teamwork in defending Marie from the evil mice. Among the adult mice, Marion Philpotts Miller stood out as a funny Mistress Mouse on pointe.

At the end of the first act, the audience is graced by the impeccable performance of Tai Jimenez and Duncan Cooper, guests from Dance Theater of Harlem, as the Snow Queen and King. The snow pas de deux, choreographed by Michael Vernon, breaks away from the predictability of some versions of this duet.

Ballet Hawaii's 'Nutcracker'

• 2 p.m. today

• Blaisdell Concert Hall

• $25, $40 and $55, with $10 discount for seniors, students and military

• 526-4400

The second act brings back Jimenez and Cooper, this time in the Arabian dance, also choreographed by Vernon. Not only was the quality of this performance extraordinary, the duet also was choreographed tastefully. Though still Orientalist by nature, this dance elegantly avoids potentially offensive cultural misconceptions by sticking to ballet vocabulary.

The Chinese dance was reminiscent, intentionally or not, of the visual information overload one experiences in Chinatown. Sixteen young girls dressed in bright colors carried pink fans and danced on the sides, while three older girls in red tunics quoted the traditional Nutcracker Chinese dance choreography, echappeing on pointe, index fingers pointing up.

As if that were not enough, a couple partnered in the foreground and a little girl dressed as a golden bird came out of a box flapping her wings. To top it off, the orchestra regretfully repeated this brief music section. Here choreographer Tom Pazik inverts the simplicity and brevity intended for this section of the ballet.

The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier were performed by another superb pair of guest artists: Katia Carranza and Luis Serrano of Miami City Ballet.

This real-life couple executed the grand pas de deux with precision and commitment. Their partnering was so seamless and effortless that it was not necessary to read the program to guess that their connection goes beyond the stage.

Although some interesting changes were made to this pas de deux, the original choreographer, Lev Ivanov (1834i1901), who is responsible for its basic structure, goes unmentioned in the program.

Restaging a classic every year and keeping it fresh and alive is always a challenge. Ballet Hawaii meets that challenge by assembling a remarkable cast of artists, both children and adults, drawing on both local and imported talent.

Ana Paula Höfling is finishing her MFA in dance at University of Hawai'i at Manoa, where she teaches ballet.