Based on the original 1892 production, Philippine Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) rendition of The Nutcracker follows more or less the same story: a young girl is gifted with an enchanted nutcracker, and finds herself swept into a fantastical world.
Though The Nutcracker has become a standard performed by practically every ballet company, PBT has claimed it as their own tradition—staging it every year, and growing and tweaking the production with every performance. In their most recent production of the ballet—performed on November 18 and 19 as their 31st season closer—the effort shows. In PBT’s hands, The Nutcracker is grand, but more importantly, it becomes surprisingly fun.
The Nutcracker isn’t the most inviting show on paper, given its one-dimensional characters and strange fever dream of a story. So it’s no small feat that PBT is capable of giving the ballet the sort of charm you’d expect from a children’s animated film. Intricate production design complete with moving parts keeps this version of The Nutcracker from feeling static, while smart costume design for the 100-member company helps distinguish each performer’s specific role in the story. There’s a warm and festive feel to everything that isn’t lost even when the ballet begins to introduce more surreal elements.
While the show’s choreography doesn’t seem to be as technically demanding as in something like Swan Lake, the ballet’s personality comes from the sheer variety of styles on display. The second half of The Nutcracker is essentially one long series of routines inspired by different nations and cultures. This second act exhibition reaches its highest point with the particularly difficult routines performed by the Sugar Plum Fairy (played here by Veronica Atienza), made all the more memorable by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovksy’s mystical score.
Still, with all the little details that go into making The Nutcracker work, it’s in the larger tableaus where the ballet is most striking—so much so that viewing it at a distance might be more rewarding than going up close. Oftentimes throughout the production, be it during the flower waltz or the assembly of angels that opens act two, the performers will line up perfectly for a brief moment—transforming the stage into a single, cohesive three-dimensional image, like a pop-up storybook or the inside of a snow globe.
It’s in these images where the ballet expresses its most important idea: that, for all the intense individual training ballerinas have to undergo every day, ballets are only successful if the entire ensemble comes together to create something beautiful. In this regard, PBT’s The Nutcracker succeeds—and endures as a company tradition.
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