Subscribe Today

26 Issues

In addition to receiving 26 issues of The Independent Kansas City’s Journal of Society, your subscription will include our annual publication, the Charitable Events Calendar and a subscription to our e-newsletter, The Insider. Questions about your current subscription? Contact Laura Gabriel at 816-471-2800.

CRACKING THE CODE: Ballet’s seasonal offering has become local favorite

In 2015, the Kansas City Ballet treated its production of The Nutcracker to a complete makeover, with new set designs by Alain Vaës, costumes by Holly Hynes, and lighting by Trad A Burns. It was an investment in the future, as it was designed to serve, for many years to come, what has always been the company’s biggest revenue stream.

Photos by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

The choreography by Devon Carney, who had become the company’s artistic director in 2013, was also brand new, and in the years since it has remained mostly stable with the occasional tweak. On December 1st it opened at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and if advance ticket sales are an indication, the production (now nearly a decade old!) has quickly become a favorite event for Kansas Citians who have numerous holiday options available each year.

The Nutcracker is a ballet in two distinct parts: Act I with its family drama, scurrying mice, and tiny soldiers is heavy on “dance theater,” which can be appreciated by everyone, while Act II is classical ballet at its most traditional.

This year, the evening opened with company dancer Cameron Thomas as Dr. Drosselmeier, who brought a fun, relaxed sense of playfulness to the role. Dance remains the focus here even in Act I: In the party scene, youthful antics are moved quickly aside so that the adults can present some serious ensemble work. The youngsters, students of the Ballet School, displayed aplomb in their moments, which are interspersed with set-pieces such as the Harlequinade and Harlequin duet (Amelia Meissner and Elliott Rogers) and the witty Dancing Bear (McKibben Needham).

There is plenty of room for comedy in the Battle, with giant furniture that suggests we have “zoomed in” on a miniature world in which the Nutcracker Prince (Aidan Duffy) takes on the only mildly sinister Mouse King (Andrew Vecseri) as young Clara (the exceptionally poised Samantha Lopez-Duarte) looks on. A large number of adept students from the School perform a variety of roles, and casts vary throughout the run.

The Kingdom of Snow presents an ethereally lit scene in which the Snow Queen and King dance with a corps that on opening night was still forming itself into a coherent whole. The otherworldly lighting and ample stage show make this perhaps the most visually striking scene of the evening, although the synthesized choral voices never quite “sing” to me.

Everyone will have a favorite piece from Act II, all danced to some of the most beloved music of the 19th century. Whitney Huell was the silky, tensile woman of Arabian, a solo-with-male-quartet that I have always found less effective than the more common duet version. Chinese includes a beautifully constructed dragon, which inserts a characteristic element without crossing into the offensive.

Powerful Isaac Allen and his mates sold the Russian Trepak through sheer verve, despite the garish colors of the costumes. The Polichinelles of Mother Ginger danced with exceptional style and panache. This Waltz of the Flowers has always felt somewhat diffuse to me: It is a number that yearns for disciplined, sculpted symmetry.

The highlight of the evening was Naomi Tanioka’s Sugar Plum Fairy: She danced with an aching poignance, imbuing the famous waltz with immense detail and care: and a tinge of sadness.

She was more than amply supported by her Cavalier, Gavin Abercrombie, who brought a quiet, compelling stillness to the scene.

—Paul Horsley

The Nutcracker plays through December 24th. For tickets go to kcballet.com.


REVIEW: Broadway classic takes a spin on the opera stage

If any musical is worthy to be performed by an opera company, it is The Sound of Music. Its best songs are not just Rodgers & Hammerstein at their most…

REVIEW: Opera’s ultimate double-bill gets classy send-up

The double-bill of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (1890) and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (1892) remains one of the most accessible evenings at the opera. With busy choruses, passionate arias and ensembles,…

WHITHER, BALLET? Season finale presents delights, conundrums, questions

Each spring, the Kansas City Ballet presents a program of mixed repertoire embodying some of the more fascinating trends in contemporary ballet: where dance has been recently, where it stands…

REVIEW: Stephen King-inspired opera makes strong case for new operatic genre

One of the reasons that Stephen King’s horror stories are so indelibly etched onto our consciousness is that their macabre ingenuity has lent itself so readily to screen adaptation. Far…