In its fifth consecutive year, the collaboration between Neglia Ballet Artists and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on “The Nutcracker” has blossomed into a holiday tradition.
That tradition continued Saturday as the two institutions, along with Shea’s Performing Arts Center, once again presented the family-friendly production.
The ballet, choreographed by Neglia’s Sergio Neglia and Heidi Halt, told the familiar story of young Marie Stahlbaum who – after a magical family Christmas gathering – dreams of being whisked away to a faraway land by handsome hero.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, Neglia’s production opened with Marie and family greeting guests to their lavish Christmas party decked out in decorations, including a large tree and a wall of presents.
Marie, danced by a perky Yuha Tomita, an exchange student from Japan studying with Neglia, dazzled with a million-watt smile, solid dance technique and a wonderfully forceful acting style. Apart from Tomita’s performance and the comedic scene-stealing performance of Paul Mockovak as the mischievous Grandpa Stahlbaum, the scene lacked energy and enough bodies to fill the stage. Many in the scene appeared nailed in place during much of it, adding to the lethargy. Things picked up after the vigorous performance of Shane Rutkowski as the “Soldier Doll,” one of three life-sized dolls brought to the party by Herr Drosselmeyer (Vincent O’Neill) to entertain the guests.
During the festivities, Drosselmeyer gave Marie a Nutcracker doll she carried with her long after the party guests went home. After she fell asleep, Drosselmeyer enchanted Marie with visions of her Nutcracker doll (Sergio Neglia) coming to life and battling an army of dancing mice and rats that invaded the family’s home. The nightmarish scene, awash with musket-carrying soldiers and cheese-firing canons, supercharged the production, which never looked back from there. The scene concluded with the Nutcracker defeating the rat army and Marie transformed into a grown-up version of herself (Silvina Vaccarelli) and her Nutcracker now a debonair Cavalier (Neglia).
The first act concluded with a frosty white snow scene and adult Marie and her Cavalier mounting a sled to be carried off to the “Land of Sweets.”
The choreography for act two, rather than being for the entertainment of Marie and the Cavalier as in many Nutcracker productions, was instead directed for the audience’s entertainment. The series of vignettes themed mostly after the dances of various countries was highlighted by an alluring Mary Beth Hansohn and Shane Ohmer in the quiet and graceful “Arabian” dance, a high-flying Rutkowski in the Russian “Trepak” and perhaps the production’s finest group choreography piece, “Flowers” – a wonderfully patterned and danced sequence featuring lead flower Traci Finch.
The second act’s climactic scene, the “Grand pas de Deux,” delighted with Neglia capably partnering the majestic Vaccarelli, whose flutter of sharp footwork and lovely dancing mesmerized.
“The Nutcracker” remained a holiday spectacle capable of eliciting wide-eyed wonder in children of all ages – thanks in large part to the BPO’s playing led by guest conductor Erin Freeman, top-notch scenic design by Lynne Koscielniak, costumes by Donna Massimo and plenty of solid performances by Neglia’s dancers.