“Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy” is a bona fide Twin Cities holiday tradition thanks to Minnesota Dance Theatre. But the Saturday matinee at the State Theatre served as a poignant reminder that sometimes the tried and true can still deliver a few surprises, even after 49 years.
The show was presented for two seasons at the Cowles Center but is now back at the State in part to accommodate a full orchestra. Hearing Tchaikovsky’s classic score live always adds an extra dimension to the performance and the 46 musicians under conductor Philip Brunelle’s baton this weekend played with a jaunty pace.
The story revolves around a young girl’s Christmas dream. Zoe Derauf dances the role of Marie with a winsome touch while Kevin Iverson, who has portrayed Godfather Drosselmayer in many a “Nutcracker Fantasy,” lends mystery and magic to his highflying moments. On Saturday he took on an additional responsibility, ably pitching in as the Cavalier in the Grand Pas de Deux to replace the ailing Sam Feipel. While this change shook up the choreography, by necessity, seeing Drosselmayer and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Raina Gilliland) in scenes together made for an intriguing, if unintended, plot twist.
Speaking of Gilliland, both she and sister Kaitlyn (formerly of New York City Ballet) are the keenest reminders of an ongoing tradition. As granddaughters of Loyce and daughters of current artistic director Lise Houlton, they grew up with the show and now perform key roles. Raina’s Sugar Plum Fairy was radiant in her precision while the effortlessly fluid Kaitlyn doubled up as Marie’s mother and Arabian dancer (partnered with noble grace by another “Nutcracker Fantasy” veteran, General McArthur Hambrick).
The many MDT students and trainees make up the cast of toys-come-to-life, pudgy mice, snowflakes, flowers, chambermaids and gregarious partygoers. Among the ones to watch: Juliet Prine, who has played Marie in previous years and is growing into solid member of the corps plus a polished Zachary Manske as the Nutcracker himself. Longtime MDT member Katie Johnson is due particular note for a typically stellar performance as the Flower Queen.
The “Nutcracker Fantasy” is familiar fare. But watch closely, there is always something new to discover, which explains why children so often find within it inspiration for their own winter dreams.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.