It’s “The Nutcracker” without a nutcracker — or a prince.
“Clara’s Dream,” being staged this weekend by St. Paul Ballet (SPB) at Macalester College’s Janet Wallace Mainstage Theater, re-interprets the classic ballet sans romance, imagining Clara’s journey into dreamland and adventure without the need for an age-inappropriate relationship as a plot point.
Still, as choreographed by Zoé Emilie Henrot, “Clara’s Dream” looks a lot like a traditional “Nutcracker.” From the opening holiday party scene to the transformation of Clara (danced Thursday by Julia Cournoyer) into a princess, we see familiar scenes: the war between the tin soldiers and mice, Clara’s encounters with snowflakes and angels, and a rotating cast of nursery rhyme characters and politically incorrect interpretations of Spanish, Arabian, Russian and Chinese visitors, set amid a colorful set design by Anne Henly.
It clips along at a nice pace, though Henrot’s choreography relies heavily on symmetry, with one too many moments where the entire cast dances in a circle.
One also wonders why SPB didn’t make edits to Clara’s uncle Drosselmeyer (played by Preston Stockert), who gets an expanded role as her chaperone into the land of sweets. He shows up at the party with a cloak and top hat, and later sneaks into Clara’s bedroom to take her away on a magical journey. Stockert does his best to downplay the disturbing undertones of his character, aiming for a kind uncle rather than a sinister magician, but with his cape sweeping malevolently as he dances around Clara’s bed, creepiness is unavoidable.
There are a few standout performances, many by dancers in minor roles. Elander Rosser, who plays Clara’s father as well as one of the Arabian dancers, steals every scene he’s in with his dazzling presence. Meanwhile, Brittany Adams, Jarod Boltjes, and Preston Stockert wow the audience with their acrobatic Russian dance. Of course, the adorable children fuel the production with small pockets of joy, especially when they wear their little animal costumes. The sheep, in particular, will stop your heart.
SPB has taken a step to update a ballet that desperately needs it. It hasn’t gone quite far enough, but this is a start.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts writer and critic.