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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Nutcracker Fantasy: The alternative Nut
Dance Wisconsin pulls off its own charming version
Pavlova and Anfinogenov show off a music-box Russian style.
Pavlova and Anfinogenov show off a music-box Russian style.

Dance Wisconsin's Nutcracker Fantasy - an alternative take on the ubiquitous holiday ballet, complete with a partly original score by Madison composer Taras Nahirniak - is a shoestring affair, compared to Madison Ballet's well-financed production. But artistic director Jo Jean Retrum, who's been presenting pre-professional ballet in Madison for 30 years, is adamant about offering her aspiring young dancers this important performance opportunity.

Last Saturday at the Wisconsin Union Theater, Retrum's students put out a lot of effort, and her studio's current crop of soloists looks pretty good. High school sophomore Michael Hartung, who's been stealing Dance Wisconsin's shows the last couple of years, was terrific as the Jack in the Box in Drosselmeyer's toy shop, tumbling out of the box, bounding into a string of ballonnés, pirouettes, somersaults, back flips, coupé jeté turns, handstands and even a breakdance spin.

Michelle Hanson and Jeremy Sandgren's nearly clean reprise of their 2006 Harlequin doll pas de deux was satisfying. The Arabian (Mary Kate Hartung and Tim Duppler) and Spanish (Heaven Andrews, Jeremy Sandgren) divertissements were a little spicy, like they're supposed to be. Andrews was a standout in Spanish, appropriately flicking her fan and feet.

In Retrum's ballet the adult couples' waltz is modern, elegant, unadorned. Four community couples - women in white gowns, men in tuxes, backlit cobalt - box-step behind a black scrim. It's a filmic, 20th-century look, a delightful switch from the Victorian parents' cotillion in a traditional Nut.

After carrying the entire production in 2006, Dance Wisconsin's pointe corps was thin this year. In any typical ballet school cycle the stars move on, and it could take a year or two to fill the last group's shoes. This year's Ice and Poinsettia corps weren't up to the task, and Retrum hired guest artists for the Sugar Plum pas de deux.

She chose husband-and-wife duo Olga Pavlova and Yevgeny Anfinogenov, principals with the Metropolitan Classical Ballet in Arlington, Texas (co-directed by former Bolshoi principal Alexander Vetrov and former Balanchine soloist Paul Mejia). Pavlova and Anfinogenov, whose music-box Russian style looks old-fashioned to my Balanchined American brain, seemed slightly tired or toured out. But Pavlova's elegant lines and fairylike footwork, paired with Anfinogenov's generous leaps and double cabrioles, were worth braving the snow-slicked streets.

So no, Virginia, two Nuts in two nights was not too much.

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