It's Nutcracker season. Big-name ballet stars are flying across the country like Santa in his sleigh, dropping in here and there to dance the sugarplum pas de deux with pre-professional studio companies and small young troupes needing extra punch. Dance Wisconsin's Nutcracker Fantasy, which ran last weekend at the Wisconsin Union Theater, was no exception.
Topping Nutcracker Fantasy, essentially a Monona Academy of Dance studio production, were American Ballet Theatre principals Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, a real-life husband-wife team. Madison was the first stop on their sugarplum tour this year. That didn't keep them from looking a bit road weary, but their clean Russian lines, flawless timing, flashy turns and impeccable partnering shone through. Her long, perfectly wrapped attitudes stuck in my mind's eye, as did his strings of continuous pirouettes.
But ABT stars weren't the only highlights in this show. Dance Wisconsin artistic director Jo Jean Retrum's twists on the traditional Nutcracker plot sometimes work unexpected magic. She's swapped the familiar Rat King for a giant dancing Teddy Bear. Personally I prefer the Victorian rodent monster, but the scene stealer in Retrum's kids' corps this year was a tiny girl in a navy blue dress getting a bear hug.
Other original Retrum contributions show off her sharp-eyed sense of modern style. There's no stiff cotillion for the party scene parents; instead, four community adult couples waltz lushly, bathed in blue light. I always look forward to that waltz and another non-Nut nugget, set to the Austrian carol "Still Still Still." The Monona Grove High School Singers sang it to a T this year, and the gently choreographed pas de six for three couples was just right for the young dancers.
I was disappointed in the awkward lifts and wobbly pointe work in the snow pas de deux danced by former Retrum students Justin Bohan, currently apprenticing at Milwaukee Ballet, and Kristin Herlache, now in Milwaukee Ballet II.
But the female harlequin in Act I, a member of the Dance Wisconsin studio company, performed with panache. The Poinsettia corps, in Retrum's take on "Waltz of the Flowers," looked well-rehearsed this year. And for the third year in a row Michael Hartung, currently a high school junior, showed off sparkling chops in his Jack in the Box role. He bounded across the stage, whipping off cabrioles, coupé jeté turns, backflips, cartwheels, a breakdance spin. He drew cheers Saturday night. Behind me, a man shouted, "Wow, what a great Jack in the Box!"
Guest principals aside, it was Hartung who stole the show.