I'm giving Dance Wisconsin's Nutcracker Fantasy, performed last weekend in the Wisconsin Union Theater, a big thumbs-up. Directed by Jo Jean Retrum of the Monona Academy of Dance, this annual production got its start when Retrum, who's been presenting pre-professional ballet in Madison for close to 30 years, decided to offer an alternative to the traditional Nutcracker presented by Madison Ballet. Retrum created her own Nut-like story, put her mother, Jean Adams, on costume detail, pulled together some old sets, swapped part of Tchaikovsky's original score for compositions by Madison's own Taras Nahirniak, and put up theater rent so the show could go on.
I asked her why, once. To give her dancers the chance to do 'Snow' and 'Waltz of the Flowers,' she said. She knows this simple truth: being on pointe in Nutcracker is every girl's dream, even in the new millennium. In Retrum's deconstructed story the party scene takes place in a toyshop, not Herr Stalbaum's house; the divertissements ' Chinese, Spanish, Arabian ' come in the first act; there's a dancing bear instead of a rat king; the snow scene's at the end instead of in the middle.
Retrum usually brings in guest principals from American Ballet Theatre, but in this year's tight economy her own dancers did the whole show. This wasn't a mistake. It wouldn't be a student company without a few wobbly steps, but these kids have stage presence, and for the most part they looked great.
Justin Bohan, a West High senior with a ballet career in his future, leapt high and spun quadruple pirouettes in dual starring roles as the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier and the Snow King. Ashley Dahm, a Monona Academy alum and '05 local high school grad, was beautifully musical, though not flawless, in the Sugar Plum part.
Bohan and Jazmin Jackson, on pointe, tackled 'Spanish' with brio.
High school freshman Michael Hartung, a natural ham whose leaps and cabrioles are, for a kid's, loaded with pizzazz, stole the scene as the Jack-in-the-Box and again in a vaguely punk 'Chinese' solo, spinning off coupe-jetÃ turns.
Michele Hanson and Jeremy Sandgren, leads in Retrum's little French ballet La Boite a Joux-Joux, which premiered earlier this year, looked like seasoned performers as Perrot and Pirouette dolls entertaining tiny kids in the toyshop.
High school senior Heather Bybee danced a surprisingly supple Arabian pas-de-deux with partner Tim Duppler, who also played Mother Ginger in the toyshop. And of course, the tiny elves that emerged from Mother Ginger's tentlike skirts were adorable.