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Published: Monday, 12/4/2006

Ballet Theatre of Toledo breathes freshness into holiday chestnut


Part spectacle, part beloved music, and part fine dancing, The Nutcracker as conceived and produced by Nigel Burgoine was an auspicious launch for the first local season of his new Ballet Theatre of Toledo.

In two performances Saturday at the comfortable and well-appointed Maumee Performing Arts Center, the company breathed welcome freshness into this holiday chestnut.

Spectacle and clever variation were restrained yet satisfying to those familiar with E.T.A. Hoffman s charming story, Tchaikovsky s music, and choreography and staging by Burgoine.

With beautiful sets by Thomas C. Umfrid; costumes by Betsy Urbanski, a towering Christmas tree, and walk-ons by Capt. Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean) and a well-behaved Great Pyrenees pooch named Blizzard, there was plenty of eye candy.

The orchestra conducted by John Dodson of the Adrian Symphony Orchestra gave its all to the challenging score. Despite occasional glitches and some odd tempos, the ensemble provided solid support for the dancers and lived up to the promise of the music.

Best by far was the dancing, both by company soloists and guests Tricia Sundbeck and Jay Goodlett from the Cincinnati Ballet.

In the traditional prime roles as Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy, Sundbeck s appearances were dazzling displays of the traditional showy choreography smooth spins, lovely extensions, and soaring leaps.

Goodlett, supple, strong, and so elegant, was the perfect partner for Sundbeck and, in his solos, an exciting stage presence.

Ernst Hillenbrand, a dance master from Fremont, conjured the mysterious power of Herr Drosselmeyer, who introduces the Nutcracker into the Stahlbaum family festivities.

As Clara, Lauren Burns was charming and well-centered. (The other Clara, Caitlin Riley, danced at the earlier show.) Douglas Burkhart as pesky brother Fritz was superb; a rising talent to be sure.

Character parts abound and each was well developed, from the dolls in the first act Mallory Pettee, Kathy Sipes, Kalina Hillard, and Alana Hatcher to the live Nutcracker, Sydney Hall.

Hillary Sujkowski and Jessica Lemons were convincing and exotic as the Sultan and Arabian Girl; Pettee returned as a lively Chinese Girl, and Tony Dandino was electrifying as the Russian Dancer. Lynn Ritter played a spicy Mother Ginger, and Meghan Booth, Sally Micsko, and Tegan Winkelman were graceful Pastry Pages.

Sipes was simply marvelous as Queen of the Flowers.

Sweeping on and off the stage were cadres of younger dancers Mice, Soldiers, Snowflakes, Flowers and more many in multiple roles. If technique is still developing among the younger dancers, even they revealed a presence, a posture, and an attitude of exactitude which resonated throughout the performance.

Lighting could have been brighter in general and more diverse, and wouldn t it have been nice to have some mikes for the singers whose vocalizations during the Snow scene were barely audible in the auditorium.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com or 419-724-6101.

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