Combine fresh new talent with seasoned veterans in a venerable production and you have a winning revival of a Christmas tradition - The Nutcracker by the Toledo Ballet.
For its 68th version, the company kept the Stranahan Theater stage jumping with perhaps its largest cast ever: some 150 dancers, from tiny mice to fine soloists to the most bumptious Mother Ginger ever.
Accompanied by Toledo Symphony musicians led by Adron Ming, the performance won over a large audience, especially all those little girls with party dresses and starry eyes who could barely sit down during the dancing.
Were they all dreaming of some day dancing the featured role of Clara, as Meridith Heckler did so radiantly in the matinee? (Sharing the role in last night's show was Holly Allen.)
Or did they wish to appear as one of the dozens of haloed angels - some of whom literally flew across the stage?
This year, Gen Horiuchi's choreography and Lisa Mayer Lang's staging fit much more comfortably than in 2007 and the general level of dancing was much improved.
The very capable guests from Miami City Ballet, Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado as Snow Queen and King, in the first act, and Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in the second, infused fresh energy in the production.
Other notable newcomers included Sam Lips, whose precision and grace lit up every role he covered, from the magician's "nephew" to the Nutcracker prince to, most notably, a pas de deux performance as Coffee (formerly the Arabian dance) with another welcome new talent - Bailie Schira.
From her first onstage moment, Tenethia Beamon's vivacious character as Chocolate (Spanish dance) and her precise dancing demanded full attention. Company veteran Michael Warrick provided fine partnering, as he always does.
In another debut, resident artist Frances Shuk Kwan Fu brought fluid grace to the role of Dew Drop Fairy in the second act.
Reprising roles introduced last year were Eric Hillenbrand as the dramatic Herr Drosselmeyer; Tyler Piercefield as Fritz, and Megan Coleman as the Dew Drop Fairy in alternate performances.
For over-the-top brashness and camp, no other performer could top Rick Woodell, the local DJ from 101.5 The River, as Mother Ginger. Fred LeFebvre of WSPD AM will cover the part today.
Certainly among the most excited performers were Colleen Kummer and Isabel Trahan, who escorted Clara around the stage in her glittering sleigh at the end of Act I. With financial support from the Douglas Co., through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the little girls were able to fulfill a dream by appearing. (But where were they for curtain calls?)
Toledo Ballet's production of The Nutcracker repeats at 2 p.m. today at the Stranahan Theater. Tickets are $14-45 at the theater box office.
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