Diablo Ballet's Nutcracker Suite is Childlike Fun and Serious Ballet

11/15/2021

November 14, 2021—Among the holiday season Nutcracker performances shortened for the attention spans of younger audiences, serious dance fans might fear they'd find dumbed-down ballet. Not so with Diablo Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite. The challenging choreography, by Julia Adam, and Diablo's able dancers led by veteran Artistic Director Lauren Jonas and coached by former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Joanna Berman, guaranteed that sincere ballet fans would not be disappointed. In addition to flocks of little girls in their most glamorous attire at Saturday's matinee performance, the arrival of a busload of college dance students was a good indication that there was something to see here for fans of all stripes.

Diablo Ballet presents Julia Adam’s The Nutcracker Suite. Photo by Bilha Sperling.
Diablo Ballet presents Julia Adam’s The Nutcracker Suite. Photo by Bilha Sperling.

The program's opening scenes in a hotel were accompanied by recorded music by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra and the Jackie Gleason Orchestra. The traditional Tchaikovsky score begins when Drosselmeyer, as the hotel Concierge, casts his spell. As one would expect from a one-hour performance that includes scene changes, the scenery is necessarily sparse. Yet stager Jordan Tilton has done an imaginative job of conveying different locations by using curtain changes to quickly reveal or conceal backgrounds and props. Despite the shortened length, this year's Nutcracker version by Adam includes more details than offered by Diablo Ballet in previous years.

The Concierge, danced by Michael Wells, and the hotel staff check in the Diablo family guests and lead them from the hotel lobby to the hotel room, where a Christmas tree waits at stage left. The Concierge transforms into the caped Drosselmeyer and casts a spell on guests and staff alike. All but Clara, played sweetly by Julia Meister, and Walker Martin's Bell Hop are left in suspended animation while Drosselmeyer has the pair of them imagine they are a romantic couple in exotic locations.

Under Drosselmeyer's spell, the scene changes suddenly to the enlarged room (or miniaturized characters) and the iconic, oversized Christmas tree. As the clock strikes midnight the traditional Nutcracker story unfolds. The Diablo family members and hotel staff transform into versions of favorite Nutcracker characters: Nut Boy, Cavalier, the Sugar Plum, Snow Queen, the French Mirliton dancers, Snow Flakes, Poinsettas, and a Jack Frost. Novel additions include Snow Kids dressed in snowsuits and a campfire scene.

Amanda Farris and Michael Wells in Julia Adam’s The Nutcracker Suite. Photo by Rosselyn Ramirez
Amanda Farris and Michael Wells in Julia Adam’s The Nutcracker Suite. Photo by Rosselyn Ramirez

In graceful pas de deux, Michael Wells and Amanda Farris, and Raymond Tilton as the Cavalier partnered with Jackie McConnell, did justice to Adam's choreography. Felipe Leon showed off his comic style in the roles of annoying brother Fritz and the Mouse King. Other notable partnerings were Julia Meister as Clara with Walker Martin as the Bell Hop and Nut Boy.

Although a shortened version, this was both earnest ballet and fun holiday entertainment. Diablo Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite is the Nutcracker in a nutshell—short, sweet, and to everyone's taste.

For more information, see www.diabloballet.org.