December 22, 2019 5 PM
Paramount Theater, Oakland
“The Nutcracker” is an American tradition at Xmas time, providing opportunities, earnings and audiences a chance to celebrate the season with ballet. Although the original production was performed in Russia as an 1892 two-act ballet (“fairy ballet“), originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Op. 71), and libretto adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann‘s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King“, the work was performed in San Francisco in 1944 by Lew Christensen and the SF Ballet through the help of NYC Ballet’s director, George Balanchine. Now there are dozens of productions around the country and the Bay Area including hip-hop and jazz Nutcracker.
The Oakland Ballet, under the direction of Graham Lustig, provides a delightful production featuring many children from his Ballet Academy as well as some featured stars. Most notable was the starring role of Marie (called Clara in other versions) by Paunika Jones, the first (to my knowledge) African-American ballerina to take that role. She is a charming performer, holding the entire cast under her attention and providing fine dancing. Equally notable is Jackie McDonnell who not only danced “Cousin Vera” in Act 1, but was transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy in Act 2. Accompanied by her partner, Thomas Panto, they brought excellence in technique and bravura to those roles.
The stage of the Paramount Theater appears to be wide but not deep. Lustig is to be congratulated for his ability to have so many groups, flowers, family, rats, soldiers, various national dancers, snow and snowballs (among others) on and off the stage, providing each with lively choreography. The audience cheered, not only at the bravura technique of the principals, (McDonnel, Panto and Jones), but for all the children and the artists of the special events.
Lustig tells me that the Oakland Ballet is looking forward to a 50th celebration of The Nutcracker for his company. It has become a vital part of the Oakland community through its various holiday celebrations and the inclusions of the wide variety of residents, adults and children who constitute the lively East Bay community.
Michael Morgan and the Oakland Symphony provided the musical accompaniment. Also notable in the artistic staff are Zack Brown (costumes), Patty Ann Farrell (lighting), Bat Abbit (Ballet Master) and Christopher Dunn (Wardrobe Supervisor). Bravo to all!
Joanna G. Harris