Oakland Ballet’s NUTCRACKER

Oakland Ballet: Graham Lustig, Director
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Paramount Theater, Oakland

Oakland Ballet’s NUTCRACKER: Charming/Delightful

Oakland’s Paramount Theater was allmost full with the enthusiastic audience that supports the Ballet’s performances. The event is dedicated and cast with all the many ethnicities that are Oakland’s people.

Lustig is amazingly capable of producing the NUTCRACKER on the limited, shallow stage space at the Paramount. He is able to arrange groups, focus soloists and, with the help of scenic artists, create the magic that is this annual festive event. He does some changes with the original scenario but those are to the advantage of this show.

The family Christmas Eve party features Paunika Jones as Marie (the child who receives the Nutcracker doll from Uncle Drosselmeyer (Philip Chan). Marie is often besieged by brother Fritz (Alexader Pers) whose battling friends are later imagined as the attacking Rats. In her dream, Marie is able to assist the Nutcracker (Lawrence Chen) by killing the Rat King (Aiden O’Leary). This act of bravery and her imagination take her to the Frozen Forest where she is entertained by dancing Snowmaidens and rolly-polly Snowballs.

All these performers are children and adults of the Oakland Ballet school. Some may be guests for these performances. Both children and adults dance well, are delightfully costumed and, best of all, seem to enjoy their participation.

Marie and the Nutcracker Prince (now marvelously restored to human form) journey to Confiturembourg. There they are entertained by Bonbons, Peppermints, Clowns, Rosebuds, Candy Cooks and a variety of ‘international’ dancers. Finally the Sugar Plumb Fairy (Jazmine Quezada) and her Cavalier (Evan Ambrose) appear to dance the famous “pas de duex” that concludes the dream. Marie awakens, safe at home, happy with her Nutcracker doll and her Christmas dream.

Lustig has made the performance enchanting and within the range of all performers.

The stage space is challenging; so that choreography moves endlessly side to side since the depth is limited. The best dancing is done by Marie (Paunika Jones) and the Nutcracker Prince (Philip Chan). Jazmine Quezada and Evan Ambrose add professionalism to the final “pas de duex”. But it is he tdesign of all the dances and the excellent scenic wonders makes the Oakland Ballet’s NUTCRACKER a delightful holiday treat. Julius P. Williams conducted the Oakland Symphony

Note: The program notes the passing of Oakland Ballet’s former director and founder, Ronn Guidi and Michael Morgan, conductor of the Oakland Symphony, the group that accompanied Tchaikovsky’s score for the Nutcracker for this and previous performances. Julius P. Williams conducted the Oakland Orchestra.


Mark Morris. Cal Performances, 12/17/21

Mark Morris Dance Group
Cal Performances. Friday, December 17, 2021 8 PM
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

Holiday Hurrah!

The Mark Morris Dance Group returned to UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall during the weekend of December 17-19, 2021. In other years Morris has brought his “Nutcracker” satire,” The Hard Nut” for the Berkeley audience. This year, we were treated to a repertory of older works. The program featured several group dances and one duet, all performed to live music (works by Handel, Cowell, Schumann) and an arrangement of nostalgic songs, sung by Morris! and Mary Sherhart. A small group of excellent musicians accompanied the dancers….live!

For this reviewer, the duet entitled “Jenn and Spencer,” danced by Karlie Budge and Brandon Randolph was the ‘hit’ of the evening. To Henry Cowell’s “Suite for Violin and Piano” (played by Georgy Valtchev, violin; Colin Fowler, piano), the two dancers created beautifully shaped movement designs and encounters, displaying superb technique and intimate relationships. Karlie Budge, in a long dress and flowing hair, was both dramatic and acrobatic; Brandon Randolf supported and extended all the movement.

Morris got into the act (with soprano Mary Sherhart) by singing in “Dancing Honeymoon,” a selection of songs from past times, including “You Were Meant for Me,” “Do Do Do,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, and You” and others. The work, from 1998, was danced by Mica Bernas, Brandon Cournay, Sarah Haarmann, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Billy Smith, and Noah Vinson.

I don’t know if they all had “tongue in cheek” but the work is charming, funny and delightful.The evening began with “Water” for the company of thirteen dancers to Handel’s “Water Music”.

Indeed the energy and grouping for the thirteen dancers flowed beautifully with many surprises in group patterns, gestures and intriguing floor designs. There is much ‘balletic movement” extended by Morris’ ability to enliven the stage with varying cast groupings, entrances and exits.

The closing work “V” to Schumann’s Quintet in E flat major for Piano and Strings, Op. 44, for fourteen dancers, was less pleasing to this viewer since the dance vocabulary was repetitious and continually ‘on the beat,” which may be accurate but often grows rhythmically very dull. Half the group was consumed in long light green outfits; the other half was in bright blue jackets and shorts. It was impossible not to become entranced by naked legs and bare midriffs as the dancers crawled across the stage, on the staccato beat of the music. Still and all, they are a great ensemble of dancers. They are:

Mica Bernas, Karlie Budge, Brandon Cournay, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Leslie Garison, Sarah,Haarmann, Deepa Liegel, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Dallas McMurray, Maile Okamura, Brandon Randolph, Christina Sahaida, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson and Malik Q. Williams.

All choreography is by Mark Morris. He has created a great ensemble and a superb repertory, brought fame to Brooklyn (where the company has a gorgeous home) and brought a renewed delight in live music as accompaniment for dance. Bravo Mark! And to all the performers.

Happy Holiday.!


Sam&Max – Remastered

Sam&Max: Beyond Time and Space.

A really funny game in a time when nothing is very funny.

Seasons One and Two of Sam&Max have been remastered. Colors are brighter, new music added, characters slimmed down — but most important — it allows you to play Sam&Max. I played it ten years ago — and if it’s your first you are due for a fabulous surprise – they are the most intelligent funny “games” out there. The humor is the center in the witty dialogue as the Freelance Police, a dog and a rabbit, embark on outrageous investigations.

This review is for Season Two. Season One came out last year. There are five linked episodes. They were called Episodic Games because the games originally came out bi-monthly.

Season Two: Beyond Time and Space.

  • Ice Station Santa:
    Tired of all the Xmas – “good will to men” stuff? This Episode will clear your sinuses.
  • Moai Better Blues:
    Yes – they go to the Easter Islands, talk to the giant stone heads – do you know they had feet?
  • Night of the Raving Dead:
    Taking a page out of Ann Rice’s book – a disco vampire with piercings.
  • Chariots of the Dogs:
    It had to finally happen – Space abduction, mariachis in space, and time travel to past and far future.
  • What’s New Beelzebub?
    Well – if they can confront Santa – why not the Devil and the whole Hell emporium?

In case you may be wondering where this outstanding comic crew emerged from – it’s a spin-off from the funny bone of LucasArts. But savor the game. Even after playing it you might want to go back to squeeze out every morsel of goodness.

Available from Steam for the Nintendo Switch, Windows and the XBox – $19.99 for the whole glorious bundle.