Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, December 24, 2001

Minus a star, Ballet Hawaii’s
‘Nutcracker’ still inspires wonder

Review by Scott Vogel

There were a depressing number of empty seats at Friday's opening-night performance of Ballet Hawaii's "Nutcracker," especially given the stellar talent imported for the occasion.

While it's tempting to pin the light turnout on Ethan Stiefel's last-minute exit from the production (owing to an injury), it may well be due to a culturewide anti-ballet prejudice.

No matter, those who did attend witnessed thrilling dancing, gorgeous costumes and some of the cutest kids this side of Sugar Plum Heaven.

As for the dancing, American Ballet Theater star Ashley Tuttle, though forced to perform without her announced partner (Stiefel was replaced by the fine Benjamin Bowman), still managed to dazzle the crowd with wonderful pirouettes and an almost supernatural grace. Tuttle is the sort of performer who instantly projects a sense of confidence and security, no small comfort to those of us who worried for the ballerina's safety in the hands of an unfamiliar partner.

Equally winning were Tai Jimenez and John Selya in the second-act Arabian dance, Jimenez's tremendous flexibility mesmerizing the crowd even as she demonstrated phenomenal extension.

But the loudest, most sustained applause of the evening was reserved for ABT member Gillian Murphy, whose pyrotechnic pirouettes as the Dew Drop (in the "Waltz of the Flowers" sequence) were simply marvelous. The other flowers could hardly keep their eyes off Murphy as she floated by.

The staging of this "Nutcracker," by Pamela Taylor-Tongg and Michael Vernon, was uncluttered and semi-inspired, although no amount of pantomiming by the principals could substitute for a close reading of the "Nutcracker" synopsis in the program.

But every time things got inordinately confusing, Tchaikovsky's ravishing music rushed to the rescue. It's the music that started "The Nutcracker" on the road to ballet nirvana, and the Honolulu Symphony, conducted by Stuart Chafetz, served it well.

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