By Manning Harris
If you’re having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, may we suggest Atlanta Ballet’s enchanting version of “The Nutcracker,” playing at the Fox through Dec. 29.
It’s easy for us longtime Atlantans to take for granted the oldest continually operating ballet company in the nation, but that is what Atlanta Ballet is; and they are probably the finest performing arts company of any kind in the city.
Think about it: One may become an actor (and I love actors and theatre, as you may know) with very little training; sometimes with enough talent, determination, and persistence, one becomes a professional actor in theatre or in film with relatively short “years of struggling.”
Not so in the world of dance. Invariably, to become a full-fledged member of The Company in Atlanta Ballet (or any world-class company), one has to start lessons and training as a child. The discipline and technique that make the near impossible steps and moves look effortless and easy are honed by years of study and practice that cannot be bypassed.
Only then can a dancer call herself/himself an artist, a word that is thrown around these days with cavalier carelessness and nonchalance.
Back to “The Nutcracker”: One drawing card this year is the presence of illusionist Drew Thomas as the mysterious toymaker Drosselmeyer. Mr. Thomas has been an accomplished magician for years, but he recently gained wider fame as a finalist in “America’s Got Talent” on TV. Also, Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director John McFall and he have collaborated in the past. Drosselmeyer is not really a dancer but must dazzle as a magician with compelling presence; this Thomas does. He will perform the role through Dec. 15.
I’m sure you know that “The Nutcracker” transports us back to Old Russia, St. Petersburg, over 100 years ago, Christmas Eve in the opulent Petrov home. The guests await the arrival of Drosselmeyer, who produces two life-sized dolls and a Nutcracker, all of whom proceed to dance for the pleasure of Marya and the guests. As the evening starts to wind down, Drosselmeyer weaves a spell and takes Marya—and the audience—on a magical adventure full of incredible characters.
The timeless music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, beautifully played by the lush, full Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Gary Sheldon, weaves its own spell. This music has become part of the universal subconscious; you may think you haven’t heard it, but you have. It is sublime.
The magnificent set is designed by Peter Horne; the costumes, by Judanna Lynn; lighting by Robert Hand Jr.; and the choreography is by Mr. McFall.
And then there are the dancers, breathtakingly beautiful and accomplished. Here is The Company: Alexandre Barros, Peng-yu Chen, Christian Clark, Pedro Gamino, Heath Gill, Nathan Griswold, Jonah Hooper, Yoomi Kim, Tara Lee, Nadia Mara, Miguel Angel Montoya, Jackie Nash, Brandon Nguyen, Thom Panto, Alessa Rogers, Claire Stallman, Benjamin Stone, Jared Tan, Abigail Tan-Gamino, Kelly Tipton, Jesse Tyler, Rachel Van Buskirk, John Welker, and Christine Winkler.
I must tell you I was quite transported: I had a fifth row center seat (heaven); the proximity to all that magic, fantasy, music, and superb dancing becomes hypnotic, almost an out-of-body experience. You want to get in touch with your inner child? This is the place. It matters not if you’ve seen it once, 50 times, or never. You think you’re not a dance fan? Go and surprise yourself. This may sound corny, but I’m very grateful to live in a city that offers such glorious entertainment.
For tickets and information, visit atlantaballet.org.