A chilling concept, 'Nutcracker on Ice' is not bad

December 18, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To call "Nutcracker on Ice" frosting is to imply there's something to frost -- whereas until now, "Nutcracker" season in Baltimore has been strictly empty calories.

I'm not talking about the honest productions by and for children by the Baltimore School for the Arts or the Baltimore County Youth Ballet. I mean those allegedly professional ("Cast of 85!!") companies that con a regiment of hard-working little dancers and their parents out of a great deal of time and money, all to allow some fly-by-night "authentic Russian" troupe to make a quick buck.

I fully expected the "Nutcracker on Ice" to be awful, but it is a reasonable entertainment -- once you get over the silliness of a skating rink for a living room and the clunkiness of ice skates.

This production, which opened to a painfully small audience Tuesday at the Lyric Theater, is set to run through Sunday. In a city saturated with the ballet, coming after most of the Christmas concerts are done, I suspect it will do very badly. Too bad, for it has charms that most Baltimoreans will never see.

The star skaters are all good, starting with Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval, who were U.S. National Champions in pairs skating in 1992 and 1993. As Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, they have two grand duets filled with spectacular moves, and Louise Rossbach's choreography shows that she has a good set of musical ears. I've seen a lot of ballet versions not half so well-crafted.

The production also has a fine Drosselmeier in Gregor Filipowski, a sizzling Mouse King in Edward van Campen and a Snow Queen/Sugar Plum Fairy of fiery precision in Karen Preston.

Rossbach's brighter ideas include making the "Arabian Dance" into a showcase for a daredevil genie and two female attendants. She also has devised a dashing Russian dance as athletic and virtuosic as any ballet production.

On the other hand, there are a fair number of missteps, from the bordello costumes in "Waltz of the Flowers" to the shortage of stagehands, I guess, that made it impossible to move the grandfather clock offstage after the party. The poor old clock had to stand out there for all of the snow scene, which surely

had the effect of freezing its works.

I'm sorry, too, Filipowski could not bear to cut his locks, as it's a bit unsettling to have a Drosselmeier who looks like Frank Zappa.

Equally startling was the waltz from the opera "Eugene Onegin" that shouldered its way into the ballet score.

Ah, well. It was worth it to have the snow scene danced by skaters -- even if they had to detour around the clock.

'Nutcracker on Ice'

When: 7: 30 p.m. today and tomorrow; 2 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. and 5: 30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lyric Theater, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

Tickets: $19-$37.50; $9-$27.50 children

Call: 410-752-1200

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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