`Nutcracker' ready to open

Christmas: The Howard County Ballet will present the Tchaikovsky classic Dec. 20 and 21 in Columbia.

Howard Live

December 11, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There's a wonderful symmetry to Christmas and the arts in that each of the genres has been ceded proprietary control of at least one Yuletide blockbuster.

In the literary realm, Charles Dickens comes by each and every December to tell us of Mr. Scrooge's annual rendezvous with the three spirits who transform terminal humbuggery into a life of fulfillment in just a few incandescent chapters.

Musically, there is George Frederick Handel's oratorio Messiah, which imparts vintage pomp and pageantry to the Christmas season with sterling choruses such as the mighty "Hallelujah."

For music mixed with the power of the dance, there's The Nutcracker, the wondrously colorful fairy tale ballet composed by Russia's Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and first performed in St. Petersburg in December 1892.

"Tchaikovsky's music is brilliant and so sensitive to movement," says Kathi Ferguson, founding director of the Howard County Ballet, whose 70 dancers will present The Nutcracker at Jim Rouse Theatre on Dec. 20 and 21. "My challenge each year is to find new and different ways to set our movements to this wonderful music."

What an evocative score it is, with clowns, snowflakes, toys, sugarplum fairies and waltzing flowers all taking the stage, propelled by the melodic genius of Russia's best-loved composer.

Incidentally, the ballet wasn't received with open arms, as traditionalist critics quibbled not only with Tchaikovsky's innovative orchestration but with the very idea of a child-centered piece of dance theater.

How bizarre those criticisms seem, for as we appreciate the work today, it is the focus on young Clara and her childhood fantasy that gives the ballet such an enduring connection to the Christmas spirit.

"Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without The Nutcracker," says Ferguson's stage manager, Nancy Collins, whose daughter Robyn has danced in previous Howard County Ballet productions and whose husband, Richard, is providing technical direction for this year's performances. "This is a very special time for our family."

It is also an enchanting time for Abigail Magalee, 12, who attends Elkridge Landing Middle School and will dance the lead role of Clara. "It's exciting, nerve-racking and hard to do this," she says, "but I like dancing on stage very much, and I love making people happy."

For these productions, Abigail will be joined at center stage by a pair of distinguished visitors: Tarwah Merchant, once a member of Joffrey Ballet II and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Joseph Rodgers, who has danced with Ballet Chicago and the Milwaukee Ballet.

Ben Cramer of Long Reach High School appears as a handsome Cavalier, while Rebecca Friedman of Wilde Lake High and Paige Novak of Mount Hebron High each bring grace and charm to the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

For this seventh Howard County Ballet Nutcracker, the dancers will be joined by an orchestra of 38 players conducted by David Zajic.

The Howard County Ballet will present Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" at Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 and at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 21. Tickets are $20 and $14 and may be ordered by calling the company: 410-465-8233.

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