Nicolas, the younger brother, is often one of the weaker dancers at the Act I party. Not this year. Joshua Nunamaker was strong as both an actor and a dancer, and his pirouettes—often a challenge for younger dancers–were spot-on. Alyssa Rogers, as Marya, made the audience believe she is a young teenager with one pointe shoe-clad foot in childhood and the other in young adulthood, albeit with prodigious ballet skills.
The Atlanta Ballet Orchestra is always a highlight of “The Nutcracker,” but the collaboration between the musicians and the dancers this year, especially in Act II, was outstanding. The pinnacle was when the orchestra began the first note of the finale, joining Alexandre Barros at the height of a leap. Kudos go to conductor Gary Sheldon and all the musicians for their musicianship and their support of the dancers and choreography.
The dancers’ skill level has collectively improved yet again. There were many individual dancers who attracted my notice. Drosselmeyer, portrayed by Nathan Griswold, has the best cape-wielding skills and upper body gestures I have encountered in over 40 years of watching this ballet. In this version, Drosselmeyer is onstage directing the action for most of the ballet, and Griswold’s portrayal of the character does much to make the story line, originally a bit vague, come together. Drosselmeyer’s creations, the Meissen Dolls, danced with great clarity by Jackie Nash and Alexandre Barros, are a highlight of Act I: they had the audience laughing aloud at their antics. The audience clapped to the music and screamed with delight at the capering of Heath Gill, Brandon Nguyen, and Benjamin Stone in the Act II Trepak. Coco Mathieson as the Snow Queen and the Shepherdess further ensnared the audience with her brilliant technique and her dazzling smile. And, finally, Rachel Van Buskirk and Christian Clark were the penultimate Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier: Self-assured and technically scintillating, it was as though they had all the time in the world for each lift, pirouette, and balance, yet they maintained exquisite musicality throughout the Pas de Deux. Nowhere was their artistry more apparent than in Clark’s attentive partnering and soaring leaps, and Van Buskirk’s escalating fouêttés and final sustained arabesque balance.