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'Nutcracker' creates some magic at the Clay

By Laura Allen
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In 1892, the year Peter Tchaikovsky premiered "The Nutcracker," in St. Petersburg, Russia, Xboxes and 3D television didn't exist. Bringing stories to life took effort and ingenuity -- things the digital world has in spades.For all its clarity and precision, though, digital media just can't duplicate the magic of people creating art on the spot."The Nutcracker," presented Friday at the Clay Center by the Charleston Ballet and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, had its share of magical moments.One came near the end of the first act, when members of the Symphony Chorus joined with the orchestra and the dancers on stage for "Waltz of the Snowflakes."The backdrop for the scene -- a snowy mountain, complete with pine trees and fog -- set the tone as "snow" fell from the top of the stage. The only thing missing was ice-skating and hot cocoa. The nostalgia factor was in full effect and the audience loved it.
Rhiannon Turley and Ilya Kozadayev shone as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier. The duo's Grand Pas de deux at the end of the second act was notable for it's precision and elegance.Turley's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" was a good match for the delicacy of the celesta, a keyboard instrument that combines metal plates with wooden resonators to create an ethereal, ghostly, sound. It's a vulnerable moment -- a dancer with only one instrument for support -- but Turley was on point (literally).Willie Moore was a standout, as well, particularly during his athletic and perfectly timed performance in the "Chinese Dance."The kids closest to me laughed out loud when Mother Ginger, played by Ted Brightwell, rolled onto the stage on a platform. Brightwell's oversized skirt concealed several "Gingersnaps" -- younger members of the Charleston Ballet.Grant Cooper deftly directed the symphony through the score. The woodwinds were delightful during the Chinese and Arabian dances; the brass section was precise yet understated.Tchaikovsky was a notably unhappy man, yet he created one of the most popular pieces in the classical music repertoire, one that is still going strong after 120 years. "The Nutcracker" certainly found a welcoming audience Friday in Charleston.
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