Art is an experience.
“The Nutcracker,” Beauty, Elegance, & Rich Depth of Sound, Gina Bonelli
“The Nutcracker”, a ballet and Romantic era masterpiece by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), was performed recently at the Pikes Peak Center for Performing Arts. This report is on the November 25, 2017 afternoon performance. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic lead by Conductor, Thomas Wilson, and the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale, performed Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” music. The Oklahoma City Ballet, led by Artistic Director, Robert Mills, with addition of student dancers from the Pikes Peak Region, performed the onstage ballet. The orchestra ensemble included talented orchestra sections of, violins, violas, cellos, double bass, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, French horns, trumpets, trombones, a tuba, the timpani, percussion, and piano. Conductor Thomas Wilson and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic were under Music Director, Josep Caballe’-Domenech. Under Set Designer, Gregory Crane, this performance stayed true to the traditional ambience of “The Nutcracker,” with conservative Christmas tones used throughout the props, backdrops, curtains and theme, the audience was wisped into a story from a seemingly Victorian-style era. The audience was diverse in age, from seniors to small children, there was something for everyone to enjoy and be engaged in. This two act ballet, included five compositions in the first act and six compositions in act two. Of the eleven pieces, five will be discussed in this report. Yet, all are worth listening to.
The “Waltz of Snowflakes,” utilized a steady energetic texture that draws the audience in to what is to come, as the use of speed extremes, dynamics and pitch, alongside the many abrupt stops forces the necessity of paying close attention and builds to the victorious climax, where the timpani helps to build more tension, until the flutes, violin, brass, and percussion has a simultaneous battle. The intro of this piece is slow with building sounds and speeds. Flutes, harp, violins and the triangle combine to introduce the audience to a land of snow and intensity. With the instruments and chorus engaging in a constant battle, the push and pull continues in lighter forms with the chorus, triangle, and harp, to conclude the piece with the percussion, violins and horns holding the final word. The hemiola technique of 3 against 2 played simultaneously can be heard all throughout the piece. It is in this piece that you can sense the change into a far-away land coming. This is backed up with the ballet performance where the Prince and Clara are wisped through dancing snowflakes and transformed into a new and different land. This song comes right before the “Finale” composition is played of Act one.
Act two brings forth the new and intriguing lands of faraway. There are six gifts given to the Prince and Clara. Each of these gifts are presented with different songs and performances, all hosted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The second of these songs and gifts is “Tea,” which is done in inspiration of a Chinese dance. This song starts with a march of two bassoons, two clarinets, and a bass clarinet all in ostinato. The ostinato adds thickness to the sound of the thin top coating consisting of alternating pizzicato and high flutes, which make up the melody. The overall sound provides the tip-toeing and colorful drive for the ballet dancers to bring forth a beautiful dragon onstage, alongside the light and lively Chinese dance. The song is short, yet it embodies much depth of color and vibrancy. The tempo is upbeat and quick, with abrupt stops by the deep tones of the base, and light yet strong tones of the flutes. It concludes with a full-bodied exchange between the base and top layer, and ends on a single phrase. The single phrase ending brings forth the next gift, of “Coffee.”
“Coffee,” is one of my favorite performances and songs of “The Nutcracker.” With low strings playing in repeated pattern, also known as ostinato modal piece, the deep, slow, and sensual dance is created. Legato is the goal of this piece, and such smooth and flowing sound is accomplished with the addition of the English Horn, supporting clarinets and high strings, layered on top of the low strings in ostinato. The melancholic sound is enhanced with curiosity of the unknown cultural aspect, to provide the Arabian dance the beauty it deserves. The two main “Coffee” dancers remain in close and flowing dance, often rarely inching apart from one another, as if bound to each other by a supernatural force. Such a force is heard with the bassoons and clarinets being in a constant state of deep dance. The sound of trills are played with grace and elegance of the clarinets, with the flutes adding to the smooth, luxurious and mysterious sounds. The trills also add the romantic tones to the piece, with the bassoons engaging in the deep and enticing tones. From beginning to end this composition is slow, flowing, sensual, and keeps the audience engaged.
After the gifts were presented to Clara and the Prince, the “Waltz of Flowers” is provided in delightful and romantic fashion. With the beautiful harp being highlighted in the beginning alongside the plucked strings and clarinets, the piece opens up slowly and gracefully. This is the A melody of the piece, which flows right into the B melody, played by strings and flutes, in a typical yet regal waltz fashion. The AABBAA continues with each answer adding in more depth of sound, with additions of more flutes, oboes, clarinets, strings, and bassoons. The middle section comes in with a CCDC pattern of which the C section features heavy strings, with full-bodied flutes and a triangle that adds what feels like magical glitter to it all. The D section provides contrast to the C section with a low minor melody played by cellos. The AABBAA melody fights its way back into the mix and brings forth the more depth of the sounds of each opposing melody. The arguments conclude in the Coda with the full orchestra raising the roof of the performance hall with faster and more repetitive phrases. Such a Coda even had my five-year old son standing and pretending to conduct. The amount of emotion that this piece builds inside of the audience, is seen all throughout the hall. The suspense of sounds keeps one’s eyes fighting to watch both the orchestra and the ballet. The ballet dancers equally provided a powerful performance of beauty, grace, and increasing tempo, alongside the intensity of footwork and flow, this scene is one that leaves the audience wanting more.
More is what the audience receives, with “Pas de deux: adagio.” The emotional intensity of this Intrada, between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, is created with both onstage brilliance and full-bodied depth of strings, brass, and woodwinds. With the harp introducing us to this beautiful dance of two, and allowing such slowly filling magic to fill the space of the theater hall, the audience is immediately transported into their time and space of dance. The melody is played by cellos in a single melancholic (descending) scale that sings of both sadness and happiness, loss and gain. High woodwinds repeating the melody with the strings and the harp playing in accompaniment, the descending scale builds with more intensity. This is quickly followed up by the B section, which is short yet powerful with solo woodwinds and battling strings and brass that bring much emotional drama and intensity to the already powerful sound. The A section returns with more force, backed up by the full orchestra to reach a final and climatic coda, featuring harp and tremolo strings, to fill each audience member full of so much emotion that, when given a moment to look around at the audience, you see tears filling up in many eyes. The conclusion of such power comes with the timpani providing the final phrase. We see that the Sugar Plum Fairy put on a spectacular show for the Prince and Clara, her honored guests.
After being taken away to such a magical, powerful, intense and imaginative place as the “The Nutcracker,” the response to release all of the built up energy within is only fitting with standing and applauding the beautiful and talented dancers, chorale singers, and amazing orchestra and Maestro, along with everyone who helped to put this wonderful adaptation of the “The Nutcracker” on. The brilliance of the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, during the Romantic era has left audiences, around the world, with such special artistic gifts to share for many generations to come. The on pointe elegance and precision of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, conducted by Associate Conductor, Thomas Wilson, under musical direction of Josep Caballe-Domenech, allowed for Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces to really come alive, with emotion, magic, and thick textures and tones. The beautiful and graceful Oklahoma City Ballet, under direction of Robert Mills, really shined, in this performance, with beautiful solo acts by Courtney Connor Jones, Miki Kawamura, Jefferson Payne, and many more, alongside the talents of the company this ballet was brought to life with elegance and powerful movements. The beautiful voices of the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale, conducted by Victoria Lipscomb, added the emotional accents and blends to the performance. “The Nutcracker” suite is one to experience in-person, as live performances really allow the audience to engage in full participation of the material presented.
Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale. (2015). Conductor, Victoria Lipscomb. Accompanist, Lynn Branford. Executive Director, Marcia Hendricks. http://www.childrenschorale.org/site/PageServer?pagename=home_page&s_mobile=false.
Oklahoma City Ballet. (2017). Artistic Director, Robert Mills. Set Designer, Gregory Crane. Costume Designer, Susanne Hubbs. Lighting Design, Aaron Mooney. Rehearsal Assistants, Penny Askew, Miki Kawamura, and Ronnie Underwood. https://www.okcballet.org/performance/the-nutcracker/.
Pikes Peak Center for Performing Arts. (2017). Sponsored by Penrose-St. Francis Holiday Performances, and many more. http://www.pikespeakcenter.com/.
Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich. (1840-1893). The Nutcracker.
Thomas Wilson. (2017) The Nutcracker. Pikes Peak Center for Performing Arts. Music Director, Josep Caballe-Domenech. Concert Master, Michael Hanson. Colorado Springs Philharmonic. https://csphilharmonic.org/concert/the-nutcracker-2017/.