With a warm and comfortable atmosphere, impressive choreography and performances, and gorgeous sets and costumes, Classical Ballet Academy’s “The Nutcracker” opened for its 12th season this week. My five-year-old daughter Maggie and I saw their opening show, and it entertained and awed us both.
The ballet opens on the Victorian landscape with Clara and her brother Fritz at their family holiday party. The mysterious great-uncle Drosselmeirer gives toys to all the children, ultimately giving Clara a wooden Nutcracker Doll. After the party, Clara falls asleep and dreams that the room is filled with frightening rats and their Rat King. The Nutcracker, now life-sized, protects Clara, and although the Nutcracker and toys defeat the Rat King, the Rat Queen stabs the Nutcracker with a sword. Clara comforts him, and the Nutcracker is magically transformed into a prince, and escorts Clara on a sleigh through the Land of Snow and the Land of the Sweets.
The dancing and vibrant costumes and the quick pace of the show kept Maggie engaged throughout. During the fight scenes with the rats and Rat Queen, where dancers had rat masks with glowing red eyes and danced and fought on a smoky stage, Maggie leaned into me for comfort. She laughed out loud during the scene with Mother Ginger and the Bon Bons, when the cast’s youngest dancers came out from under her tent-sized skirt.
Many scenes showed mature grace, athleticism, and powerful dancing, including the elegant Arabian Coffee, the energetic Spanish Chocolate, and the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier, with Ruby Staczwek and visiting guest Noel Emauel Jensen.
It is an impressive feat for Classical Ballet Academy to deliver an entire full-length performance of “The Nutcracker” with a cast of students (except for a few adult actors). Behind the polished and beautiful production lies hours of dancers’ training and practice, and planning and rehearsing. There were scenes when I had to remind myself that these dancers were pre-professional dancers.
I enjoyed the comfort of seeing a show with many other children in the audience, where proud family members pointed out dancers’ names in the program or onstage with whispers and fingers. I think the performance was particularly engaging to Maggie because of the young age of the performers and the intimate setting.
The performance runs two hours including intermission, and it is an all-ages show. While Maggie was engaged, there were definitely some wiggles in her seat by the end. The intermission is fifteen minutes, which is great for a restroom break and stretching out. But there are no concessions, so bring snacks if your kids tend to need (or expect) something to eat during the break.
Maggie and I read a picture book of the story before seeing the performance, and that helped her to follow along (which meant I could curb my instinct to whisper-narrate it all to her and just enjoy the performance myself). It was also a nice way for us to build excitement before the show.
Portland State University is on winter break at this time, and there is abundant, metered street parking near Lincoln Hall. It is easy getting in and out of the theatre, and the intimate setting is perfect for younger attendees.
Seeing Classical Ballet Academy’s “The Nutcracker” is a great way to experience the holiday classic with your family, combining a warm, kid-friendly venue and atmosphere with inspiring and beautiful performances from Portland ballet students.
Classical Ballet Academy’s “The Nutcracker” runs December 22-23, 2016 at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. They run shows throughout the year featuring dancers studying in their pre-professional tracks. Learn more here.