‘Nutcracker’ offers an early Christmas present

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Dec. 21, audience members received a big Christmas gift a little early ó Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” as performed by Piedmont Dance Theatre and the Salisbury Symphony.
Audiences packed two performances, at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. in Catawba College’s Keppel Auditorium. This was the second consecutive year that these two organizations collaborated to produce the perennial holiday favorite. And if the enthusiastic audience response is a predictor, this collaboration could become a holiday tradition.
The grinchy economy couldn’t keep Christmas from coming to Keppel. A host of angels ó the production’s patrons and volunteers ó contributed time and money to see to it that those attending would be treated to a first-rate production, and they succeeded.
The attention to detail and visual effect was apparent in impressive sets and glorious costumes as vibrant as Christmas cards come to life.
Among the company of dancers, too many to count ómore than 60 óthere did not appear to be a misstep or lapse of grace during the entire polished performance. Each dancer, from the most experienced professional to the tiniest angel, executed their steps with ease and purpose.
Artistic Director Rebecca Massey Wiley, in her five years with Piedmont Dance Conservatory and Piedmont Dance Theatre, has built a program and reputation that would rival that of dance companies in many larger cities. The fact that she has carved this niche in NASCAR-infused Kannapolis, more likely to bring to mind Grand Prix than grand plié, makes her feat more amazing.
And along with Rebecca Massey Wiley comes the added bonus of her husband, Daniel Wiley, a dancer of considerable talent. His performance as the Cavalier in Sunday’s production set the “barre” remarkably high for the rest of the company, but they were up to the challenge.
Guest artist Jennifer Drake as Sugar Plum floated with enchanting grace in the arms of Wiley’s Cavalier. Another guest dancer, Alana Isiguen, came to the Piedmont to provide a sinuous matching half to Massey Wiley’s hypnotic Arabian dancer.
Audience favorite was guest dancer Colby Damon, who thrilled the crowd with his athletic portrayal of the Russian dancer.
This feast for the eyes demanded equally impressive music, and the Salisbury Symphony, led by Music Director David Hagy, fit the bill.
While Keppel is the only local venue suitable for a performance of this type, its orchestra pit is too small to accommodate the size of ensemble required to mount a full-scale ballet. This meant the orchestra had to overflow up and onto the sides of the stage, with three harps and keyboard on the left and trombones, tuba and percussion on the right. The remaining orchestra was ensconced below, in the pit.
This necessarily imperfect physical arrangement of musicians brought with it acoustical challenges in instrumental blend and beat coordination.
But with the high calibre of musicianship of the ensemble, and under Hagy’s guiding hand, the orchestra was able to make a musical best out of the situation.
This points out the fact that Salisbury is in need of a venue that can handle large scale productions. The talent and artistic efforts of both the college and community have outgrown their accommodations.
I predict this limitation will become more critical in the coming years. As the Research Campus in Kannapolis gets up and running, it will be bringing to both the Kannapolis and Salisbury communities people from metropolitan areas around the world.
This will mean an influx of population accustomed to arts opportunities, both as consumers and participants. If Rowan and Cabarrus counties can address these building needs, our communities can accommodate this burgeoning interest in arts opportunities ourselves, rather than shipping them out to Charlotte or Winston-Salem.
Hagy compared Sunday’s Nutcracker to the dream by the character Clara ó the real-life dream being that Salisbury and Kannapolis join forces in combining their considerable artistic strengths. The success and satisfying results of the recent collaboration could pave the way for more joint ventures and arts alliance between these geographically close but heretofore artistically separate locales.
I’m sure Piedmont Dance Theatre and Salisbury Symphony will need to weigh the pros and cons of continuing the Nutcracker tradition before they commit to next year. Even though it was a hit with the audience, economics will have to be the major factor ó like everything else these days.
If The Nutcracker returns next year, I wonder if they can get this year’s surprise guest to return ó a bat that was awakened from its winter slumber among the stage’s moorings to make a couple of graceful swoops toward the audience.
Perhaps it was lobbying for the Salisbury Symphony to perform “Die Fledermaus” next holiday season.
But of course, that would also require a larger orchestra pit.