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DANCE REVIEW : Joffrey Brings Fresh Energy to Delightful ‘Nutcracker’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The new-old Joffrey Ballet of Chicago arrived looking youthful and revitalized Wednesday for 10 performances of “The Nutcracker” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The formerly bicoastal company, once resident at the Music Center, has recently struggled through financial and personnel crises, pared down its roster, brought in some new dancers and moved to the Windy City from the Big Apple. Which is business as all-too-usual, unfortunately, in this precarious age of American dance.

The warmth and affection that greeted the mix of familiar and new faces when the curtain went up on Oliver Smith’s Victorian parlor set went beyond mere delight in the holiday favorite ballet, however. Los Angeles knows how to recognize and honor a survivor.

But this was no exercise in nostalgia. In addition to recaps by fine veterans, there was a fresh energy onstage. Particularly striking in this regard was the work of the women’s corps in company director Gerald Arpino’s hectic choreography for the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and the “Waltz of the Flowers.” Rarely have these dances looked so clear, unified and sensible in effects. Unfortunately, the men’s corps did not dance quite at this level, but the impact wasn’t greatly lessened.

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Rita Martinez repeated her warm and spontaneous delight as Clara in her appearances with the Joffrey here last year, and Adam Sklute again struggled to camouflage his youthful vigor in an uncomfortably oversized performance of Drosselmeyer.

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New to Los Angeles, but not new to the role, Lorena Feijoo made a lyric Sugar Plum Fairy, more romantic than classical, dancing the adagio in the pas de deux at a dangerously slow tempo, but whisking through her series of turns in the coda.

She was partnered dutifully though attentively by David Paul Kierce (in the past he has been simply David Kierce), who remained earthbound and stiff in his solo opportunities.

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Julie Janus and Tyler Walters brought reserve to Clara’s parents and elegance to the Snow Queen and Snow King, although the fog--which had crept in prematurely at the edges of the party--reached tutu level in this scene, obscuring much of the legwork.

As Fritz and the Snow Prince, Calvin Kitten inherited and bore proudly the mantle of the fondly remembered Edward Stierle, who died of complications of AIDS in 1991 at 23. Kitten overplayed the eager kid’s stuff in the party scene, but bounded and flew lightly through the snow and smeared only one landing. He reappeared with a poised, buoyant Cynthia Giannini in the Chinese dance.

Veteran Beatriz Rodriguez made a wickedly flirtatious Columbine to the alert and smitten Harlequin of Guillermo Leyva. In Act 2, she offered a secure and luxurious Spanish dance.

Maia Wilkins brought fresh vivacity to the Russian dance, with Leyva, Gregory Russell and Todd Stickney. Taren Kaschock, Nicole Marie Duffy and Sharon Lancaster made precise, sharp Marzipan Shepherdesses. Janus also was lithe and sinuous in the Arabian dance. Her effortful partner was Pierre Lockett.

Allan Lewis conducted with leisurely affection. The energy flagged a little in Act 2, partly because of the added and unnecessary musical introductions to each dance in the divertissement. Even so, Arpino has brought a Christmas treat to the City of the Angels.

* Joffrey Ballet, “The Nutcracker,” Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., today through Wednesday at 8 p.m.; today, Saturday and Tuesday, 2 p.m. (No performances Sunday and Monday.) $15-$60. (213) 972-7211.


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