On its toes

The Nutcracker
7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday Oklahoma City Ballet
Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker

While traditional in aesthetic, Oklahoma City Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” offers up some rousing music, exciting choreography and rich, colorful costumes and sets. It’s a show sure to delight a modern audience looking to escape from the holiday doldrums into a magical world filled with beauty, derring-do and toys and sweets come to life.

Featuring the much-beloved Tchaikovsky score and based on the E.T.A. Hoffmann story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” “The Nutcracker” tells the tale of young Clara Stahlbaum and the nutcracker soldier she is given one magical Christmas Eve.

For so many children, “The Nutcracker” serves as a rite of passage as either the first ballet they see or the first one in which they perform. OKC Ballet’s production utilizes more than 100 young dance students from around Central Oklahoma.

Roma Catania acquitted herself admirably in the lead role of young Clara, holding her own opposite the adult company members. Some of the other younger dancers were a little less precise at times in their execution of the choreography, but more importantly, seemed to be having a lot of fun on stage.

The performance I attended suf fered from some technical problems in the first act, in regards to the set changes, that aren’t likely to be a reoccurring problem. The sets have a lovely, storybook quality. The Kingdom of Sweets is particularly gorgeous, providing a colorful backdrop for the succession of great performances in Act 2 that culminated with the amazing work by Miki Kawamura as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Ronnie Underwood as her cavalier.

The choreography by OKC Ballet artistic director Robert Mills is appropriately diverse, from subtly beautiful to bombastically fun, catering to the changes in tone in the story and the music. The skill and grace of the OKC Ballet dancers are inspiring to watch. Also in top form was the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, conducted by Joel Levine, delivering an excellent rendition of Tchaikovsky’s dynamic score.

While I don’t think the narrative is always crystal-clear for the youngest members of the audience, the vibrant execution of the production succeeds in holding their attention and sparking their imaginations.

One mother near me had to explain to her young daughter what was happening at times, but that same child exclaimed out loud with wonder and excitement at the sight of the growing Christmas tree, the battle, the snow falling onstage and several of the dance numbers in Act 2.

As for adults, I’m not sure that “The Nutcracker” will appeal to the most cynical among us, but it’s definitely a journey worth sharing with your kids, and maybe you might just find yourself as swept up in the joy of it all as they are.