By Kyle Poluyko

A span of generations filled the lobby of the Community Auditorium but it was the bustling enthusiasm of little girls in their finest holiday dress who brought an air of pre-show excitement and anticipation for the Minnesota Ballet’s The Manhattan Nutcracker Friday evening, the first of a two-performance engagement by the company. Their expectations were fully realized with a stunning production that mixed the traditional with new and exciting elements to the ballet, a joyous and venerable holiday tradition.

A gorgeous scrim adorned with the image of a snow bound sleigh rose to reveal a Manhattan panorama one century ago as young Clara peers down from her townhouse window at a flurry of holiday activity on the street below. At the festive party that night, young Clara receives a gift of a wooden Nutcracker that, after midnight, becomes life-size and leads his toy soldier army in successful battle against warrior mice. The Nutcracker is transformed into a Prince (Reinhard von Rabenau) who whisks a now more mature and stunning Clara (Alana Gergerich) on an enchanting and magical journey. They dance under Central Park’s Gothic Bridge and glistening, falling snow among the elegant Ice Fairy (Catherine Wooten) and her exquisite, plumose Snowflakes in delicate waltz.

The Prince and Clara are led to the alluring gifts and dances of Asia, Russia and Spain, and encounter a larger-than-life Mother Ginger (Robert Gardner) and her rowdy gingerbread children. The Ice Fairy introduces Clara and the Prince to the Sugar Plum Fairy (Emily Reed) who dances sublimely for them. A striking Waltz of the Flowers led gorgeously by the Dew Drop Fairy (Suzy Baer), followed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier (Nikolas Wourms) in their captivating grand pas de deux were both sublime.

Scenic Designer Curtis Phillips’ clever and skilled artistry deftly yet simply created a world of depth, beauty and fantasy. Sandra Ehle’s costumes, which ranged from the modest to the ornately embellished, told a fairytale themselves. Local dancers from Studio One were an inspiring and rousing addition to the large cast. Choreographer Allen Fields, with Tchaikovsky’s seminal score – executed with crystal clarity by Arthur Post and the remarkable TBSO – constructed a seductive, romantic interpretation that was an inspiring joy to behold.

The Minnesota Ballet’s tour of The Manhattan Nutcracker performed at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium December 19 and 20.

*Alternates performed principal and supporting roles on the Saturday performance.