Though tradition and enchantment and not always synonymous, they blissful converge each Christmas season in the Danbury Music Centre's near spectacular production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet.
At the tumultuous finale of Friday evening's opening performance, it was hard to say who was the most excited, the more than 200 brightly costumed dancers on stage for their curtain call or the sold-out audience on its feet with a well-deserved standing ovation. The Danbury Nutcracker is that kind of shared pleasure.
Every community that stages this holiday treat rightly thinks theirs is the best, but I'll wager a bushel of sugar plums few come close to the elaborate sweep and rich detail of the Danbury production.
This massive musical extravaganza was once again in the capable and imaginative hands of husband and wife co-directors and co-choreographers Arthur Fredric and Lisa Denton -- he for the 16th time, she for the 12th.
Executive Producer Nancy F. Sudik earns her stripes as well for costumes, sets and production values are all top drawer. For which, among many, Arnold Daley (technical director) and Peter Petrino (lighting designer) rate kudos.
Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet was based on the Victorian children's book "Nutcracker and the King of Mice" by E.T.A. Hoffman, which bears some similarity to "Alice in Wonderland." In both a young girl is transported -- in a dream, or down a rabbit hole -- to a wondrous, sometimes wacky world.
In the warmly staged first act, Nutcracker paints a loving portrait of family life in Nuremberg, Germany, near the turn of the century. Set in the stately home of Dr. Stahlbaum, his wife, and children, Clara (Riley Robinson) and Fritz (Logan Flynn), the scene is a Christmas party for friends and their holiday happy offspring.
Everything is drink, dance and toys until the arrival of Clara's mysterious Great Uncle Drosselmeyer (Harald Lund). The orchestra greets his arrival with sinister overtones. With Drosselmeyer is his handsome young nephew (Jeremy Doran). Drosselmeyer brings Clara a gift, a brightly painted nutcracker in the figure of a soldier.
When the party is over and the guests on their way home, Clara returns to sleep near the Christmas tree with the Nutcracker in her arms like a doll.
That's when things fall under a magic spell!
As Clara dreams, the Christmas tree soars upwards and the living room is invaded by a pack of fat mice. A life-sized Nutcracker appears with a troop of soldiers to drive off the furry critters. In a battle with the Mouse King (Robert Dorsch) the Nutcracker is victorious and to the sounds of a celestial choir (the Snowflake Singers) he is transformed into a handsome prince (who looks surprisingly like Drosselmeyer's nephew!). Together, he and Clara set off for the Land of the Sweets in a regal sled pulled by tiny reindeer.
The second act is almost all dance. With Clara and the Prince seated on a throne-like perch, the reigning Sugar Plum Fairy (Liana Attanasio) regales her guests with a series of dance divertissements, each followed by a duet she dances with the Cavalier (Nick Bullard), a member of her court. Attanasio and Bullard are the principal dancer of the evening and they provide classical moves that embrace fantasy, power, lightness and sparkle.
With a cast of 230 it would be nigh impossible to name all who shone -- for all did -- but special note should be made of Aileen Toal, a pert Dew Drop Fairy, Kira Flynn as the Lead Tea; Paige Campagna, Victoria Madden, Grace Nevin as Marzipan, Stephanie Ferrarie as a slinky Arabian Queen, and Emma Bergman and Matthew Spero as the Spanish King and Queen.
Of course, all this would be for naught if not for the music. Once again, Ariel Rudiakov, music director and conductor, led the 60-member Danbury Symphony Orchestra through this amazing musical score with brio.
Final performance Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15, $20 and $25, cash or check only. For reservations or ticket availability, call the Music Centre at (203) 748-1716 or visit www.danbury.org/MusicCtr.