Island Moving Company has always turned the disadvantage of having no permanent performing space into a distinct advantage, with presentations in many of the Newport Mansion gardens and, 20 years ago, creating a Nutcracker ballet that moves from room to room inside the Rosecliff Mansion. Working with Rosecliff’s luxurious architecture and decor, artistic director Miki Ohlsen and associate artistic director Danielle Genest, have once again turned the 1899 mansion into (by turns) a Victorian home and a sparkling, snowy dreamland.
The action begins at the foot of the Grand Staircase, with the introduction of the Winter Fairy (Katie Moorhead), who acts as a guide for both the young girl in the story and for the audience members. The audience, in fact, feels a part of the story in that first scene, as they watch the Oelrichs family (the original owners of Rosecliff) greet their cousins, the Vanderbilts (the original owners of Marble House, just down Bellevue Avenue) and then follow the dancers into the ballroom for the beginning of the ballet.
The story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was first told by E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816, adapted by Alexandre Dumas in 1844 and set to music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, with choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in 1892. The story and choreography may have shape-shifted over the decades since, but the music has become as familiar as a childhood lullaby.
Thus, the basic story has Tess (a fictional Oelrich daughter, instead of Clara) receiving a Christmas gift of a large wooden nutcracker from her godfather, the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer. After carefully placing the nutcracker under the Christmas tree, Tess hurries off to bed, only to check for it at midnight and find it missing. She is suddenly surrounded by a quartet of spooky rats, with their Rat Queen, and a fight ensues between The Nutcracker-turned-Soldier, with his squadron of red-coated soldiers, and the rats.
This fight takes place on the Grand Staircase, with the audience once again staring up, entranced. And then it’s back to the ballroom to meet the Snow Queen and Prince (Lauren Difede and Benjamin Rabe) for their lovely and captivating pas de deux.
With two casts that include the IMC company, trainees and apprentice exchanging and doubling roles nightly, and a troupe of 35 over-12 young women that switches from night to night, the Newport Nutcracker ends up being 86 percent female, with varied body types and ethnicities. A welcome visual feast for dance fans. And the over-12 cut-off for the children is because of their COVID vaccination status (thus no tiny ones as “mice” — the teens have turned into “rats”).
The Holly cast’s Tess is played with great presence by Marin Reko, who vividly portrays her character’s curiosity, spunk, wonder and joy. It’s the first time I can remember the young girl dancing with the Waltz of the Flowers corps de ballet — an inspired choice and an inspiring young dancer!
As Tess travels into the Dream of a Snow Kingdom and then witnesses the performances in the Kingdom of the Sweets, we are treated to the exuberant flamenco gestures (no stomping!) of the Spanish dancers/Chocolate (Lauren Difede and Raum Aron Gens-Ostrowski); the mesmerizing scarf dance of Brooke DiFrancesco and Deanna Gerde (Arabian/Coffee); the charming Athena Flournoy (Chinese/Tea); the delightful costumes (including hula-hoops) and movements of Katie Moorhead and Timur Kan (Candy Canes); and the terrific technique and flair of Benjamin Rabe (in Trepak), executing a few Ukrainian prisiadka (a high jump with both legs akimbo), with a back-up quintet of young Ukrainian maidens.
The other pas de deux in the Nutcracker ballet are by the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier, the Grand Pas de Deux that ends the ballet (both performed by Margot Aknin and Gregory Tyndall) and the Waltz of the Flowers duo of Emily Baker and Edgardo Torres Estremera. The latter is a flowing tribute of extended arms and arabesques to that signature Tchaikovsky waltz. The former two dances are marked by breathtaking lifts and leaps as well as chainé turns, mid-air pirouettes and fouettés (those feats of one leg whipping around the other).
This Nutcracker never lags (how could it, when the audience also keeps moving?) and is brimming with the enchantment and good cheer of the season.
NEWPORT NUTCRACKER at ROSECLIFF
Presented by Island Moving Company. At Rosecliff Mansion, 548 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I. Performances: Nov. 24-Dec. 3. Age 12 and up, proof of vaccination required for admittance. Tickets $105-$210. 401-847-4470. islandmovingco.org/