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With live music, Sac Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ shines

The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince are the stars of the show, but all the cast members in the Sacramento Ballet's presentation of "The Nutcracker" are crowd-pleasers. Alexander Cain Biber/Courtesy photo

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From page A9 | December 15, 2011 |

See it soon

What: Sacramento Ballet’s production of  “The Nutcracker”

When: Through Friday, Dec. 23 (times vary; see www.sacballet.org)

Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento

Tickets: $15-$69 for adults, $15-$31 for children under 12; (916) 808-5181 or through Tickets.com, (800) 225-2277

SACRAMENTO — There are many “Nutcracker” incarnations, but the Sacramento Ballet’s  annual production is the “big one” in these parts, featuring professional dancers, cameos by hundreds of children from around the area, and the most extravagant combination of costumes and sets in Sacramento Ballet’s season.

Co-artistic directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda pull together these resources in a show that draws huge audiences over several weeks in December. This is the show’s 24th year under Cunningham’s direction.

This year’s version looks — and sounds — both magically appealing and majestic. The dancing is as good as always, and some last-minute fundraising made it possible for the dancers to be accompanied by an orchestra drawn from the Sacramento Philharmonic, conducted by Henrik Jul Hansen. (Last year’s version was performed to recorded music).

Live music is a major plus for any ballet performance. Some prominent choreographers, like Mark Morris, insist on it, even though it’s expensive. That Sacramento Ballet has restored live music to its “Nutcracker” is definitely a move in the right direction.

This year’s production also features a new costume for the Sugar Plum Fairy, danced stylishly by Alexandra Cunningham at the matinee I attended. Company members Amanda Peet, Nicole Haskins and Annali Rose Clevenger also take turns.

Also in this year’s “Nutcracker” is former company member Colby Damon, whose appearances have been a highlight over the years. Damon lives on the East Coast, and works with choreographer Matthew Neenan. But he returns to Sacramento Ballet for the annual “Nutcracker,” lending a multi-generational touch as he appears with the company”s current crop of younger dancers.

The gorgeous scrims and scenery that provide a framework for the dance — designed by Alain Vaës, and painted in Russia — remain an eye-appealing aspect of the production, even though they have been seen since 2003.

My own favorite is the Snowflake Forest scene (at the end of Act I), which invokes falling snowflakes amid a landscape of wintry conifers — a breathtaking setting for the classical dance moves of the Snow Queen and Snow King (Amanda Peet and Stefan Calka in the performance I attended).

The Sacramento Ballet’s “Nutcracker” continues through Dec. 23 (times vary), at the Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L St. in Sacramento. Tickets are $15-$69 for adults, $15-$31 for children under 12, available at (916) 808-5181 or through Tickets.com, (800) 225-2277.

For more information, visit www.sacballet.org.

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