But fear not, ballet aficionados: The candy numbers remain intact in this adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, now in its second year at The Smith Center, some reimagined in bold and satisfying ways.
A matador and her bull, complete with horned headdress, charge across the stage in the “Spanish Chocolate” dance. The “Chinese Tea” number—featuring an acrobat executing perfect barrel turns, flanked by red-streamer-waving nymphs—is over all too soon.
In the highlight of the show, the slow, simmering “Arabian Coffee” dance, a giant birdcage descends to the stage. It opens to reveal a human-sized peacock who takes his lithe, delicate partner in his arms and bends her into a stunning arabesque, before moving through a series of sensual lifts. When he fluffs up his tail, displaying the full glory of his costume, the audience can’t help but roar.
The Christmas party scene that precedes these fancies drags a little, although it’s enlivened by Patricia Ruel’s multilevel dollhouse set, and the supertitles explaining the storyline of each act seem unnecessary. Unlike Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, The Nutcracker is less about narrative and more about isolated moments that convey a sense of wonder.
These the Nevada Ballet production largely gets right: Snowflakes flutter across the stage in their gossamer skirts as the snowfall increases in intensity until it forms a thick curtain; dolls in a cabinet come to life and watch Clara and her Nutcracker battle a rat army.
There are even a few Las Vegas touches. Mother Ginger appears in drag queen form, her children pulling away pieces of her voluminous skirts, leaving her to strike a saucy pose for the audience in her underthings. The show concludes with Clara heading off into a brilliant sunrise depicted on an LED screen, a finale that feels plucked straight from a Strip show and includes a surprise for the audience.
Clara’s coming-of-age is center stage in this Nutcracker, in contrast to some versions where she’s depicted as a shy little girl who mostly watches the action. Betsy Lucas holds her own in the role, gliding gracefully with her prince through a sweet final pas de deux that culminates in a kiss. When they execute a breathtaking lift in which she hurls herself into the air, rolling sidelong into her partner’s arms, it feels like a symbolic leap of faith.
Go on Saturday night or Sunday, when there’s a live orchestra.
The Nutcracker by Nevada Ballet Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19-22 and 2 p.m. Dec. 21-22, at The Smith Center, $29-178, TheSmithCenter.com.