For 25 years now – regular as Christmas itself – Tupelo suddenly sprouts an astonishing crop of gorgeously dressed human snowflakes, toy soldiers, gyrating mice, dancing nutcrackers, waltzing dewdrops, plus many another bizarre and fantastical fairytale creature.
And every Christmas, to some of the most beautiful orchestral music ever written, all 100-plus of these exotically colorful performers conspire to dance, prance, and pirouette across the THS Performing Arts Center stage with an infectiously youthful sense of style and artistic delight.
Yes, it’s Tupelo’s annual extravaganza production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, “The Nutcracker,” presented jointly by the Tupelo Ballet Company and Tupelo Symphony Orchestra in two complete holiday performances last Saturday afternoon and evening.
Danced joyously by members and guest artists of the Tupelo Ballet, handsomely accompanied by the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra, and ably directed by Tupelo’s own Sharon Long, this year’s performances also featured Steven Byess, the TSO’s popular music director, conducting from the orchestra pit.
Byess and Long obviously hit it off artistically, his fresh, supple readings of Tchaikovsky’s sparkling but devilishly difficult music seemed to infuse both musicians and dancers with a lilting new spirit of discovery.
As for the performance – I went Saturday night – how can these few paragraphs even begin to describe an evening featuring beautiful gifts suddenly sprung to life at a grand Christmas Eve party; pitched midnight warfare between fairytale armies of mice and gun-toting nutcrackers; plus separate act-long visits to the magical Lands of Snow and of Sweets by Clara (the heroine) and her escort, the Nutcracker-prince?
Successfully marshaling such a huge cast of young dancers and adorable children through three demanding acts and numerous complicated scenes is itself a tour de force of logistics and costume management. And to produce from these forces an imaginative, satisfying artistic experience worthy of Tchaikovsky’s musical genius seems little short of miraculous.
Additionally, it’s great to know the Tupelo Ballet Company’s lengthy roster of devoted young dancers will never forget the thrill and discipline of performing Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, especially with a live orchestra. And equally impressive must have been the opportunity to work with Anthony Neumann, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, and Irlan Silva, the three distinguished professionals dancing with the company.
Certainly the prize-winning newcomers, Hinkis and Silva, wowed everyone with their beautiful movements and feeling of weightless ease.
Concerning the music itself, Tchaikovsky debuted “The Nutcracker” in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892. To his great disappointment, it was initially trashed by the critics. Less than a year later, the composer was dead, never knowing what universal acclaim and affection would eventually be showered on his Christmas gift to the world.
More than one hundred years later, it’s amazing to know this great artistic legacy retains the graceful magic to inspire audiences and young dancers with its ageless spirit of holiday wonder. No doubt Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky would gladly join both the Tupelo Ballet dancers and TSO musicians in wishing one and all a very Merry Christmas!
Robert Bruce Smith