A High Sugar "Nutcracker"

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Photo courtesy of American Contemporary Ballet

I’m a sucker for theater in non-traditional spaces so when I heard about “The Nutcracker Suite” in a skyscraper downtown - even though it was ballet - I was in.

Let’s start with the fun details. American Contemporary Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is on the 18th floor of California Plaza downtown. When you get off the elevator a sort of strange white curtained waiting room greets you. Once you’re let in you find yourself in a sort of oddly wonderful winter wonderland. There are a couple of dancers gliding across what looks like an ice rink. The whole place looks like it’s covered in a wintery snow - if it were a Christmas tree I believe you could call it “flocked.” There’s fake snow on the floor and the windows have the look of being frosted over. Turns out that “ice rink” is the white marley dance floor and those are roller skates/not ice skates.

Now if we lived somewhere with real winter weather this all might be a little too-much but if you’re craving a sense of the cold it’s kind of great and festive. There’s champagne and a lovely live 8-piece orchestra tucked in the corner around a (naturally) white grand piano. They’ve created a lovely three row theater inside the vacant floor of an office building.

Beyond the oddity, the payoff, such as it is, comes when the lights dim for the opening number and the city reveals itself beyond the frosted windows. For an instant, it’s dazzling. To quibble: it’s unfortunate that the windows aren’t facing the hills to the East where the horizon stretches through to the distant mountains. Instead you’re staring across at the other tower and catching glimpses down Grand Avenue - not quite as majestic.
As to the show itself, it’s not really a “Nutcracker” - well you’re listening to Tchaikovsky’s music and there are pointe shoes but if you came for a narrative of sugar plum fairies and the mouse king - you’re going to be disappointed. But then… Just about the moment you begin missing the narrative - out comes the ice cream.

In addition to the popcorn and champagne when you came in - this is the first of several dessert breaks and I sort of wonder if this is a show that should come with a diabetic warning. There’s ice cream, candy canes and marzipan and marshmallows. Again, like all that fake snow - you’ve got to be in the right mood. The young couples on romantic dates looked enchanted, the young kids who were dragged along were temporarily sated and the grumps looked grumpy. Ah, the holidays.

As to the dance itself, I’ll leave it to others to provide a detailed critique. Suffice it to say that whatever the company lacks in precision they make up for in proximity as the ballet is literally at arms length. And the tinsel tutu’s for one number are something special.

If you’re craving a little winter, a lot of ballet, and your blood sugar’s not an issue - American Contemporary Ballet’s “Nutcracker Suite” is a fun little hour long get away in the heart of the city.

American Contemporary Ballet’s “The Nutcracker Suite” plays downtown through December 24th.