Of all the artistic directors who lead Central Indiana’s performing arts organization, Victoria Lyras, a former dancer, is at the head of the pack when it comes to putting on a show. There is no greater evidence than the Indianapolis Ballet and Indianapolis School of Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” which she choreographed along with Robert Rodham. The 11th annual production opened Thursday at the Old National Centre and continues through Saturday. I have seen my share of “Nutcracker” productions, but this one must be one of the finest.
Indianapolis Ballet has accounted itself well by hiring Indy native Chris Lingner, former Cincinnati Ballet dancer, as one of the company’s first founding members. The powerfully athletic Lingner excelled in artistry and technique as the Snow King.
Another founding member, Kristin Young, who was in the first ISB graduating class, and is returning to her hometown after dancing with Nashville Ballet, showed skill and an elegant presence, dancing the roles of the Snow Queen and the Dew Drop Fairy.
Currently a company member of the Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Yoshiko Kamikusa was exquisite as the Sugar Plum Fairy and found an ideal partner in San Juan, Puerto Rico native Sebastian Sierra in his role as the Cavalier.
IB associate artistic director and ballet master Paul Vitali was simply splendid as Clara’s mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, as was poised Orchard School sixth-grader Josephine Kirk as his wonder-eyed niece.
Making a special appearance dancing in the Russian Trepak, one of the ethnic dances performed for Clara in the Land of Sweets, was Broadway performer Cory Lingner (Chris’ younger brother). He was taking a break from his current job as a cast member of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Strong, agile and graceful in his jumps, splits, and leaps he turned in a spectacular performance. Over the years, Lingner appeared in multiple Indianapolis School of Ballet productions
As far as the remainder of the company in this charming production, I was absolutely delighted with their performance and very impressed with the musicality and discipline exhibited by the dancers, many of whom are ISB students. Their performances bode well for the future of ballet under the tutelage of Lyras and the school’s faculty.
Also deserving of praise were the contributions of the creative team overseen by production director and lighting designer James Leitner. I especially loved the backdrops created by scenic designer C. David Higgins, which included the facade and parlor of Indy’s historic Morris-Butler house which served as the location of the Stahlbaum’s home. And Loukia Finale’s costumes were pitch perfect in their design and detail.
Lastly, there is nothing like listening to a live orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s wondrous “Nutcracker” score, interpreted in this case by the Indianapolis Ballet Orchestra consisting of pick-up musicians, led masterfly by conductor Vince Lee.
Totally drawn into IB’s creation, it occurred to me that it was as an ideal example of what audiences can expect in terms of their product when tenacious and visionary Indianapolis School of Ballet founder Lyras and her organization debut their Indianapolis Ballet company in 2018. with their production of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” Feb. 16-18 at their new home at the Toby at Newfields. If what I saw Friday night is any indication of what’s to come, Indy audiences are in for some superb ballet. In addition to my many years of reviewing dance concerts, I also once briefly served as interim managing director of the former Ballet Internationale. During my time with the company, I witnessed an entire December of Nutcracker shows, absorbed in the masterful performances of premier dancers, some of whom had danced with the world-renowned Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies. Consequently, I believe my up-close exposure qualifies me to make that prediction regarding Indianapolis Ballet with some authority.
For tickets and information about Indianapolis Ballet’s “Firebird,” visit indyballet.org.