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Dance Review:  Dance Theatre of Tennessee’s season has a storybook ending, courtesy of ‘Hansel and Gretel’

dtt2.jpgDance Theatre of Tennessee is ending its 2013-14 season with a double header. On Saturday at Father Ryan High School, the company presented the Middle Tennessee premiere of Alan Hineline’s Hansel and Gretel. The company also performed one of the great showpieces of the repertoire, Paquita Grand Pas Classique. This family-friendly show repeats Sunday, May 4 at 2 p.m.

Hansel and Gretel is a stylized and expanded retelling of the familiar Brothers Grimm tale. The original story featured just five characters – the lederhosen-wearing Hansel and his fair-haired sister Gretel; their loving father and stern stepmother; and the ravenous witch who uses her candy-coated gingerbread house as bait to lure tasty children.

Hineline obviously needed more dramatis personae than that for this ballet, which was first performed by Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2010. So he created additional characters – the Sandman, angels, blue birds, a fawn and butterfly, a Dew Fairy, dancing gingerbread children and cooks.

Music from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite gives this ballet an appropriately Nordic soundtrack. New York City-based designer Lewis Folden’s sets and Betty Smith’s costumes give the production an equally appropriate storybook look.

In restaging this work, Dance of Theatre of Tennessee artistic director Christopher Mohnani and ballet master Brian Williamson have selected an outstanding cast. Angela Fiorini danced the role of Gretel with a refined elegance that belied her character’s age. Walter Angelini’s lanky physique, on the other hand, perfectly suggested Hansel’s prepubescent awkwardness.

Christopher Durham gave the evening’s standout performance as the Witch. He turned her into an entertaining Green Meanness, a character who was both menacing and comically self-absorbed at the same time. Jennifer Drake was a lilting Dew Fairy, Hilary Busick was a graceful (and thoroughly stressed-out) Stepmother, and Will Gasch was a stylish Father. Nathan Young, as the Sandman, gave a performance that was remarkable for its agility. Ines Albertini (Blue Bird), Amanda Irwin (Butterfly) and Heather Gorres (Fawn) also gave worthy performances.

Saturday evening’s performance opened with the “Grand Pas Classique” from the ballet Paquita. This famous divertissement, set to the music of Ludwig Minkus, is a showcase of virtuoso ballet technique. Mohnani’s choreography, done in the style of Petipa, along with costume designer Paula Drake’s elegant tutus turned this Paquita into an idealized classical ballet.

Lead dancers Brian Williamson and Jennifer Drake gave the strongest performances, dancing with artistic refinement and athleticism in equal measure. The Pas de trois was a bit patchy when the dancers – Amanda Irwin, Karen Roth and Will Gasch – performed together. In short, they had a hard time staying in sync. Their solo performances, on the other hand, were nicely polished. Ines Albertini and Heather Gorres both danced their variations with flair. A great ballet company has to have a solid corps, and Dance Theatre of Tennessee’s corps de ballet danced with distinction.

PHOTO CREDIT: Karyn Kipley

IF YOU GO

Dance Theatre of Tennessee presents Hansel and Gretel and Paquita Grand Pas Classique. The performance is 2 p.m. Sunday, May 4 at Father Ryan High School, 700 Norwood Dr. Tickets are $25 ($20 children) and are available at the door and here.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.