Australian dances key role in ‘Nutcracker’

Dec. 20, 2013 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Ballet Hawaii's production of 'The Nutcracker,' the holiday ballet classic about a girl's toy coming to life on Christmas night, will be performed today through Sunday. --Courtesy Joe Marquez, thesmokingcamera.com

Ballet Hawaii’s production of “The Nutcracker,” the holiday ballet classic about a girl’s toy coming to life on Christmas night, will be performed today, Dec. 20, through Sunday, Dec. 22. (Courtesy Joe Marquez/thesmokingcamera.com)

BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

In ballet as in theater, veteran performers bring personal insights to the characters they portray. Steven Heathcote, a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet for two decades, is no exception.

“THE NUTCRACKER”

Presented by Ballet Hawaii

» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall, 777 Ward Ave.
» When: 7:30 p.m. today, Dec. 20; also 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22
» Cost: $35-$99
» Info: (866) 448-7849 or www.ticketmaster.com

Heathcote makes his Hawaii debut this weekend, playing Drosselmeyer, a pivotal character in Ballet Hawaii’s star-studded production of “The Nutcracker.” In the musical fantasy, Drosselmeyer brings magical toys to a gala Christmas party and later appears to set in motion the young heroine’s marvelous adventures in a snowy forest and in the Land of Sweets.

“In previous productions that I’ve performed in, Drosselmeyer is a relative of the family, but he’s also a little bit mysterious,” Heathcote said in a Dec. 6 call from his home in Melbourne. “There’s something slightly dark, not necessarily scary about him, but he’s different. He’s not like everybody else, and he seems to have magical powers. The question remains as to whether these are just illusionative powers or whether he really does have some kind of otherworldly power over people and objects and things like that.”

In other words, can Drosselmeyer really transport the young heroine into a magical world of marching toy soldiers, dancing sweets and a heroic nutcracker prince, or is it all a dream?

“He’s certainly not a malevolent character at all, but he’s a not light character,” Heathcote said. “I think he’s quite eccentric.

“He probably spends a lot of time in his own head as well. This is a type of character development that I’ve thought of and worked on through previous productions, but obviously when I get to Hawaii and we start rehearsing, if there are other ways or other approaches I need to take towards this character, I’ll certainly do that.

“The job of a performer is to amalgamate your talents and what you bring into the production in which you’re arriving at. That’s one of the great things about performing with different people and different companies.”

Heathcote is one of the new faces in the cast of Ballet Hawaii’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved seasonal ballet, which has become a seasonal reunion for a constellation of national and international talent.

Returnees this year include Megan Fairchild, Joaquin De Luz, Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette, all four of them principal dancers at the New York City Ballet; Lilyan Vigo Ellis, founding member of the Carolina Ballet; Timour Bourtasenkov, founding member of the Carolina Ballet and artistic director of the Carolina Performing Arts Center; and John Selya, a veteran of the American Ballet Theatre, Twyla Tharp Dance and several Broadway productions who likes to get here early each year so he can get in some midwinter surfing.

Ballet Hawaii's production of 'The Nutcracker' journeys to a land of sweets and a snowy forest. --Courtesy Joe Marquez, thesmokingcamera.com

Ballet Hawaii’s production of “The Nutcracker” journeys to a land of sweets and a snowy forest. (Courtesy Joe Marquez/thesmokingcamera.com)

HAWAII is represented by expatriate islander Amanda Schull. You may have seen her dance with the San Francisco Ballet, have seen her star in Sony Pictures’ teen drama film “Center Stage” in 2000 or be enjoying her portrayal of “fifth-year associate” attorney Katrina Bennet in the USA network drama “Suits.”

Also coming to Honolulu for the first time this year are Rick Hoffman (Louis Litt on “Suits”) and New York City Ballet principal dancer Amar Ramasar. (Yes, this year’s “Nutcracker” has five principals from the New York City Ballet.)

And there’s more: Hawaii resident Derek Daniels will be reprising his crowd-pleasing portrayal of Mother Ginger, the giant woman with the huge multicolored gown (Daniels also plays the ill-fated Rat King). WillieDean Ige will have a key role in Act 1 as one of the fathers who supervises the keiki in the big Christmas party scene. Watch for local media celebrities, politicians and Ballet Hawaii supporters as party guests as well.

Heathcote thanks Schull and Ballet Hawaii Executive Director John Parkinson for the opportunity to perform here.

“I was lucky enough to work with and meet Amanda Schull on the set of ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ (in 2009); she was the female lead opposite Chi Cao playing (Chinese ballet dancer) Li Cunxin,” Heathcote recalled. “We got on famously on set, and in a casual conversation she said I should come to Hawaii one day. Earlier this year John Parkinson made contact and said, ‘Would you consider coming and teaching our students and appearing in “The Nutcracker”?’ and I thought ‘Well, why not?’”

Hawaii is lucky to be seeing him. Heathcote, 49, was accepted into the Australian Ballet in 1983, promoted to soloist in 1985 and became a principal dancer in 1987. He announced his retirement in mid-2007, shifting from dancing roles to education and coaching, directing and choreographing operas, and appearing in films. Five years later he came out of retirement to star in a newly written ballet, which he describes as a “special project’ with his daughter Mia, also a dancer — and, having pushed himself to train for that performance, was up to the challenge when the call from Ballet Hawaii’s Parkinson came.

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