When we think of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the glorious final act, performed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her court of delicious sweets. This was the scene I was eager to see when I sat down for an evening performance of the Brown-Forman Nutcracker, now running at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, last Friday night. What I was not prepared for was the sumptuousness of the entire ballet, which is a veritable feast for the eyes and ears.
What first strikes the audience member about the Nutcracker is its stunning sets. Designer Peter Cazalet has received numerous accolades throughout the years for his ability to paint the world of a ballet in a beautiful but also singular way, and his work in Louisville certainly reflects this renown. The scenery almost progresses in lavishness, building up from the humble toy shop of Herr Drosselmeyer, to the stunning pine forest where the "Waltz of the Snowflakes" nearly leaves you breathless, to the glorious art deco-esque palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Since the new production debuted two years ago, fans have raved about the unique addition of Louisville landmarks within the scenery -- little "Easter eggs" that are delightful to find, like the fountain of St. James Court in the window of the Silberhaus home -- and I am compelled to echo this praise. These accents are particularly powerful for young viewers: they are encouraged to imagine that such a fantastic tale of triumph and beauty could take place in their own backyards, making their experience that much more exhilarating.
Of course, what truly makes the Brown-Forman Nutcracker an unforgettable event is the skill and dedication of the ensemble. Ballet is a famously difficult discipline, but the sheer talent of the dancers would make you believe their performances are effortless. Amanda Diehl is the ideal Maria, sweet and innocent, wide-eyed and graceful. Robert Dunbar is a strong, capable Nutcracker, and the army of rats in the first act -- perhaps the crowd favorites -- charm to no end. The Pas de Deus which closes the evening, performed by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, is the icing on this fantastic cake: Erica De La O and Ben Needham-Wood provide a show-stopping flurry of leaps and pirouettes that utterly transport the audience. By the time the curtain falls, you and your family will find yourselves enveloped in all the lushness of the winter season, just as Tchaikovsky and the Louisville Ballet have intended.
The Brown-Forman Nutcracker runs through December 23. Don't miss the final three performances: call (502)-583-2623 or visit the Louisville Ballet's website  to purchase tickets today.