Scaled down to accommodate his small company of fledgling professional dancers, Ronn Guidi's version of "The Nutcracker" for Oakland Ballet offers warmth and charm but ultimately bogs down in timid, repetitive choreography and (mostly) well-groomed but effortful dancing.
As performed Saturday afternoon at Smothers Theatre on the Pepperdine University campus, the pas de deux and variations of Act II looked either too skimpy or too ploddingly workmanlike, without enough individual characterization or rhythmic give-and-take (granted the handicap of recorded music) to do justice to Tchaikovsky.
Act I, however, proved a sprightly concoction that reverted to the nuclear family celebration of E.T.A. Hoffmann's original story. Busy byplay between the three mischievous children, their uptight maid and their decorous but loving parents set the production's gentle, down-to-earth tone.
Marie's brother Fritz didn't break the nutcracker doll; she accidentally dropped it herself and the music stopped, awkwardly, until repair work was accomplished. The rats were milquetoasts (they fought with umbrellas and finally scuttled away under them) and the Rat King seemed more forlorn than fierce. The Christmas tree grew modestly and unobtrusively. The Snowflakes' dance had an (Isadora) Duncanesque artlessness. Despite his scary eye patch, Drosselmeyer was a benevolent dictator, checking in at the end to assure himself that all proceeded according to plan.