I encountered this charming young lady with stars in her eyes (and her doting mother) primping after yesterday’s opening night of Frisch’s presents The Nutcracker at The Aronoff Center in Cincinnati.
Like many other little girls, she was dressed in her best ballet-style finery, with a lovely tiara on her head (if the picture was a little larger, you could see the Nutcracker book she was clutching).
But what are we, as adults, to make of the ballet, aside from enjoying the kids in attendance?
I believe many adults, and count me in on this, actually revert to a kind of childlike state, a suspension of disbelief, if you will, during the ballet. Thursday’s opening night performance of this annual treat was entirely satisfying on this count. But, full disclosure, the adult me has seen this particular show (with Val Caniparoli’s entrancing choreography) every season except for one since its 2001 premiere. I have written thousands of words about it, from playbill notes to critiques.
Trying to find a new and different approach is something of a challenge – and not only because certainly one point of The Nutcracker is that it is a tradition. That is, in order for it to be meaningful, it had better NOT change, at least not too much. A big part of the fun is knowing what is coming up and especially watching the little ones for whom it is all new.
I recently read a quote from choreographer-of-the-moment Alexei Ratmansky, who contended that “the Tchaikovsky music is bigger than any choreography I have seen.”
However true that may be, Caniparoli’s version is extraordinarily sensitive to the score, beginning with the Overture, in which Herr Drosselmeier boxes up his dolls (and the three main characters in Marie’s dream) – Marie, Nutcracker and Rat King, oops, a kinder and gentler Mouse King here. It was all played to grand effect by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Carmon DeLeone’s baton.
But it is Drosselmeier himself who is the framing reference for the entire story, and Devon Carney (who is Associate Artistic Director of the company) could not have been more convincing as the kindly, sometimes bumbling, behind-the-scenes, finger-shaking magician who engineers Marie’s experiences, from a brief mysterious moment during the cheerful Party scene in which he seems to cast a spell on her, to his boffo courtship with Mother Ginger, played to the hilt by Stephen Jacobsen on stilts under his skirt full of tiny pot-bellied children.
Principals Janessa Touchet and Cervilio Miguel Amador danced their hearts out, without a hint of adult condescension, as Marie and The Nutcracker. Touchet’s technique is amazing – and also amazing is that it seems entirely natural when she exhibits it. During a series of whipping fouette turns, it was not the final count that dazzled, but that she effortlessly threw in triples and quadruples.
Amador makes a wonderful Nutcracker – he also is technically proficient. His jumps, from the first moment we see him as the Nutcracker doll, with large head and muscular white legs, show that all-important effect of suspension in the air, and his turns, like Touchet’s, are nearly faultless. It is his particular trademark to end a series of spins in perfect balance at the end of a musical phrase. Several times he spun her in lots – maybe nine? – of supported pirouettes, and she achieved a twirl and full split before plunging fearlessly into her first fish dive – a neat trick given that he is ever so slightly shorter than she.
Together, their chemistry was a tad less romantic and more buddy-like than some other partnerships I have seen – maybe due to the fact that he is not a tall cavalier. But, the combination worked wonderfully. When the two arrive in the Land of Toys and Sweets, he begins to tell Drosselmeier the story of the Battle Scene, but graciously allows the over-excited Marie to relate the events, up to the point where he shows how he vanquishes the Mouse King with a well-placed thrust of his sword. Both Touchet and Amador were clear audience favorites.
The stunning grand pas de deux for the two, which comes after the lovely swirling Waltz of the Flowers, featuring Sarah Hairston as one perfect rose, was perhaps the narrative climax of the ballet. The music, with its grand descending scale, and crashing cymbals, is simply spectacular, with choreography to match. Marie, elegant perfection in a sparkling tiara and blue tutu, executes swooning falls into her cavalier’s waiting arms. One of my favorite moments, where the music hits a high point, requires her to run into a giant supported assemble. The timing on this move was just perfect, which is not always the case.
It is also during the grand pas that Marie is given a glittering variation to the Sugar Plum Fairy music, which is lovely.
At any rate, there were lots of commendable performances – in fact, from Edmund Hooker in a first-time appearance as the unruly Fritz, to Courtney Connor as a dancing doll, from Snow Flakes and Flowers (keep your eye on Apprentice Kayleigh Gorham, she is a keeper), to Liang Fu as Chinese Trainer; Dawn Kelly and Courtney Hellebuyck as Spanish women, accompanied by Joshua Bodden and Kevin Terry (who also played the Chinese dragon); and dashing Russians James Cunningham, Selahattin Erkan and Thomas Caleb Robert plus delicate Mirlitons Kelly Yankle, Connor, Jill Marlow and Danielle Bausinger – this was a treat played out in real time by a well-rehearsed group of dancers, including the children’s cast. A special note is due Maizyalet Velazquez, who was the langorous, ever-so-flexible Arabian dancer supported by Anthony Krutzkamp and Samuel Jones.
It just seems unseasonable to find fault (probably there were a few glitches, seen and unseen), so let’s just make this “review” an “appreciation.”
It may be that not every balletomane is a fan of The Nutcracker. Yet there is certainly no holiday show in the area that can top this one. And, you can leave your 3-D glasses at home.
also by Kathy Valin:
December 16, 2011
MORE ON ASSOCIATE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR DEVON CARNEY AT
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