It’s hard to imagine a time when one couldn’t see multiple versions of The Nutcracker during the holidays.
Master dance-maker George Balanchine first presented his version of the E.T.A. Hoffman tale in 1954. While not the first production made and performed in America, it is indeed the version that launched 10,000 other versions.
It is amazing that the Balanchine chestnut presented this season by the Miami City Ballet looks as fresh as if it were made yesterday. It doesn’t hurt that new sets and costumes by the husband-and-wife design dream team Isabel and Ruben Toledo are absolutely beautiful.
Many design teams have tried to update or “deconceptualize” The Nutcrackeronly to wind up hiding the true essence of the ballet and wrecking a great fairy tale. The Toledos come through with a visual chop suey of colors, projections and backdrops of the most original execution.
The first act of the Miami City Ballet production is a model of narrative efficacy. Most Nutcracker first acts drag, but not this one. All of the dancing is sharp and clear. More importantly, the narrative action, largely pushed forward by Didier Bramaz’s Herr Drosselmeier, is fast-paced and right to the point. Bramaz has thankfully made his character mysterious without being the least bit creepy. It also helps that Marie and the Nutcracker prince are wonderfully played by Renata Adarvez and Erick Rojas, respectively.
The only problem in the first act is the famous tree-growing scene. In this case, instead of having the tree grow in real time and dimension, we see it morph into a video projection and then finally into a two-dimensional backdrop. This falls a bit flat and is more than a little anticlimactic.
The entirety of the second act moves at a great pace as well. The divertissement are all clear and quick, with Sugar Plum doing her variation as the opening of the dances, not toward the end with the grand pas de deux. All of the variations are wonderfully danced with exquisite musicality and technique to spare.
The highlight of act two was clearly Nathalia Arja as the Dew Drop Fairy. Arja’s dancing is Balanchine of the highest order: extreme motion, extreme speed and not a moment of misplaced effort. She lights up the stage every time she enters and propels the Waltz of the Flowers to delightful heights.
The only misstep in act two was the decision to have Mother Ginger wear a headpiece. Instead of the usual dizzy aunt danced in the most wonderfully obvious manner by a man, we get a creepy muppet.
It is important to mention that Miami City Ballet performs with a live orchestra — a rare treat for dance-going audiences these days. The Opus One Orchestra, under the direction of Gary Sheldon, handles the score with clarity and delicacy. The music is truly wonderful in the Snow and The Waltz of the Flowers; Balanchine’s notoriously fast tempi didn’t phase the players a bit.
This was indeed a beautifully executed performance on all counts.