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Dance Delights

By Julie Mullins · December 20th, 2011 · Dance

Cincinnati Ballet’s The New Nutcracker is, in a word, spectacular. And I mean that in the literal sense: It’s truly a spectacle.

Thursday evening’s well-attended opening night at the Aronoff Center offered an impressive smorgasbord of visual and dance delights.

It’s clear the Ballet’s Artistic Director and CEO Victoria Morgan, who choreographed this new version, wanted to go full-out for this long-awaited and much-hyped production — termed “The World Premiere of the Decade,” according to the marketing slogan.

Indeed, Morgan pulled out all the stops: magic tricks, various characters suddenly flying skywards, robotic mice, zany props galore, lavishly elaborate sets designed by John Ezell, plus a dazzling array of costumes from Tony Award-nominated designer Carrie F. Robbins. There’s everything from intricate Victorian styles in rustling taffeta, to gossamer white gowns, to silly and sexy sartorial surprises.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of the Ballet’s Maestro Carmon DeLeone, plays the beloved Tchaikovsky score in the pit. (This required the pit’s expansion capabilities to be put to use for the first time in the theater’s history.)

Based on the production’s fine, if outsized, qualities and audience reactions, the show could certainly be deemed a success — not to mention a good time. You might enjoy it the way you take in a James Bond film's exotic locales. Chances are, you don’t stop and think, “Oh, how extravagant.” You just sit back and enjoy it.

In a prior conversation, Morgan said she wanted to make sure the show was inviting and accessible — and it is, and serves as an enchanting escape.

Think a touch of The Wizard of Oz. It’s family-friendly, fast-paced and fun, with occasional doses of broad humor. But the upbeat pacing comes at a sacrifice of some segues and narrative transitions. Sometimes there’s so much bustling activity that the story’s few plot points seem easy to miss. Did the youthful Clara, capably played by Lorelei Robinson, actually fall asleep to dream? The party scene generally has a large cast onstage, but this one feels especially busy. But, hey, what a wonderfully festive and lively party!

Given how ambitious this production really is — what with all the props and flying, scene changes and so on — it’s a wonder that the show went off with very few glitches. A large, heavy-looking bowl proved to be nearly too cumbersome. Clara and the Nutcracker Prince were almost obscured as they watched parts of the Act II suite of performances-within-the-performance unfold. Minor issues.

Thanks her 14-plus years as artistic director, Morgan has the advantage of knowing her longtime company dancers and their strengths well. In a prior New Nutcracker interview, Morgan said when she began choreographing certain sections, she had asked some dancers what moves they love to do best, what moves are most exciting to watch, and so on. And their extensive experience working together shows. The Russian section, performed on Thursday by Selahattin Erkan, Stephen Jacobsen and newcomer Patric Palkens, explodes with exuberant energy. Principals Cervilio Miguel Amador and Janessa Touchet shine in near-perfection in their grand pas de deux as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cotton Candy Cavalier. Their partnering feels precise and seamless. Daring lifts soar, their pirouettes astound. Choreographically, I was anticipating even a bit stronger emphasis on intricate petit allegro footwork (small jumping and turning steps) for Touchet’s variation. But what’s there is clean and pristine. Not unexpectedly, the choreography here was created, or “set,” on these two, and they really deliver the goods.

Morgan dispensed with some tutus and bestowed a rather more modern take on the Snow Forest Scene, the first (and arguably the more inspiring) of the two larger Corps de Ballet pieces. Far from the traditional icy snow queens, the dancers become lively snow sprites, leaping about with abandonment. As snowflakes fall from above, the dancers toss snow from their fists in time to musical accents like so much celebratory confetti.

Other elements evolved less. Expect to see a few familiar keepsakes from the prior production: Associate Artistic Director Devon Carney reprises his Herr Drosselmeyer role but with a twist. Resplendent in mismatched stockings, a wild wig and with a few tricks up his sleeve, he channeled a bit of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. As a dancing doll, Dawn Kelly delights once again, but in a much more colorfully outlandish costume. And this Mother Hen dance is a hoot.

Does it live up to the hype? Essentially, yes. Yet with all the spectacle of this production, it teeters on a precarious tightrope balance of its eye-candy extravaganza potentially overshadowing its choreography and strong dance performances. But no matter, really; it is meant to be a big ticket-selling blockbuster. The New Nutcracker brims with the light, bubbly joy of a glass of champagne. Relax and enjoy the spectacular party.

Cincinnati Ballet’s THE NEW NUTCRACKER runs through Dec. 24 at the Aronoff Center. Tickets: (513) 621-5282. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.



12.20.2011 at 01:37 Reply

Thanks for a truely honest review, and one that is untainted by business agreements. I have not seen the production and do not intend to see it due to negative experiences from my friends who have seen it.

One mother and her 15 year old daughter heard a nearby 4 year old ask her mother why the dancers were not wearing clothes during the Arabian piece. Another friend who is a dancer and mother of two girls described the show as "Nutcracker dumbed down for kids with a piece of porn in the middle for any men who were dragged along."

My advice to Cincinnati Ballet and to Ms. Morgan; good ideas, now keep working on it. This review calls The New Nutcracker, “in a word, spectacular. And I mean that in the literal sense: It’s truly a spectacle.” Not exactly gushing with approval. Continue to improve The New Nutcracker, as dancers; we are always striving for perfection. We can find tiny mistakes everywhere even when the public thinks it was perfect. I truly hope that next year will see a revised New Nutcracker with an even greater sense of perfection.



12.20.2011 at 08:14

I am a conservative mother. The Arabian girls were wearing bikini equivalents, and that particular dance was fabulous! My 5 year old and I loved the whole show!


12.21.2011 at 11:12

I watched The New Nutcracker last night and I can assure you that everyone is appropriately clothed and there is nothing pornographic about any of the dancing. As a ballet enthusiast, I feel the above review is a true representation...parts of the production were very impressive, while others were disappointing or a bit over the top. But overall, I was pleased and entertained. The Sugar Plum Fairy alone makes the show worth watching.


12.21.2011 at 02:45

I have always gone to the nutcracker every year since i was a little girl. it is a tradition in my family. I came to see it this year with my dancer daughter who is 12 and her dancing friends who are 13 and 14. We personally know several dancers in the company and look forward to seeing them dance they are amazing dancers. When we saw Gema Diaz dance the snow queen see was lovely (she should be principal ) but we didn't get enough of her. We come every performance to see Cervilio Amador do his variations and to our disappointment there wasn't one. We were very unhappy. Liang Fu we love also but the arabian dance had parents coveing their little ones eyes and the girls I had with me felt uncomfortable. Now they dance and see all types of dance so that is saying something. I expect it in New works but not the Nutcracker. Clara's dress was too long you could'nt see her legs or feet, the mother hen had no real face so no expression. Just all together bad choreography. A very sad time for Cincinnati. Look forward to seeing other perfromances but won't be back to see the Nutcracker again until it changes. Again We LOVE our dancers just hated the choreography.


12.23.2011 at 09:06

Oh, please. There were several things I missed in the "new" Nutcracker,but on the whole, it was a solid show. FYI, the Arabian variation has always been costumed in much the same way. The two women this time, in a clever twist by guest choreographers Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard, were competing for the attention of one somewhat overwhelmed man . . . this was comic one-up-[wo]manship, for heaven's sake, not porn. Not even close.


01.16.2012 at 03:53

A few pieces of advice to "anonymous" - the one so offended by the Arabian dance.

First, someone needs to rush that 4-year-old to the optometrist. If that kid really thought the dancers had no clothes on, there's a problem with the child's sight.

Second, you think this was porn? You need to rush down to the Hustler store to see what porn is. And immediately after that, you need to toss your TV in the trash, cancel all our magazine subscriptions because clearly you have not been looking at them.

Third, how absurd for you to be offering advice to Ms. Morgan without having seen the production. And then to waste our time and bandwidth by offering us your judgments about it all. I do have one compliment for you - at least you admitted that you didn'ty see it.