Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is a great fantasy. As presented by Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet and the Cleveland Orchestra, however, it’s a dance lover’s dream come true.
Between opulent visual elements, expert performances, and the special magic of live accompaniment, the production that opened Thursday at PlayhouseSquare is a feast for the senses and a spectacle to remember. Would that everyone’s holiday could be so lavish.
The only ones who might not be enchanted are pure lovers of music. To truly fulfill their dream, the whole show would have to be whisked, like Clara herself, from the State Theater to Severance Hall, where the orchestra and guest conductor Tito Munoz could shine their brightest, too.
You’d have to be a Fritz, the kind of person who’d break a young girl’s new doll, not to appreciate Joffrey’s production. Conceived by the company’s founder, along with renowned choreographer Gerald Arpino, this “Nutcracker” fully merits its blockbuster status.
No detail has been spared. The Victorian Christmas scene in Act I is accurate down to the candlesticks and wainscoting, and every single participant has been dressed like a star.
It’s an orderly, graceful crowd, too. Between the professional adults and spirited volunteer children, the party and magical battleground scenes Thursday moved along with the precision of the grandfather clock bewitched by Drosselmeyer, played by Michael Smith. Act I can drag, but in this case, time flew.
Within the bustle, there was even room for intimacy and humor, as when the other children rocked their dolls in synch with Clara, played Thursday by Katherine Minor, and the wonderful mechanical dolls went stiff as boards when toted offstage under the arms of parents.
One couldn’t ask for a prettier snow scene, either. Kara Zimmerman and Fabrice Calmels, Thursday’s queen and king, danced beautifully alongside the corps, all within the gorgeous theatrical equivalent of a freshly shaken snow globe.
Act II was no less striking. All residents of the Kingdom of the Sweets turned in exuberant performances, particularly Zimmerman, who made another brilliant appearance as a lithe, super-flexible Arabian coffee.
Somehow, Francis Kane made a giant Mother Ginger puppet play tambourine in time with music, and Chinese Tea dancers Abigail Simon and Ricardo Santos burst onto the stage from a steaming pot. Later, near show’s end, Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez dazzled as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince, bringing to their roles rare levels of athleticism and lightness.
Patrons used to hearing the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall may be disappointed. Situated in the State Theater pit, the ensemble sounds nowhere near as full and lustrous as it does at home. Still, the impact on the production of live music is positive, and considerable.
On the rich, multi-layered cake that was Joffrey’s snow scene, the live Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus was the icing. Likewise, the physical immediacy of the celesta and harp made the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Waltz of the Flowers” seem even more otherworldly.
Best of all was the sheer responsiveness from the pit. With Munoz in control, the music and dancing fused seamlessly, and the orchestral performances themselves boasted a naturalness not even the finest of recordings can deliver.
Like the Nutcracker doll himself, the production enjoyed the breath of real life, and was all the more special as a result.
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