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The Nutcracker, Ballet Florida

 

Gilty Pleasure, Cherubic Kids, Flying Sleighs, A Unicorn And A Live Poodle Make For A Visually Dazzling Nutcracker.

December 29, 1992 By KRISTY MONTEE, Dance Writer, Sun Sentinel

For 100 years now, The Nutcracker has endured, transcending all attempts to turn it into something more than it is -- a delightfully hokey farrago of dance and nonsensical fairy tale.

In the hands of revisionists, it has been turned into a space-age techno-pop extravaganza, a Freudian adolescent dream, and lately by Mark Morris, an absurdist domestic melodrama. Faced with the task of making The Nutcracker look fresh, it seems few choreographers can resist major facelifts or at least gobs of makeup.

For her new Nutcracker for Ballet Florida, artistic director Marie Hale has chosen the latter course, creating a visually dazzling production, chockful of cherubic kids, flying sleighs and angels, a unicorn and a live poodle and enough gilt to recoat Versailles.

As for the staging and choreography, Hale does tinker, and the results are both very good and not-so-good. In trying to create some narrative sense (an impossible task given how this ballet has come down to us from the original 1892 Maryinsky version), Hale has gleaned a subplot from the E.T.A. Hoffmann fairy tale upon which the ballet is very loosely based.

She opens the ballet with a prologue in the magician Drosselmeyer`s workshop, where a portrait of his nephew dominates. (Program notes tell that the beloved nephew has been imprisoned inside the nutcracker doll by the wicked Queen of Mice and that only the love of a young girl can break the spell). The ballet proceeds through the traditional party scene and Clara`s dream-journey to the Land of Snow and the castle of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Hale eschews the Land of Sweets for a romantic Disneyesque setting.) An epilogue returns us to the workshop where Drosselmeyer discovers his nephew, released from the spell. The point is neatly underscored by a lighting trick in which the nephew`s portrait changes into a nutcracker.

This is a clever, highly entertaining staging that not only creates coherence but also lends a satisfying sense of closure to a story that usually leaves Clara stranded in her dreams.

Although Hales scatters children throughout as adornment, this is an adult performance. To validate the love angle, she makes Clara, Fritz and their friends teens, and it`s believable until we catch Fritz gushing over his hobby-horse gift one minute then flirting like a Victorian dandy the next.

Where Hale comes up short, however, is in the choreography itself. While the staging of the mice battle scene is lively, the party dances are perfunctory. The second-act variations -- Spanish, Chinese, Arabian and Trepak (in lieu of Candy Canes) -- are glib rather than virtuosic. And the ensemble dances of the Snowflakes and the Flowers, which should act as flowing rivers of movement upon which all the variations skim, are surprisingly unmusical and grounded, each failing to capture the sweetly melancholic impulse of Tchaikovsky`s waltzes.

Hale has more success in the pas de deux she creates for three couples. Taking a cue from the Paris Opera production, she adds a Snow Queen and Prince to anchor the Land of Snow. She also gives Dew Drop a cavalier, which has the negative effects of detracting from what is normally a glittering solo and also making the later appearance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her swain anticlimatic. (The fact that Dew Drop`s sugar-spun white tutu is prettier than Sugar Plum`s gaudy magenta one doesn`t help matters). Wisely, Hale makes the Sugar Plum grand pas de deux classic Petipa; you can almost smell Aurora`s perfume.

 

Still, as thousands of Nutcrackers have proven, razzle-dazzle and the benevolent holiday audience can compensate for lack of imaginative dance. And this $1 million production is the most visually stunning one I`ve seen.

The real star of the show is New York scenic designer Eduardo Sicangco, whose Broadway and opera credits show up here in lushly detailed sets that through the use of a grand staircase in the first act and revolving platforms and rococo gilt gazebos in the second, creates a wonderful three-dimensional effect. Sicangco also uses numerous scrims to great effect as the ballet zips effortlessly through an amazing 12 scene changes.

That Sicangco (and costume designer A. Christina Giannini) places the Silberhaus family in a French Empire-style mansion rather than bourgeois circa-1840 German home is forgivable given the sheer beauty of it all.

Aerial special effect whizzes, the Foy Brothers of New York, who sent Mary Martin airborn in Peter Pan, make silver swan sleighs, angels, a menacing giant owl and a few Chinamen fly. With all this, the usual growing Christmas tree is kid`s stuff.

The 22-member company was supplemented with students from Hale`s school and a few guesting Ballet Florida alums. Consequently, the corps, while energetic, did not have the unity one would hope for.

 



Posted on Dec 1, 2011 by Registered CommenterEduardo Sicangco | Comments Off

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