Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Nutcracker (Cincinnati Ballet/Playhouse Square Center)

Local kids perform in Cincinnati Ballet's ‘THE NUTCRACKER’

For the past several years the University Hospitals Health System Ballet Series at Playhouse Square Center featured, as it holiday offering, the Pennsylvania Ballet in what I believed was an ill-conceived production of ‘THE NUTCRACKER.” This year they switched to the Cincinnati Ballet’s version. Based on my viewing of the Thursday night performance, it was a wise choice.

‘THE NUTCRACKER’ is a ballet is based on the story ‘THE NUTCRACKER AND THE KING OF MICE’ written by E.T.A. Hoffman. When Marius Petipa had the idea to choreograph the story, it was actually based on a revision by Alexander Dumas, the well known French author. His version reflects more of what we have come to love as the ‘NUTCRACKER BALLET.’

It is the story of a young girl who is given a Nutcracker Prince as a Christmas present. When she goes to bed she dreams of a tale the Nutcracker and his wooden soldiers as they fight against a Mouse King and his gang of mice. After the battle, Marie and the Nutcracker Prince are transported on a trip to the Land of Sweets where they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Prince tells her about their daring battle with the army of mice and she rewards them with a celebration of dance performances which include Spanish, Arabian, Russian and Chinese, as well as the Waltz of the Flowers. The dream ends as Marie is transported back to the safety of her bed, along with her precious toy Nutcracker Prince.

This is the stuff that all the beautifully clad little girls in the audience dream about.

Not since Cleveland Ballet’s Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez performed the roles of Marie and The Nutcracker have I been as entranced with a dancing duo as I was with Adiarys Almeida (Marie) and Cervilio Amador (The Nutcracker). The duo were a delight. She is charming. The stage lights up every time she smiles. Her dancing skills equal her stage presence. She is certain in her toe maneuvers, does leaps into the arms of her prince with ease. Her movements have clear beginnings, middles and endings, something often missing except in prima ballerinas. Almeida is perfectly coupled with Amador. His partnering skills are strong. At no time did he falter in his catches, balances and lifts. His standing leaps were high and resulted in solid and secure landings. His horizontal turns were well executed. He displayed great body control. Since the casts change nightly, unfortunately you might not see this dynamic duo. Their duet at the end of Act II was exciting.

Noteworthy performances included Heather Liberman as the doll who came to life, Joseph Gatti as the Chinese dancer whose high leaps were impressive, and the adorable group of pot-bellied kids who emerged from the skirt of Mother Ginger’s dress during one of the dance numbers.

Part of the fun of the production was the presence of young children on stage. They were well trained and disciplined and added much to the artistic delight. Credit to Valentine Liberatore and Gladisa Guadalupe for their contributions.

Local children who performed in the production were Kathryn Tokar, Bay Village, Andrea Szabo, Columbia Station, Marissa Moore, Fairview Park, Madeleine Crosby, Lakewood, Ashley Fares, Lakewood, Alyssa Cook, North Ridgeville, Megan Auzenbergs, Rocky River, Jacqueline Gentner, Rocky River, Monica McDonough, Rocky River and Madeline Murphy, Rocky River.

The piece was not without its flaws. Rene Micheo, as Herr Droselmeier, the toy maker, failed to capture the pixie quality needed for the role. He altered between being menacing and playful, which led to some story development confusion.

The fight between the mice and the wooden soldiers lacked the needed playfulness. The soldiers did not march as stiff legged toys and the interaction between the opponents was not well spelled out. Several children in the audience shrieked with fear due to the scary looking rodents. In addition, several of the Land of Sweets dance segments, such as the Arabian segment, lacked the necessary pacing and power. Kristi Capps as the Rose lacked the needed free flowing ease. Her dancing was stiff and uninvolving. The one-dimensional flying bed did little to create the fantasy mood. Simply moving her one bed have been more effective.

Choreograher Val Caniparoli should be commended for his concept. The sets and costume designs by Alain Vaes were excellent, as was the full-orchestra under the direction of Carmon DeLeone.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Cincinnati Ballet’s ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ was a fine substitute for the poorly conceived Pennsylvania Ballet version. Though not of the quality of the now defunct Cleveland Ballet’s presentation, it makes for a fine evening of enchantment, especially if you get to see Adiarys Almeida and Cervlio Amador in the leading roles.