Saturday, December 06, 2003

The Nutcracker--Pennsylvania Ballet (Playhouse Square Center)

Pennsylvania Ballet's ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ disappoints

When the Cleveland-San Jose Ballet fled the North Coast for the warmer climes of California, it took with it their version of ‘THE NUTCRACKER,’ one of the area’s long time holiday traditions. Playhouse Square Center, in need of a holiday offering, for several seasons brought in the delightful Radio City Rockettes and their holiday program. This year, as part of their Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital Ballet Season 2003-2004, the decision was made to bring in the highly touted Pennsylvania Ballet with their ‘NUTCRACKER.’

No one who saw the CSJB version will ever mistake what the Pennsylvania Ballet presented as its equal. Yes, the sets, the costumes and the music were wonderful, but there was a lack of magic on stage.

This production, with a cast mainly made up of children and youth, lacked the delight and the compelling charm necessary to truly bring to life George Balanchine’s wonderful choreography. Because of the abilities of the youth, there was a lot of walking and little real dancing.

Rather than having the likes of Raymond Rodriquez and Karen Gabay dancing the Little Prince and Princess, we had two pre-teens walking around the stage. In the second act, in place of the Little Prince’s wonderful dance solo we had a young boy standing in the middle of the stage pantomiming the story that enfolded in the first act. As the little girl seated next to me asked aloud, “What’s he doing?”

The fight sequences between the mice and the wooden soldiers, which usually brings squeals of delight from the children in the audience, lacked creativity. The children who played wooden soldiers walked, they didn’t march or dance and the huge mice were less than entertaining.

Even the adult dancers were no more than competent. The Snowflake sequence lacked enchantment, even though the lighting and the falling snow cast the right spell.

There is a wonderful dance sequence near the end of the ballet in which we see the Sugarplum Fair and her Cavalier cavort. Dede Barfield and Alexei Borovik showed no emotional connection. Borovik’s flying leaps, which, if properly done usually bring gasps of joy from an audience were met with mild applause. He failed to get much lift or execute the movements parallel to the speed of the music. Barfield’s toe-work, especially in the sequence when she was pulled across the stage by her partner to imitate an ice-skating effect was fine, but there was a lack of fire in her moves.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Pennsylvania Ballet’s ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ lacked magic. Kids are cute, but ballet requires dancers, proficient dancers. As the ballet ended, I glanced over at the velvet dressed young lady next to me, now fast asleep in her father’s arms. All I could think was, “Dennis Nahat and the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, where are you now that we need you?”