Thursday, December 01, 2016

Cleveland Orchestra sublime, The Nutcracker uninspired

When the Cleveland Ballet left this area for San Jose, California, in 2000, it is rumored that the organization was over one-million dollars in debt.  Lots of fingers were pointed as to why the deficit existed, but one thing is for sure, there will always be, it the minds of those who saw it, one lasting legacy of Dennis Nahat and his reign as the company’s Artistic Director.  From its 1979 debut, when it sold out every night of its two-week run, until its escape to the west coast, Nahat’s THE NUTCRACKER reigned supreme.

Since that departure, many venues have attempted to fill the void by bringing in alternate companies to perform Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s THE NUTCRACKER, based on E. T. A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”  Dance groups from Russia, Canada and varying parts of the U. S. have come here to dance the wonders of The Snowflakes, and the exploits of The Sugarplum Fairy, Marie, and The Nutcracker. 

Unfortunately, and the present production staged by the Pennsylvania Ballet included, none have been able to duplicate the sheer joy of watching the then “wunderkinds,” Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, dance Marie and The Nutcracker.  No one has entranced and delighted a “Nutcracker” audience as Nahat, himself, performing Herr Drosselmeier, complete with magic tricks and giving the gift of the nutcracker to our heroine.

Nahat’s opulent production told the story as a dream-come-true.  It had a clear beginning, middle and end.  It had visual beauty, real dancing, not just dancers walking around and falling into poses.  The second act pas de deux was breathtaking, filled with high twists and leaps, marvelous toe work, there was an exciting battle between the rats and the wooden soldiers, and delightful interludes.  The dances of the nations were filled with country-specific choreography.   The costumes, the growing Christmas tree, the falling snow, the scenery, all of which was a major part of the cause of the Ballet’s deficit, may have broken the financial back of the organization, but it delighted the eye and made the soul soar.

One thing Nahat’s version didn’t have was the Cleveland Orchestra, under the direction of Brett Mitchell, playing Tchaikovsky’s glorious, pulse-increasing music.  The Pennsylvania Ballet was blessed with the sound of the world-class musicians, normally housed in Severance Hall or taking much-praised journeys to Miami Beach and Europe.  Nahat also didn’t have the angelic voices of the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, to create the vocal segments of the score.  Yes, the musical segments of the evening were sublime, gorgeous.

George Balanchine’s choreography of THE NUTCRACKER, the version presented by the Pennsylvania Ballet, lacks the panache and storytelling of the Nahat version.  The tale has no clear beginning, middle and end.  Much to the delight of the many parents and grandparents in the audience, the stage is filled with many children, in this case, “Children Supernumeraries,” who came from across Northeast Ohio to audition, rehearse and appear in the production.   Many appeared to be quite talented in walking around the stage, dancing a little, and staying in character.  The few Pennsylvania Ballet’s company members were quite competent, but none were truly outstanding. 

In this version of the tale, Marie doesn’t dance, and The Nutcracker/Little Prince has one segment where he re-explains the Rat-Wooden Soldiers battle, in over-wrought pantomime. 

Capsule judgment:  Those who hadn’t seen the Nahat choreography of The Nutcracker should be perfectly happy with the Pennsylvania Ballet version, as evidenced by the reluctant, but eventual standing ovation of many in the very crowded theatre.  It is worth going to hear the Cleveland Orchestra play the score, take in the familiar tale, or what there is of it, and be thankful that there is, at least, an attempt to bring this, the greatest holiday ballet in the lexicon of the Western world, to a PlayhouseSquare stage.
Ohio Dance Theatre and Verb Ballets
The Nutcracker, December 16-18, 2016 at the Stocker Arts Center on the campus of Lorain County Community College 1005 N. Abbe Road, Elyria, OH
Tickets:  440-366-4040 or
Dance Theatre of Harlem, January 21, 2017--3 and 7:30 PM at Ohio Theatre

Jessica Lange Dance, March 4, 2017—7:30 PM at Ohio Theatre

Ballet Biarritz presents Cinderella—April 1, 2017 @ 7:30 PM and April 2, 2017 @ 3 PM at Ohio Theatre

Tickets:  216-991-9000 or

On January 27, 2017, A Celebration of Dance and Music returns to the Hanna Theatre.  The program, a remounting of the company’s October 11, 2016 successful program, includes original dances choreographed by Artistic Director Gladisa Guadalupe and Ramon Thielen.