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Snow in Florida

Palm Beach
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
12/28/2023 -  & December 8, 9, 10 (Ft. Lauderdale), 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 (Miami), 29*, 30 (West Palm Beach), 2023
The Nutcracker
George Balanchine (choreography), Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (music)
The Miami City Ballet
Miami City Orchestra, Gary Sheldon (conductor)
Ruben Toledo (sets), Isabel Toledo (costumes), Wendall K. Harrington (projections), James F. Ingalls (lighting)

Snow in Florida was abundant this year as Miami City Ballet reprised its 2017 staging of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, with choreography by the iconic George Balanchine and sets and costumes by Ruben (sets) and Isabel (costumes) Toledo, a Cuban-American couple who gave the production some local flair. Isabel, who died in 2019, is remembered in this revival, to whom the performances were dedicated.

Adapted the German Romantic writer E. T. A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, as retold by the French author Alexandre Dumas, Nutcracker opens with a Christmas Eve party that turns supernatural thanks to an enchanted toy nutcracker. Beloved by Marie, a brave little girl who defends it from invading rats, the nutcracker is revealed to conceal a prince who takes her to his magical Land of Sweets, guarded in his absence by the Sugar Plum Fairy. After a ceremonial presentation of delicacies from far‑flung parts of the world, Marie and the Prince are enthroned together over the kingdom. In this production, they wave goodbye from a hot air balloon that presumably brings them home.

For American audiences, hardly anything could be as cliché as The Nutcracker. An estimated 40% of all ballet performances in the United States are dedicated to this one work, which guarantees a ready‑made audience of children and their parents around the holiday season. Even as New York suffers economically in the post-pandemic world, performances there are said to be sold out or close, despite annual revivals since its premiere, with Balanchine’s choreography, in 1954. Miami drew impressive audiences in its West Palm Beach residency, even if there were more than a few empty seats at this Friday matinee.

Yet ironically, it is really only in America that The Nutcracker rests atop a national canon of high culture. In Russia, the ballet was poorly received by critics who were put off by its fantastical plot and heavier concentration on ensembles and child artists at the expense of star dancers. The closest thing to a prima ballerina, whom Russia’s ardent ballet fans would turn out to see with greatest interest, does not appear until the pas de deux late in the second half. Paired with Tchaikovsky’s short opera Iolanta, a dark melodrama involving a blind king, the ballet suffered invidious comparisons. In Soviet times, a ballet set during a religious holiday that the government tried hard to replace with New Years grated on communist aesthetics, while the elements of fantasy and magic suggested bourgeois decadence. Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suite of his ballet’s most memorable music gained some popularity, but stage productions remained sporadic in Russia and abroad until the 1940s, when a series of American dance companies adopted it in what has become an intergenerational love story. The most noteworthy post‑Soviet production, by Mikhail Shemiakin, is a dark rendition that it is hard to imagine children enjoying.

Miami City Ballet is fully on board with the work, even daring to present traditional depictions of Asian characters that “woke” critics might fault. The company staged it outdoors in 2020, as the pandemic set in, and in 2021, with much of the cast masked as the pandemic set in. This year, the lobby of the Kravis Center buzzed with activities for the many children. Their enthusiasm knew few bounds. Multiple set pieces were interrupted by applause, sometimes more than once.

The Nutcracker requires a cast of over a hundred dancers. Of the three performances I have seen in the last three years, this was by far the best, with soaring standards and electric enthusiasm infusing every corner of the stage. Among the soloists, Nathalia Arja’s Sugar Plum Fairy was danced with a lithe delicacy that captured the sweetest parts of fantasy. Her cavalier, Luiz Silva, accompanied her with perfect coordination and muscular sweeps. The young couple emerged in fine relief thanks to the talents of Mei Lam Castrillo and Daniela Martinez. Gary Sheldon conducted an engaging performance.

Paul du Quenoy



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