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Cincinnati‘s New Nutcracker Flies

Aronoff Center for the Arts
12/15/2011 -  & December 16, 17, 18, 19, 20*, 21, 22, 23, 24, 2011
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Cincinnati Ballet, Xavier University Women’s Chorus, Tom Merrill (director)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Carmon DeLeone (conductor)
Victoria Morgan (choreography), John Ezell (scenic design), Carrie Robbins (costume design), Trad A. Burns (lighting design)

(© Carrie Robbins)

Imagine Drosselmeyer airborne. A giant hen in place of Mother Ginger. A dragon in the “Chinese Dance.” That gives you some idea of Cincinnati Ballet’s New Nutcracker, which received its world premiere Dec. 14 in Procter and Gamble Hall at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

Staged and choreographed by Cincinnati Ballet artistic director/CEO Victoria Morgan, the lavish, $2 million production was a wonder to behold, resplendent with color, spiced with humor and packed with invention. Virtually everything is new, except for Tchaikovsky’s timeless score. Ten years in the making, it is no wonder they are calling it The New Nutcracker.

There are new characters, including a poodle for Clara (inspired by Morgan’s miniature poodle Teddy Moe). Instead of Mirlitons (reed flutes), there are Mirlipoos (poodles). Many of the new roles are for children, with over 140 youngsters participating in multiple casts of the 10-day production. There is even a dragon, eight kids long, which appeared during the “Chinese Dance” with Trainer, Patric [sic] Palkens, who danced with a staff.

The sets, designed by John Ezell, and costumes by Carrie Robbins are a crayon-boxful of color. The show began in Blanche’s kitchen (named for the mother of the president/CEO of production sponsor Frisch’s). The party scene took place in the living room, with a gold-and-white-lit Christmas tree in the background. The Snow Scene was framed by sheets of ice, spot-lit in various colors, while the Land of Sweets was dominated by a huge cake, which appeared to be made of marzipan. Clara (Jacqui Stone) and the Nutcracker Prince (Daniel Durrett) arrived in the Land of Sweets Wizard of Oz style, in a snowflake-decorated balloon.

The costumes, built mostly in-house, reflected the period (1830s Europe). Drosselmeyer (danced by Zack Grubbs) wore a striped jacket with blue lapels and chartreuse and orange hose. Costumes for the character dancers were eye-catching, from the blacks and oranges of the Spanish Dancers (suffused in orange light) to the bikini-clad Arabian Dancers. The Flowers had emerald green tops, with variously colored skirts. The Mice were downright endearing, some entering on scooters with headlights. The Mouse King, a well-dressed and somewhat pompous rodent, rolled in on a dais. The Snow Queen (Janessa Touchet) wore a tiara designed after the Queen City tiara atop the 41-story Great American Tower in downtown Cincinnati (Great American Insurance Group is a sponsor of the production).

Drosselmeyer, whose white hair gave him a striking resemblance to symphony conductor Simon Rattle, was clearly a magician. In fact, Morgan consulted a pair of local magicians to find ways to put magic tricks into the show (like making things appear and disappear). In addition to conjuring a dancing doll and a dancing bear, one of Drosselmeyer’s “tricks” was making Clara’s bent, frail Grandmother (Dawn Kelly), “groove” at the party in act one. Grubbs, who played his part beautifully, demonstrated considerable ability, too, as an aerialist, flying over the stage during the Battle Scene.

Whimsy and playfulness were integral to the production (indeed, one expected a Disney character to appear at any moment). A banner with the word “Bang” on it fell during the Battle Scene when a soldier took aim with a cannon. Mother Hen, head bobbing cheerfully, laid an egg and eight little chicks popped out from under her skirt in act two. The coup, however, was Waltz of the Flowers, where four Bumblebees (kids) flew down to visit the Flowers.

Dancing the Snow Queen and King were Touchet and Cervilio Miguel Amador, with Sarah Hairston and Liang Fu as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cotton Candy Cavalier. Hairston’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was classically elegant, as befit her character. The two couples’ pas deux were little short of spectacular, and of the character dancers, Rodrigo Almorales, Samuel Jones and James Cunningham as the Russian Dancers were a whirlwind treat.

A huge asset to the production was the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which performed live in the pit, 57 strong, with an 11-voice women’s chorus from Xavier University for Dance of the Snowflakes. Conductor Carmon DeLeone, music director of the Cincinnati Ballet, kept the stage and pit in split-second sync.

Mary Ellyn Hutton



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