For many American families, there is no more beloved tradition than an annual Christmas season performance of “The Nutcracker.” At the Broward Center last weekend, this assertion proved true, with the Au Rene Theatre packed with children of all ages and their parents—both straight and gay.
The ballet audiences have come to know is based on an 1816 fairy tale by E.T.A. Hoffman, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” a surprisingly scary story that would appeal to fans of the Brothers Grimm. Years later, Alexander Dumas, best known for “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers,” adapted the story with a happier disposition.
During a Christmas party at the home of Dr. and Frau Stahlbaum (Chase Swatosh and Callie Manning), young Marie (Renata Adarvez) is presented with a nutcracker by the mysterious Herr Drosselmeier (Didier Bramaz).
As night falls and Marie drifts to sleep, the nutcracker (Matthew Zide) comes to life and fights off an army of mischievous mice, led by the Mouse King (Swatosh). In the final scene, the nutcracker is transformed into a dashing prince who sweeps Marie off through the snow to a magical land with colorful inhabitants.
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned by Marius Petipa, chief ballet master of the Russian Imperial Ballet, to compose the music for a ballet that premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892. While that ballet was not successful, the music lived on in a suite of eight movements that would become one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous works.
“The Nutcracker” ballet gained widespread fame in the United States a half century later. George Balanchine, who grew up in Russia and danced the role of the nutcracker prince in 1919 at the age of 15, created his own version for the New York City Ballet in 1954. Other companies subsequently adopted Balanchine’s ballet or created their own versions, leading to the holiday tradition we know today. (For some companies, annual productions can generate 40 percent or more of their annual budgets.)
Unlike some other versions, Balanchine’s makes extensive use of children, especially in the second act. In this performance, students from the Miami City Ballet School took on the characters of toy soldiers, mice, hot chocolate and candy canes led by soloists and principals from the company.
Among the standout performances were Callie Manning, “Coffee,” performed to Tchaikovsky’s exotic Arabian Dance; the acrobatic Shimon Ito, “Tea,” danced to the Chinese Dance; and the dazzling Renan Cerdeiro, “Candy Canes,” who literally jumped through hoops in the Russian Dance, “Trepak.”
The roles of the princess and her prince are also cast with children, the capable and charming Adarvez and Zide. The future of ballet is assured, as demonstrated by their confidence throughout the performance.
If there were any opening night jitters, they were not apparent to the audience, which was filled with many much more nervous parents. Even the youngest dancers, appropriately costumed as tiny angels, swept across the stage in the geometric patterns that are so prominent in Balanchine’s larger dances.
The ballet comes to a brilliant climax in the Dance of the Flowers, with the dancers dressed in billowing technicolor orange and pink dresses designed by Haydée Morales, and the famed pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier, Tricia Albertson and Reyneris Reyes.
The children in the audience were entranced throughout the entire production—especially with the snow flurries that blanketed the stage during the snowflake dance—but most actually scooted to the edges of their seats as Albertson and Reyes flawlessly spun and leapt across the stage in glistening white satin and gold sequined costumes, the personification of Christmas magic and a memory that will be long cherished.
Miami City Ballet presents “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” at the Arsht Center in Miami, Dec. 17 – 24, and the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Dec. 28 – 30. Note that evening performances begin at 7 p.m. Tickets and more information are available at MiamiCityBallet.org.