“The Nutcracker” is arguably one of the most beloved family holiday traditions. Ballet companies around the world pack theaters (and pad their tight operating budgets) in the weeks leading up to Christmas with productions set to the familiar suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
All are roughly based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s scary 1816 story, “The Nutcracker and The Mouse King,” and later adapted by Alexandre Dumas (“The Count of Monte Cristo”) and further lightened by the composer and his Russian choreographers:
Opening in the manse of a wealthy European family, the ballet is the tale of a Christmas toy, an enchanted nutcracker that comes to life and battles the evil mouse king. He then whisks his new owner, Marie, to a magical kingdom inhabited by dolls.
Since its founding, Miami City Ballet has performed the classic choreography of the legendary George Balanchine, the mentor of its founder, Edward Villella. The production was traditional and predictable—not to mention dark and dour in the opening scenes—so artistic director Lourdes Lopez deemed the time right to commission a new production that would update the ballet for an audience that is more easily entertained by smartphones and tablet computers.
Lopez tapped New York-based Cuban-American designers Ruben and Isabel Toledo to reimagine “The Nutcracker” and the results were unveiled to South Florida audiences last weekend at the Arsht Center in Miami.
Stylized animations projected on the curtain open a multimedia experience that evokes the stylized early works of the French Impressionists and even Picasso. The mansion is warm and the guests dressed in colorful Victorian and Edwardian party clothes. The mice and animated toy soldiers lend a whimsical touch before the journey to the magical kingdom.
Snowflakes in crisp white tutus worthy of Vera Wang coat the stage with snow as the couple arrive by boat to be treated by technicolor sights. Candy Canes in striped body suits dance to the “Trepak” or Russian dance. The flowers shimmer in pastel orange and pink dresses before the Sugarplum Fairy and her cavalier dance in elegant lime sherbet-colored costumes. The ballet concludes as the young prince and princess are whisked away by a hot air balloon reminiscent of the fantastical imagination of Jules Verne.
The music, choreography and high caliber performances remain the same, but through the vision of the Toledos, this tradition is vibrant and whimsical, the perfect holiday treat for audiences who may be inclined to say “bah humbug” to another trip to see “The Nutcracker.”
Miami City Ballet presents the new production of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” at the Arsht Center in Miami through Dec. 24 and in West Palm Beach at the Kravis Center, Dec. 28 – 30. For tickets and more information, go to MiamiCityBallet.org.