Miami City Ballet’s freshened up “Nutcracker” works its magic

By Lawrence Budmen

Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra in Miami City Ballet's "The Nutcracker." Photo: Leigh-Ann Esty

When Christmas trees and holiday decorations become part of the urban landscape, The Nutcracker cannot be far behind. Tchaikovsky’s ballet classic has become a perennial of the holiday season and Miami City Ballet’s annual edition opened Thursday night before an enthusiastic audience at the Arsht Center.

George Balanchine’s 1954 production for New York City Ballet was the harbinger for annual performances in December by companies large and small. MCB has the largest Balanchine repertoire of any company outside of New York so it is entirely appropriate that his distinctive choreography has become the company’s version of choice. Happily MCB has freshened up its two-decades-old production. The show looks great and the dancing is strong across the board with terrific solo turns and sharp ensemble work.

One of Balanchine’s strongest assets was his ability to create classic dance and great entertainment at the same time. He was equally at home on Broadway or in Hollywood as on the ballet stage and his twin careers as choreographic giant and master showman find common ground in The Nutcracker. Balanchine utilizes only the barest outline of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s scenario, moving through the first two scenes quickly and fluidly. Once he has arrived at the snow scene and the land of the sweets, the ballet becomes pure Balanchine, a series of abstract dances set to wondrous choreography.

In the MCB production, Haydee Morales’ endless array of colorful costumes are a feast for the eyes and Alan Adelman’s lighting and special effects convey the supernatural elements of the opening scene and create a beguiling Disney-esque winter wonderland for the snow sequence. This is fantasy to enchant children of all ages.

Supervised by artistic director, Edward Villella, the production is tight and brisk, the scenes flowing with cinematic fluidity. In the first part of Act I, children from the Miami City Ballet School danced with brisk precision and unanimity, clearly the result of hours of disciplined rehearsal. In the role of the magician Herr Drosselmeier, made much less sinister by Balanchine than in Hoffmann’s original story, Yann Trividic literally towers over all before him, turning this mostly mime role into a scene stealer. As the child heroine Marie, Margarita Armas cuts an elegant figure, partnered incisively by the Nutcracker Prince of Eran Kornfeld.

From his very first American ballet Serenade in 1934 (set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings), Balanchine proved a master of setting works for female corps. Two of these great sequences grace The Nutcracker — Dance of the Snowflakes and Waltz of the Flowers. Long one of the company’s glories, the MCB corps shone resplendently in these two wonderful sequences. The ensemble work was tight, vigorously focused and highly musical. These two beautiful set pieces alone make this production memorable.

The Act II divertissement was filled with outstanding solo dancing. Pride of place must go to prima ballerina Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Light as a feather in her famous solo and regal and elegant in the pas de deux, Kronenberg commanded the stage. As her Cavalier, Kronenberg’s real-life partner Carlos Miguel Guerra was brilliant. A virtuosic dancer, Guerra’s dazzling spins, lifts and dynamic partnering spelled star power.

Kleber Rebello provided a bravura solo turn in the tea dance. Renan Cerdeiro, one of the company’s young rising leads, leapt through hoops at rapid speed in the candy cane dance. (Interestingly, Balanchine set this to the music of the Russian Dance.) Jeanette Delgado was exquisite as the Dew Drop, lithe and bright. Callie Manning was the spirited white gowned soloist in the colorful Waltz of the Flowers, rounding out a cast without a single weak link.

This production’s only drawback is the taped musical score. Tchaikovsky’s masterworks deserves a vibrantly live orchestral performance to complement the superb onstage performances. Still this MCB Christmas extravaganza is sheer magic.

Miami City Ballet repeats The Nutcracker 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Arsht Center and December 21-24 at the Broward Center. 305-929-7010;

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Fri Dec 16, 2011
at 11:24 am
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