For articles throughout the month of December, two words that always seem to pop up are "holiday classic." Tis' the season so they say, and it would - of course - be an inaccurate introduction if I didn't preface Frisch's presents The Nutcracker as performed by the Cincinnati Ballet as just that -- a holiday classic.
Though Cincinnati premiered its first version in Dec. of 1974 at Music Hall and has performed five versions since, the most current production premiered on Dec. 15, 2011 at the Aronoff Center with choreography by CEO & Artistic Director, Victoria Morgan. Certainly the premise has remained the same but Morgan's touches of fun, exuberance, and sheer athleticism shine througout.
The first act takes place on Christmas Eve in the house of the Stahlbaums. Now this is the party I want to get an invite to, which can be summed up in one word -- decadent. The scene stealer is Herr Drosselmeyer, who - on Friday night - was danced by Selahattin Erkan. He brought real and figurative magic to his performance, and if he weren't in the role of a dollmaker, could easily be confused as your off-the-wall, equal parts strange to awesome Uncle.
Cincinnati Ballet Otto M. Budig Academy Students (Photography: Peter Mueller)
Following the party scene, we get the battle between the Nutcracker Prince - oh yeah, he comes to life, NBD - and the Mouse King. Considering a look at a single mouse is a enough to put me in an uproar, I'm surprised / impressed at how well Clara takes this rodent invasion. Sure, she isn't screaming with joy, but she isn't really screaming at all. I would've been Audi5000 at the first sign of vermin.
Let's pick up in the second act, where Clara, her prince, and adorable poodle have traveled to the Land of Sweets. In a PG rated understanding, let's just say she is on one helluva sugar high and it's not her first time visiting Puff the Magic Dragon. Here, we get encounters with the Sugar Plum Fairy, Spanish, Arabian, and Russian dancers. Plus, there is a special treat in the form of Mirlipoos, which are a cross between traditional Mirlitons and poodles. (You can read more about them HERE.)
While I'll never complain about dancers taking on the beautiful form and movement of dogs -- I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Morgan choreographs a world premiere ballet all about dogs -- my favorite scenes in Act II go to the Russian dancers and the Chinese Trainer. Again, Erkan takes command as the lead in the Trepak with high flying jumps, classic leg kicks, and even some break dancing.
The Chinese Trainer as portrayed by senior soloist, Patric Palkens, has even more acrobatic and athletically challenging choreographic moves as he must carry around a large pole as his dance partner / accessory. It's powerful, exciting, and beautifully artistic, especially when the Dragon comes out to play.
Patric Palkens (Photography: Peter Mueller)
The divertissements pass quickly (almost too quickly) and before you know it, Clara is back in bed with her not-so-real Nutcracker doll. There's no denying that the Cincinnati Ballet is a world class company. And thus, we in Cincinnati are extremely lucky to not only see them perform but to see them perform with live music by our very own Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by Music Director Carmon DeLeone.
With that in mind, and while it's great that The Nutcracker attracts such a wide swath of an audience, I challenge those who feel compelled to come in December to come out the rest of the year as well. The Nutcracker is The Nutcracker, but this ballet company, celebrating its 50th season, has a lot more in store than candy canes and mother hens. In February, they will premiere Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Let's duel.
Cincinnati Ballet will perform The Nutcracker through Dec. 29 at the Aronoff Center. For more informaiton or to purchase tickets, visit the website: https://www.cballet.org/50/nutcracker.