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Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010

Holiday Wizardry in Milwaukee Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’

Dance Review

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Michael Pink’s imagining of The Nutcracker was lovingly presented by the Milwaukee Ballet and its Orchestra under Pasquale Laurino on opening night. The dancers will trade major roles during the run, which ends Dec. 26, appearing in different pairings that will shade each performance a bit differently. I enjoyed the creamy partnering of Luz San Miguel and Ryan Martin as the leads of this true ensemble piece. San Miguel seemed beautifully serene, in fine control of her technique, and together with Martin made the big lifts breathtaking.

As the younger Clara, a radiant Nicole Teague held her own beside a wild Marc Petrocci as her hyperactive brother Fritz; both performed with infectious joy. Petrocci showed how grand a dance role this is; I had remembered it as largely mime. In the most appealing of the cameos, Patrick Howell with his big elastic physicality was sensational as Jack #1; and Deanna Stetsura and David Hovhannisyan were elegant in the sinuous “Arabian Dance,” making the number less erotic but at least as virtuosic as I’d remembered it from last year.

I was happy to see Justin Genna in the featured role of Drosselmeyer, the wizard who shrinks young people to the size of toys, turns toys into ballet dancers, and makes young dreams come true for an hour or two. This mysterious fairy godfather is, of course, a surrogate for artist-storytellers who make stage magic of everyday experience. The ballet is about theatrical imagination, and the virtuosity of performers, designers and technicians. It’s about itself, in other words, with Drosselmeyer as the benevolent impresario.

Pink offers something for all ages in his family-friendly production, but lots of it is aimed with great respect at children. He’s inherited the sets and costumes from his predecessor, and I know he’s much more interested in making new work, but should he ever decide to rethink this ballet, I have two suggestions: Frame the almost otherworldly wealth represented by the trappings of the Christmas party as no less a fantasy than Toyland, and update the notion that boys love swords and girls love dolls.
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