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“The Nutcracker”–orchestra and chorus superb, short version and dancing proficient

“The Nutcracker”—orchestra and chorus superb, short version and dancing proficient

 Roy Berko

(member, Dance Critics Association)

From 1981 until about 2000, Cleveland audiences were enchanted with Dennis Nahat, the then artistic-director of Cleveland Ballet, later the Cleveland San Jose Ballet’ s version of “The Nutcracker.”  Often starring the wunderkinds of the company, Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, the production was filled creativity, gorgeous costumes and scenery, enveloping story telling, and general wonder.

Since the departure of the company to San Jose, California, the holiday season offering of the epic “The Nutcracker,” adapted from the E.T.A. Hofmann tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” with magnificent score by Tchaikovsky, which has become one of the most famous compositions in the western lexicon of music, has been filled by touring productions.  Companies such as the Pennsylvania Ballet and Winnipeg Ballet have performed.  Though competent, they did not compare with the Nahat version, nor meet the dance levels of his performers.

The newest guests are the Joffrey Ballet.  The company has performed during the summer at Blossom with mixed results.  Sometimes their performances have been breath taking, at other times pedestrian.

Joffrey’s production, staged for seven performances, is drawing large crowds.  Little girls, dressed in their holiday finest, are seen joyously prancing through the lobby, with visions of Nutcrackers, princes and sugarplums in their heads and smiles on their faces.

The Joffrey production was conceived and directed by Robert Joffrey, with choreography for “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and “Waltz of the Flowers” by Gerald Arpino.

The Joffrey version, as is traditional, is set in Germany on Christmas Eve. (The Winnipeg production was set in Canada, and started out with a hockey match, proceeding the march of guests coming to the family celebration.

Two children if the house, Clara and Fritz Stahlbaum, and their cousins and guests, enjoy the lovely party.   Clara and Fritz’s godfather, the toymaker, Herr Drosselmeyer, gives the children gifts.  Clara receives a large nutcracker doll, which unfortunately is broken by Fritz and mended by Drosselmeyer.  When the children are sent to sleep, Clara dreams of her nutcracker and his adventures fighting The Mouse King and going on a journey to an enchanted forest where the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the presents, who have been brought to life, perform traditional dances of various countries.

This presentation is an adapted version, cutting out about eight minutes of the traditional staging, cuts which took away some of the visual wonder from the “Waltz of the Snowflakes,” have Drosselmeyer, rather than the nutcracker prince accompany Clara on her journey, and doesn’t have her return to her home to realize she has been dreaming, but, instead, she floats away in a hot air balloon, thus leaving the tale incomplete.  It changed the fairy tale love by almost eliminating the story of Clara and her prince, and instead had her spending time with Drosselmeyer.

Traditionalists will not be enchanted by these changes, though the shorter sit time is wonderful for children, as was the decision to start the evening performances at 7 o’clock so that parents didn’t have to carry sleeping young children out of the State Theatre.

On opening night the dancing was generally fine.  It was not world class, but acceptable.  Some of the staging confounded.  Why, in the second act, was Drosselmeyer allowed to distract attention from the dancers, upstaging them, by repeatedly waving his arms, wandering among them, rearranging his cloak while sitting, and talking to Clara, was confounding.

The large number of local children who were incorporated as “supernumeraries,” was exciting, especially since they were excellent, thanks to Gladisa Guadalupe, their rehearsal director.

The sets, costumes, and special effects were beautiful.

The highlights of the evening were the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra’s Children’s Chorus.

Under the baton of Tito Muñoz, the orchestra created a sound that virtually engulfed the audience with a clarity and style that made the music live.  Even though they were in the pit, which often muffles the sound, the tones were full and articulate.  The chorus, under the direction of Ann Usher, perched in the mezzanine level boxes on both sides of the theatre, created pitch perfect sounds that added illusions of delight and beauty.

The combined sound of the orchestra and chorus was acknowledged when on opening the audience, who gave the dancers a polite round of applause, leapt from their seats as Muñoz came onto the stage, gestured toward the orchestra, and the lights came up on the choir.  Bravo!

Capsule judgement:  It has been an interesting experience to see a variety of companies come into the area in and attempt to fill the void of not having a local company to satisfy the “The Nutcracker” tradition.  None of these groups has yet reached the level of the rendition by Dennis Nahat and Cleveland Ballet.  The recent presentation, which combined the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus with the Joffrey Ballet, was entertaining, with the music and singing superb, and the dancing quite proficient, but not compelling. 

The performances conclude with performances at 2 and 7 on November 30, 2014.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to