We went to see Cleveland Ballet’s Nutcracker. Sit back and let us tell you about it.
As you may already know, Cleveland Ballet’s Nutcracker stays close to the traditional scenario. Act One starts out as a realistic family Christmas party. Dancers young and old portray parents and children interacting as ordinary, mostly non-dancing people. Guests are greeted, gifts are given, and we see that our main character, young Caroline (Marla Minadeo), has developed a crush on the Apprentice (Jonas Godwin). But the action on stage takes a fantastical turn when Caroline falls asleep and dreams of a battle between mice and toy soldiers. As the act ends, dancing snowflakes complete the transition from realistic depictions of bourgeois family life to dance for the sake of dance.
A lot happens in Act One, but until the dancing snowflakes it’s mostly acting and stage business.
In Act Two Caroline and the Apprentice travel to magic lands – Spain, China, Arabia, Russia, and the Garden of Flowers – and it’s one dance variation after another – our favorite part of Nutcracker — until we are back in the family’s parlor with Caroline asleep on the couch. Was it real or a dream?
In this year’s Nutcracker Act One, Rainer Diaz again plays Uncle Drosselmeyer but he has handed off his flashes of technical brilliance to Godwin, his apprentice. “I’m too old for that stuff now,” he seems to say, hoping that we’ll forget his technical brilliance as Don Jose in (https://clevelandconcertdance.com/2019/10/26/bad-bad-girl/) Carmen less than 2 months previous. Similarly, Minadeo pretends at first to be less of a dancer than she is. “You want me to dance?” she seems to say. “Me? But I am merely a young girl, lacking in technical accomplishment and self-confidence.” Hah! Minadeo may be young but she’s a full company member and an experienced professional ballet dancer. We remember how well she danced the role of Caroline in (https://clevelandconcertdance.com/2017/12/20/cleveland-ballets-nutcracker-a-photo-gallery/) 2017 and 2018. Still, we find ourselves mentally cheering her on as the story continues through Act Two, and she seems to gain self-assurance each time she dances.
Of course, Diaz and Minadeo aren’t the only dancers with roles to play. With a few exceptions, every dancer that appears in Act One also appears in Act Two but playing one or more different characters. For instance, Caroline’s brother Albert — who is usually portrayed as a little hellion who harasses Caroline and breaks her nutcracker doll – is played by new company member Koyo Yanagishima, who also dances the lead in the China variation in Act Two. The role of Albert is all acting and stage business and the China variation is all dancing but Yanagishima performs both roles with humorous zest and animation.
Nashializ Gomez dances as a Snow Maiden toward the end of Act One, then makes a quick costume change to appear as the straight woman in the Spanish variation opposite the hyper flamboyant – and funny — Lorenzo Pontiggia.
For yet another example, consider groups of dancers who play different roles in Act One and Two. The Big Mice who invade Caroline’s dream in Act One are played by high school age dancers. They smile out at the audience with self-possessed aplomb as if to say, “We’re mice. Is that awesome or what?” (The costumers* further contributed to the humor; they gave the girl mice pink ribbons tied in bows on their tales.) Then in Act Two, many of the same dancers (Francesca Taracila, Ella DeTray, Veda Palomo, Taylor Jacubenta, Dima Smith, and Devyn Etling.) appeared as Matryoshka Dolls in the Russian variation.
Company stalwarts Covington Pearson and Elias Re both played uncles during the Christmas party. Then for the battle scene one of them played the fearsome Mouse King, whose job is to nearly triumph over the Nutcracker before Caroline stabs him and he dies. Keeping in mind the long tradition of death on stage as a performing opportunity, what improbable death throes will the Mouse King entertain us with? Will he writhe like a Hollywood cowboy trained at the Martha Graham studio? On Friday night, Pearson died performing a spirited sample of the flossing dance! We laughed.
One of our favorite variations in Act Two, Arabia, provided an opportunity for Jenna Steiner, Kaela Ku, and Erinn Crittenden to show off their splits and penchées with the assistance of Covington and Re. We went right home after the show and worked on our flexibility.
But what’s our favorite variation in this year’s Nutcracker? We’d have to say The Land of Snow. Dance for the sake of dance without reference to the rather old-fashioned idea of national character dance. Beautiful costumes, white, with a chilly wintery blue hint. Live choral accompaniment from Olga’s Music Studio. Our favorite dance about our least favorite season.
We watched Cleveland Ballet’s Nutcracker at 7pm Friday December 6, 2019 at the Hanna Theatre.
Next for Cleveland Ballet, Magic Flute May 8 – 9, 2020 at the Mimi Ohio Theatre. For tickets go to PlayhouseSquare.org.
Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas
*From humorous to fantastic to drop dead gorgeous, costumes were a team effort that added immeasurably to this production. Program notes name Kitty Drops, Tanya Grinberg, Irene Kravtsov, Sam Meredith, Irina Mochalova, Marie Quintana, and Pro Tutu Studio. See the costumes for yourself in the photos accompanying this article.