BWW Reviews: Michael Pink's NUTCRACKER Perfects Visions of Sugarplums
While "visions of sugarplums" may appear fantastical, Artistic Director Michael Pink presents these marvelous performance delights for the city again this December. Under Pink's direction and choreography, The Milwaukee Ballet presents Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker for another holiday season. While Pink's narrative decisions have created treasured memories for the past decade during his tenure, various other versions along with live music from the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra have transformed the ballet into reality in Milwaukee for almost 40 years.
Pink's sugarplums, snowflakes, jacks, flowers and fairies cavort and delight in the fantasy world inhabited by Claire, Marie, Fritz and Herr Drosselmeyer, accompanied by his young nephew Karl, at the Tannebaum family celebration. After the guests leave the Victorian era party, Drosselmeyer sprinkles his magical dust, and the siblings travel to the Land of Toys and Sweets one Christmas Eve when the Grandfather clock strikes midnight, and the Christmas tree grows, another scene treasured by those who attend every year.
At the stroke of twelve, the Mouse King battles Marie's beloved Nutcracker given to her by Drosselmeyer, her treasured gift born to life. When the Mouse King and the Nutcracker have been defeated, Drosselmeyer's magical dust revives the Nutcracker, the disguised Karl, to enjoy the victory sweets together with the Tannebaum siblings. Karl's attraction directed toward Marie, an enchanting Nicole Teague, to Clara's dismay, the lovely Luz San Miguel.
Then the "snowflakes" dance in a scene equally mesmerizing, especially executed by Snow Queen Courtney Kramer, dancing while Clara, Marie, Fritz and Karl frolic among the equally talented corps, where snow falls gently in the background. When the train appears to take the family away to end the first act, one sits mesmerized by the voices of the Milwaukee Children's choir in the background, almost breathless with the beauty and talent performing before them.
While Pink has developed the heart of the Milwaukee Ballet, he has also formed a corps of youth dancers that fill this performance on stage. As these young dancers consistently develop their skills, Pink can draw from a great pool of talent, just as he has established an equally gifted Dance Company, which elevates the entire production year after year.
Visiting this fairy tale world numerous times over decades has made those moments incredibly memorable, on stage and in the mind's eye, where each production reaches further perfection. When seeing the production through fresh eyes, the younger generation discovers the miracle of live performance to renew these traditions. Two first time young fans sat entranced in their seats at the Saturday opening night performance: Mattie, short for Matilda, three years old, and her sister Aniela, five.
The sisters' flowing white dresses smocked with candy canes were brightly accessorized with red bows tied in their hair. During intermission, Mattie deemed the snow princess absolutely best, while big sis Aniela preferred "the toy choo choo train." When the second act opened, a "Wow" was quietly murmured from the row behind, and who could resist this exclamation when the lighted carousel appears behind the veiled curtain like a kaleidoscope of color where the grand, gilded animals circle on stage?
The Milwaukee Ballet creates a fairy tale world in the second act, with costumes and scenery, including the Davit Hovhannisyan and Annia Hidalgo pas de duex, Arabian Dancers who have extraordinary lines to fondly admire. Or who could resist the Jacks, Erik Johnson and and Garret Classman, where Fritz, Mengjun Chen on opening night, joins the athletic and jovial antics. Ryan Martin's Karl and Miguel's Clara positively sparkle as the sugarplums performing like sweethearts in their finales during the magnificent signature performances to essentially close the second act.
In these stunning dances Pink has tweaked every year as Director, the ballet attempts more challenging choreography for the audience to applaud. Several numbers where Timothy O'Donnell's Drosselmeyer dances with Marie absolutely charm the audience, so the party scenes become more intricate, as do the dancing by Clara and Fritz throughout the performance.
One marvels at the finish to the ballet that focuses on an increasingly shadowy sequence where the dancers leave the stage similar to film noir, an evocative moment that leaves childhood dreams intact. Too many moments to mention unfold on stage similar to these, from the minute the orchestra begins, or when the elaborate frame to the theater lights up, and the curtains draw back to reveal this very extraordinary Nutcracker. The performance lights up any holiday season.