There is nothing more joyful than Christmas through the eyes of a child, and there are few experiences more gratifying than to witness a young person’s first exposure to art in any of its forms.
Call it a Christmas miracle, then, that these two moments are magically united in Michael Pink’s "The Nutcracker," a jubilant and lively production that is bursting at the seams with royal beauty bright. But the seasonal delights of the choreography, set, lighting, score and costumes are only half the magic. The other half comes courtesy of the audience.
There may not be another artistic production, ballet or otherwise, that is so encouraging of – and dependent upon – the enthusiasm of its audience members, most of whom are very young.
For any performance of this season’s "The Nutcracker," which runs until Dec. 26, there is bound to be a sea of children – mostly little girls – in vibrantly colored Christmas dresses making their way toward Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. These kids are at the age where they associate Christmas with reindeer, Santa, presents and no school – and now, ballet.
The presence of the little ones brings a joy and effervescence to the occasion that quite frankly is lacking in every other production of Pink & Co. – and through no fault of theirs. You’re not going to bring your 10-year-old to see Mimi hack herself to death in Rodolfo’s arms in "La Boheme," after all.
And so it is "The Nutcracker" that, more than any other event of the ballet season, reminds us why dance is important – indeed, why art is important. Dance is beautiful. It’s joyful. It inspires. And at Christmas, more than any other time of year, we need to remember that the things that exist in this world simply for the purposes of being beautiful, joyful and inspirational are perhaps the most important things of all.
There isn’t a whole lot you can do with "The Nutcracker," and I’m not sure that anyone would accuse this production of being daring or original. Every year brings changes, of course, both in choreography and artistic staff, and so those who make it an annual tradition to attend will always notice something new.
But frankly, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Milwaukee audiences have always responded positively to Pink’s interpretation of the ballet, and Tchaikovsky’s score is one of the most recognizable pieces of music in the Western world. Innovation doesn’t really have a place in "The Nutcracker."
The piece is charmingly family-oriented, much more so than some of its previous incarnations. If you think the kids won’t enjoy a five-minute-solid dance sequence performed by the corps de ballet, they’ll probably get a kick out of Fritz and Clara horsing around in the background.
These characters, played by Barry Molina and Luz San Miguel, are a proxy for the audience and also a pleasant distraction for those little audience members who may not have the attention span for a full-length ballet. And everyone, parents included, will appreciate the "awww" factor provided by the angels who open Act II; these adorable, curly-headed mini-ballerinas are students of the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy, who utilize the talents of over 140 of their students every year in this production.
There is plenty for the purists as well, though. Fritz and Marie’s antics never take away from the seamless choreography, and the Milwaukee Ballet’s capable leading artist have plenty of opportunities to shine in "The Nutcracker."
Mayara Pineiro, who played the Snow Queen, gave a jarringly beautiful performance which emulated the spirit of a snowflake on the wind with every shiver and step. Janel Meindersee and Justin Genna also arrested the audience as the Arabian dancers, exhibiting an impressive amount of muscle control in a pas de deux that came off as a somewhat more graceful interpretation of Cirque du Soleil-style athleticism.
And this review simply could not overlook the heroic comedic efforts of the "jacks," performed by Ryan Martin, Isaac Sharratt and Garrett Glassman. These bumbling, tumbling clowns (presented by Drosselmeyer as an amusement in Act I; they come to life in Act II) interact charmingly with Fritz throughout the second act in a show of boyish horseplay. But they also hold the audience in their hands by sneaking in hilarious "Gangnam Style" dance moves – and by "forgetting" to leave the stage after the curtain has come down.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Recent Articles & Blogs by Colleen Jurkiewicz
Published Sept. 30, 2013
Everyone knows that Danny Gokey, Milwaukee's favorite idol, has faced his unfair share of adversity and loss. But some stories that Gokey shares in his new book, "Hope in Front of Me" (NavPress), will be new even to his biggest fans.
Published Sept. 24, 2013
October and September is high season for haunted houses, haunted corn mazes, haunted hikes...but if you prefer a little liquid courage while you get your spook on, check out Untapped Tours' Haunted Hops and Evil Spirits Pub Crawl.
Published Sept. 19, 2013
Waukesha author Kathie Giorgio is getting ready to debut her latest novel, a sequel to the award-winning "A Home for Wayward Clocks." She tells OnMilwaukee.com the secret to writing a good follow-up and shares her views on the publishing industry today.
Published Sept. 19, 2013
"I Left My Heart" is, as the title implies, a tribute to Tony Bennett's music. The young performers onstage didn't try to replicate anything else about 87-year-old Bennett. Instead, it was an evening of appreciation for the style of this unique performer whose career has essentially run laps on so many others.
Published Sept. 18, 2013
"Power Balladz" comes to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts this weekend, hoping to re-introduce Milwaukee audiences to the decidedly awesome music of the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
Published Sept. 15, 2013
Award-winning choreographer Stephen Mear talks to OnMilwaukee.com about the logistical and emotional challenges of choreographing "Ragtime," the largest production ever to be staged on the Quadracci Powerhouse.
Published Sept. 12, 2013
Actors Bill Jackson and Marty McNamee, along with Boulevard Theatre's artistic director Mark Bucher, sat down with OnMilwaukee.com to talk about what has gone into staging and developing "Jerker," which premiered 1986 and follows the budding relationship between two men in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
Published Sept. 12, 2013
In the midst of rebranding efforts for Water Street, Milwaukee artist Patrice Procopio opened the area's latest fashion anchor, Third Coast Style, this past weekend. A by-Milwaukee-for-Milwaukee one-stop fashion shop, the new boutique features the handiwork of over 30 Cream City artists.
Published Sept. 10, 2013
John Gurda makes a splash with his new lecture tour, a history of Lake Michigan and Milwaukee's waterways.
Published Sept. 9, 2013
Ryan Braun probably won't be calling me. But if he did, he would probably regret it instantly. Not because I'm mad mat him (we all screw up, dude), but because these are the questions I would probably ask him.