In Kids & Family

Million-dollar "Nutcracker" stages splendor, grace

Nothing says Christmas quite like a $1 million production of, "The Nutcracker." It's big, it's brassy, it's classy and there are large rodents. Michael Pink's exhaustive vision of Tchaikovsky's melodic holiday extravaganza returns to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts this month with another captivating display of human grace by the Milwaukee Ballet Company featuring opulent sets, sumptuous lighting and fantastic costuming.

In several of the performances, Leading Artist Douglas McCubbin plays the magical toy maker Drosselmeyer (played in alternate performances by Christopher Fellows and Ryan Martin.) Recently starring as Dracula in the Milwaukee Ballet's season opener, McCubbin is quite adept at expressing a very profound understanding of a character with even the slightest motion. With substantial grace and poise, Drosselmeyer has created a very unique Nutcracker doll for the sprightly, young Clara Tennenbaum. Pink's choreography for Clara is cheerfully playful--a delight to watch.

Drosselmeyer presents the doll to her after a Tennenbaum Christmas celebration. It gets a bit weird from there. What starts in a joyous ballet interpretation of a traditional period Christmas party takes off on a sugary, feverish fugue immersed in a delightfully trippy dream logic that's become so familiar to everyone who loves the show.

There's quite a wide-ranging display of different styles of choreography to take-in and everything is presented in tastefully garish colors on the largest scale possible. This is the most decadent dance performance a $1 million budget can buy. From the magically realistic feel of snow falling at the end of the first act to the prismatic, technicolor beauty of the entire second act, "The Nutcracker," is a sugary feast for the eyes. Everyone whose seen it has their favorite bits that they return to the Marcus Center for every year. A small civilization of children play angels with pretty wings. There's the elegant grace of the snow queen accompanied by a several elegant snowflakes.

Several different cultures are represented. There's a colorful Chinese dragon, an elegant Spanish couple dancing in duet. The Arabian couple's graceful motions in exquisite costuming is sheer beauty. Mother Ginger and her children might be Milwaukee Ballet's signature moment in the production (if we are to judge such things by how ubiquitous her image is in all "Nutcracker"-related copy.) Her costuming is just as stunning as it has been in years past, with bright, towering girth that always manages to seem strangely graceful. Ian Grosh, Brent Whitney and Petr Zahradnicek take turns donning Mother Ginger's massive attire for alternating performances. It's been said before that Michael Pink has given Mother Ginger's children (all very young ballet students) very complicated choreography and they all perform exceptionally well.

Aside from the strangely sumptuous decadence of it all, the only real faults I feel in the performance are highly debatable. With such a huge production, the actual individual performances are a bit dwarfed by how immense everything else is. Costuming is a bit strange in places as well. Amidst the large scale of everything else, the Chinese Dragon's costume always seems a bit too dull and tame to be authentic. The geese look a bit like creepy, threadbare duck-like stuffed animals, which is a pity, because the kids in then do such a good job of animating them. And then, there are the rodents: there must be some way of making a rodent costume that seems authentic without looking comical as the talented people in those costumes bobble about with huge, bulbous heads. All of these are relatively minor concerns in what is a hugely enjoyable production every year.

The Milwaukee Ballet's production of, "The Nutcracker," plays now through December 28th at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range in price from $15-$59 and can be purchased by calling the ticket office at (414) 902-2103.


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