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Milwaukee Ballet's Best 'Nutcracker' Ever

Dec. 14, 2011
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I've never enjoyed The Nutcracker as much as at the matinee opening of Michael Pink's Milwaukee Ballet production last Saturday. I found it funnier and more poignant this year, my third annual viewing.

The dances and the story they tell shine with newfound clarity. In rethinking the lighting, Pink and designer David Grill seem to have refocused some staging. The busy first act is dished up so precisely that I was never distracted from the stories of Clara, Fritz, Marie and Karl that are the beating heart of this thoughtful adaptation, a seamless match to Tchaikovsky's nostalgia-inducing music with its alternating lights and darks, longings and fulfillments. In the international vaudeville show of the second act, even the sections designed for children—the Chinese dragon, the geese, Mother Ginger—engaged me as legitimate episodes in a story about growing up. By the time Valerie Harmon and David Hovhannisyan, as Marie and Karl, danced the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux, I felt the hope they represent. I was touched by their characters' relationship as much as I enjoyed the Olympics-level dance requirements, which they executed very well.

It would be criminal to underestimate the value of Marc Petrocci's return to the role of Fritz, which Pink created for him when this production premiered nine years ago. Fully recovered from an accident that could have ended his career, he danced with surpassing grace and artistry. He seemed to carry a light within him that not only illuminated his own character, but everyone else's. His interests drew mine; his reactions helped me understand the action. He cared for the many children in the cast at no cost to his own comic characterization. It was a consummate performance.

Courtney Kramer also demonstrated every right idea about Clara. Ryan Martin brought his substantial star power to Drosselmeyer. Janel Meindersee and Justin Genna nailed the Arabian Dance. From the moment Susan Gartell stepped from a giant storybook, her Snow Queen serenely anchored the perilously busy snow scene, its comedy and classicism elegantly balanced. The Ballet Orchestra under Pasquale Laurino sounded especially sweet, and the Milwaukee Children's Choir especially strong.


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