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Milwaukee Ballet’s Magical ‘Nutcracker’

Dance Review

Dec. 15, 2009
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The Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker creates a child’s world without condescension. It charms like a happy youngster running up to you with open arms. Michael Pink’s choreography is also intellectually satisfying in that careful attention is paid to narrative logic and psychology. The Christmas party at the well-heeled mansion, with maids and great platters of pastries and relatives who enjoy group dancing, is shockingly interrupted when the boys find a dead rat and a horrified adult tosses the carcass into the furnace with disastrous aromatic results. Later, in young Clara’s dream, a rat bursts from the furnace to seek revenge. Each element of the dream that constitutes most of the ballet can be found in the carefully drawn relationships and events of that party, rearranged as a child might wish.

The production is top-notch. Zack Brown’s costumes and sets, with rolling and flying pieces and drastic shifts of scale and palette, are warmly magical. Lighting designer David Grill is a genius with color and mood. The Ballet Orchestra under Pasquale Laurino revealed the full scope of the music and the Milwaukee Children’s Choir sang with intense beauty.

On opening night, adults Courtney Kramer and Michael Linsmeier were captivating as the free-spirited children Clara and Fritz, so human in this land of rodents and desserts. Pink gives them wonderful dances. In the Busby Berkeley-inspired “Waltz of the Flowers,” for example, they leapt and spun among the dancing flowers in total abandonment to the music, just as I would have done at that age.

As Clara’s older sister Marie and her dreamboat Karl, Diana Stetsura and David Hovhannisyan were thrilling. Their swooning Act One duet of young love was gasp-inducing, as was their impeccable, classical second-act pas de deux with its perfectly timed lifts.

Darren McIntyre brought the right ambiguity and an inexhaustible stash of magic glitter to the pivotal role of Drosselmeyer. Raven Wales’ and Douglas McCubbin’s erotic Arabian Dance was a jaw-dropping knockout. Also sublime were the Shepherdess and Clown Dolls of Valerie Harmon and Ryan Martin. Every child and adult dancer in the huge cast delighted.


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