THE NUTCRACKER at Kennedy Center Opera House

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What is that warm tropical breeze blowing through the halls of Kennedy Center on this cool late November? This is the utterly charming Miami City Ballet production of Nutcracker.

This is the first time that Washington audiences have experienced the refreshing 2017 reinvention of George Balanchine’s classic, designed by art director Lourdes Lopez in splendid costumes by late fashion designer Isabel Toledo, who died in Paris. breast cancer in 2019, and sets and properties designed by her husband Ruben Toledo. The company dedicated this production to Isabel.

Holding quite tightly to ETA Hoffmann 1816 The nutcracker and the mouse king, the first act takes place on the traditional, cold and gothic Nuremberg drafts through the grand old house of Marie Stahlbaum, her younger brother Fritz Fritz, and their family and friends at a Christmas party. It is with Land of the Sweets of the second act that the Tolèdes give themselves the playful freedom to infuse costumes and sets with a luminous and insular atmosphere.

Lighting designer James F. Ingalls projects Act I in cool, whimsical hues and Act II in the oranges and yellows of a warm Havana sun. The Winter Wonderland before intermission is gorgeous in classic Old World fashion, while Candy Land has the whimsical feel of being inside a sky-lit cathedral-sized pineapple. Wendall K. Harrington’s inviting animated screenings during the opening and the hallucinogenic prologue to the Battle of the Mouse King add to the theatrical magic of the evening.

This sophisticated but never overbearing technical magic perfectly complements the more down-to-earth magic of children dancing together again after a year of productions and classes canceled during the Covid lockdown. As young line dancers at the Stahlbaum party, mice, soldiers, angels, etc., the clear phrasing of the developing dancers, the clarity of the line, and the attention to the ensemble bode well for future bodies. and soloists. (And what could be more difficult than directing a production of Nutcracker? Do it with masking and other pandemic protocols. Kudos to the backstage platoons of MCB staff, teachers at local ballet schools, parents and the children themselves for doing it.)

From the Wednesday night cast, Audrey Portner as Marie (the character named Clara in many productions) and Madison Luna as the nephew of the mysterious Herr Drosselmeier, the young man who caught Marie’s attention, interacted with a great sensitivity to the dramatic moment. Also admirable was Luna’s clearly pantomimed account of the events of the first act. Act I is largely about the story exhibit and the children, but Ellen Grocki, Satoki Habuchi, and Shimon Ito as Columbine, Harlequin, and Soldier, amused by a vivid animatronic eccentricity.

Act II’s Land of the Sweets featured a cornucopia of stunning solos, duets, and flowing, swirling Balanchinian motifs embodied in a generally light and graceful body. Among the highlights: Damian Zamorano’s casually confident swashbuckling jumps in the hot chocolate squad; Jordan-Elizabeth Long’s sinuous solo Coffee (though she rushed it a bit); Ito’s mind-blowing tea antics and Alexander Peters’ hoola-hoop stunts among the Candy Canes.

But the biggest treats among the candies were the dewdrop of Nathalia Arja and Jennifer Lauren and Renan Cerdeiro as the Sugarplum fairy and her rider.

Arja’s figure is slender but pure, her technique dazzling and her presence irresistibly warm – she just looks happy to be there. Its turns have finely tuned rhythm and precision, and its tip balance is a marvel.

Albertson and Loch pair up elegantly, with seamless lifts, delicate rotations and a wonderful sleight of hand where it looks like he’s pulling her, while she’s on pointe, over a small expanse of ice. Their aerial work, whipped, and turn to the second were also adorable.

Under the direction of MCB Music Director Gary Sheldon, the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s classical score sounded grand, with a magnificent violin solo extended by solo violin Oleg Rylatko.

It has been over a decade since MCB was at the Kennedy Center. I hope we don’t have to wait that long to see this endearing company again. What a festive and exhilarating start to a holiday!

**

Duration: two hours, including 20 minutes intermission. Tickets are available here.

Teresa Wood photo: Nathalia Arja in dewdrop


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