The holidays often require you to squelch your inner Scrooge.
Take, for instance, the times you have to resist asking your favorite aunt for a gift receipt after she gives you poinsettia-embroidered towels or a sweater bearing pictures of frolicking snowmen.
You know the season will be brighter if you just accept such things for what they are.
And so it is with The Nutcracker. The ballet is a timeless classic, of course, but mostly for the enchanting music and the way the show brings families together for what is likely the only time Mom can get the kids to experience ballet.
Incidentally, The Nutcracker is oft performed because it usually brings in enough money to allow ballet companies to put out more thoughtful work the rest of the year — kind of like what Denzel Washington does when he stars in a summer blockbuster.
The Cincinnati Ballet’s version, which opened at the Detroit Opera House and runs through the upcoming weekend, holds a bit more aesthetic appeal than your auntie’s gifts, but is definitely geared toward families and youngsters.
Viewers should expect to hear a few children squeal and see a few little ones squirm during the show. And don’t expect the ushers to turn them out. The show is, after all, more about sugarplum appeal than ballet bravado.
The Nutcracker, however, isn’t void of fun for adults.
Tchaikovsky’s brilliant score, for one thing, is infectious. And those whose only Nutcracker holiday tradition involves TV commercials that play the timeless classic would do their inner Christmas spirit some good to hear the Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra perform the piece.
The Nutcracker tells the story of Marie (called Clara in other productions). Her magical, toy-making uncle presents her with a nutcracker doll during a big holiday party at her parents’ house. She loves it. After the party, Marie dreams that she and the doll have enchanted adventures, including a battle with, yes, life-sized mice in the first act, and dances with flowers and a multicultural array of dolls in the second act.
On opening night, the Cincinnati Ballet showed grace and skill, even though the choreography afforded few opportunities to showcase individual talent. Through most of the first act, particularly the party scenes, the stage was crowded with dancers, including a few dozen local children who joined the pros. Sometimes the stage looked busy and clunky, and the main action was hard to follow.
Yet, like in real life, when the kids go to bed the real fun begins.
The vision of a dozen dancing snowflakes that closes the first act was gorgeous enough to make the dance mesmerizing. But it was really only in the second act that the dancers got to show their stuff.
Principal dancers Kristi Capps as Marie and Dmitri Trubchanov as the Nutcracker made the grand pas de deux stunning. The pair had real chemistry and glided through the performance.
In other scenes, the set, costumes and comedy held the audience’s attention more than the movements of the dancers.
This was not the most elegantly visual Nutcracker. The costumes and sets were well done, yet somewhat cartoon-ish. At one point fluffy white snowflakes trickled down on dancers in ice-blue, shimmery costumes. Later in the show, guards wearing bright red, Beefeater-style hats carried candy-cane staffs and displayed pompoms on their elfin-pointed shoes. Never mind that they guarded a castle with candy-cane columns and waist-high cupcakes.
The show was entertaining, nonetheless. The Nutcracker’s run-in with the large mice got a lot of laughs. (I could have sworn Anthony Krutzkamp as the King of the Mice did the running man for a second before falling to his death.) And Mother Ginger — a cross-dressing figure with a giant hoop skirt that opens to reveal a bunch of Oompa-Loompa-like dancers — was also good for a chuckle.
The laughs, the kids, the fairies, the dancing, the lights and music that keeps you humming all the way home makes this presentation of The Nutcracker every bit as gleeful and dreamy as the holiday tradition should be. It’s far more satisfying than green-and-red tea towels.
The Nutcracker at the Detroit Opera House runs Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets range from $23 to $65 and may be purchased at the Detroit Opera House box office or through TicketMaster. Call 313-237-SING or 248-645-6666. Discounts are available for groups and seniors and students can purchase tickets for half price an hour before curtain, subject to availability.Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey is a freelance writer. E-mail [email protected]