Friday, November 25, 2016

Cincinnati Ballet Performs "The Nutcracker" at the Kennedy Center

Since 2011, I have seen "The Nutcracker" ballet around the time of the holidays. This year I saw the Cincinnati Ballet perform this famous piece at the Kennedy Center the day before Thanksgiving. What a way to start the holiday!

I love seeing how each company puts its own twist on this ballet. Most start the show just outside of the house or already at the party, but this one starts inside the kitchen with the help preparing all the food and drinks, which I thought was a really nice touch! The maids were on pointe trying not to spill the champagne, and the chef was running around with a huge cake just about to topple over. Even a maid and butler were getting a little frisky before all the guests arrived!

The party scene was the usual, with Herr Drosselmeyer coming in and making a scene (although he did several magic tricks in this performance, which was very clever!). The boys were given many different toys, rather than just trumpets (although all the girls got dolls as usual); Herr Drosselmeyer non-nonchalantly gave Clara the nutcracker (I was expecting some sort of flourish!). But speaking of flourishes, the Christmas tree was huge! It always gets bigger in this ballet, but this time it kept growing and growing...I thought it would never stop! And of course I liked the fun dancing at the party, especially when the grandparents who could barely walk suddenly went to bust a move!

The dancing doll did not dance as robotically as I had hoped. Image found here.
The dancing bear was not effective either. Rather than looking like a dancing bear, it looked like a man dancing in a bear suit. Image found here.
Once the party was over, the mice came out to play! The baby mice were cute, but their tails were so long that I kept waiting for them to be stepped on! The mice danced like tough guys, almost like moves from Single Ladies (except not nearly as fabulously). The mouse king was comically effeminate: rather than fighting with a sword, he swatted the nutcracker away with a kerchief. At one point Herr Drosselmeyer came flying in like Peter Pan to get in the fight! And of course there were soldiers to back up the nutcracker, although their costumes made their thighs look huge for whatever reason.
Why were the mice wearing yellow sashes? Image found here.
Image found here.
Image from here. Those thighs made me think of Squidward.
After that, Clara and the nutcracker prince were transported to the snow forest. Children were dressed as "snowballs" and tumbled across the stage doing cartwheels and flips. Then the couple was greeted by the Snow Queen (Maizyalet Velázquez) and Snow King (Patric Palkens), whose costumes were a little less than stellar (rather basic. See below). I noticed in the program that none of the principal dancers were women, which I found very odd; Velázquez is a soloist, so the senior soloists must have been dancing later in the week. I've seen stronger dancing, but I did like how they were throwing snow across the stage and truly adding to the festive theme. I really felt like I was in a snow forest!

Image found here.
The Snowflakes were essentially wearing nightgowns. Image found here.
After the intermission, we were in the Land of Sweets! The Sugar Plum Fairy (Chisako Oga) and her Cotton Candy Cavalier (Cervilio Miguel Amador) were on the same skill level as the Snow Queen and King, and their costumes were just as plain (see below). And why male dancers wear any other colored tights than white is beyond me. White looks the best!

Image found here.
Then it was time for all the dances of the sweets! The Spanish chocolates were up first (I couldn't find a photo), and then the Arabian coffee came out. The Arabian dance is one of my favorites because it's so sensual. This time there were three dancers: James Gilmer was being fought over between Courtney Connor Jones and  Maizyalet Velázquez. I liked the play between these three dancers, and the two women reminded me of the music video for Beautiful Liar (see below). There were some moves with a scarf, but there were so few that it wasn't memorable; I felt bad for the dancers who had to be the "scarf attendants," because they really didn't do much.

Image found here.

Then what would usually be the marzipan dance was instead a dance of "Mirlipoos." I'm not exactly sure where the name comes from, but they were brightly colored poodles (and "Minnie the Poodle" followed Clara around as her buddy throughout the show). While certainly unusual, the poodles were funny, showing mannerisms of dogs like lolling their tongues and jumping around playfully.

Poodles instead of marzipan! Image found here.
Minnie the Poodle. Image found here.
The Chinese tea dance was next, with a main dancer (also Palkens) dancing with a large bow staff accompanied by a Chinese dragon.

Image found here.
Then the Russian candy canes (played by Jake Casey, James Cunningham, and Christopher Lingner) had their turn, which is always a crowd favorite. They were fantastic! So energetic!

Image found here.
Instead of Mother Ginger coming out next with her children, there was a hen with all her chicks! The chicks were cute, but I will admit I missed the hilarious role of a man playing Mother Ginger.

Cute little chicks! Image found here.
Then the Rose (i.e. "Dewdrop," played by Sirui Liu) and the Flowers came on stage. Since this is near the end of the ballet, I will admit that I started to doze off a bit. I didn't love the costumes, especially the garish floral fabrics chosen for the Flowers to wear. But I guess making the bodices green like leaves or a stem is creative...?

Image found here.
I did enjoy this performance, but I was not "wowed" like I have been in the past. Even for writing this blog post, I was looking up videos from other companies, and I saw this one of the Arabian coffee dance from the Moscow Ballet (see below). Now THAT is amazing! I know it's hard to compete with Russian ballet companies, but still: you can always strive to be better!

Here's an article from DCist if you would like to read more.

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