Saturday, December 21, 2013

Milwaukee Ballet's "The Nutcracker": More than a cherished Holiday staple

Mayara Pineiro and Davit Hovhannisyan, exquisite in the Sugar Plum pas de deux. Petr Zahradnicek photo for the Milwaukee Ballet.
Year after year, I've noted the charm, warmth and ingenious storytelling in Michael Pink's version of The Nutcracker for the Milwaukee Ballet.

Thursday evening, I caught the current edition and again marveled at Pink's smart plotting and his way of embedding plot and character development in the dancing. Just to recap from previous Decembers:

The principal genius of Pink's production lies in the relationships of the two leading couples: siblings Clara and Fritz and older sister Marie and her suitor, Karl. Clara and Fritz, quarreling cats and dogs at the outset, grow through the adventures they share into a profound friendship and respect. Marie and Karl grow from awkward, probing teens to enraptured lovers to adults ready to take their place in the world as a married couple. Drosslemeyer, the magician and something of a godfather to all of them, guides them along -- Timothy O'Donnell brought an infectious gleefulness to the part Thursday.

Luz San Miguel and Marc Petrocci reprised their familiar roles of Clara and Fritz. Pink gives them plenty of room for comic business, and San Miguel and Petrocci made the most of it.

San Miguel, a senior member of the company, is entirely believable in her youthful freshness. She moved with an easy girlish spring and was so alert to opportunity as an actress. Soon after Karl -- Drosselmeyer's assistant -- entered, San Miguel shrewdly observed the restrained but no less eager affection that passed between Mayara Pineiro as her older sister and Davit Hovhannisyan as the suitor. You could read Clara's thought's in San Miguel's face: "Hmmm, so that's what this love thing is. Will I have that some day?"

Hovhannisyan has grown so much as an artist in the last few years. He relives that growth in miniature in The Nutcracker, from eager young ingenue to danseur noble over the course of an evening.

Pink aims the entire piece at the Sugar Plum pas de deux, the only bit of traditional Petipa/Ivanov left in this production. Instead of assigning this climactic number to a Sugar Plum fairy and escort who arrive out of nowhere, Pink makes it the moment in which Marie and Karl stand up as adults. The formality of it serves this idea well. Sugar Plum here represents a new level of maturity from the delirious swirling expression of young love (complete with eye-popping one-hand overhead lift) that Pink gives them after the first battle with the Rat King.

Hovhannisyan and Pineiro delivered a world-class Sugar Plum Thursday. They're perfectly matched in size and they danced through phrases and finished them elegantly. They worked together to form pleasing stage pictures at cadences. The palpable courtesy and respect between them was a great pleasure of this dance. Hovhannisyan supported Pineiro in princely fashion, but I doubt she needed all that much support.

Pineiro, who is blessed with a placid beauty of countenance to go with her great skill and musicality, was a joy to watch. Beautiful placement, securely centered balance, a lovely line, pliant musicality -- she has it all.

That's another thing The Nutcracker does for the Milwaukee Ballet: With all the performances, a cast rotation and the sheer volume of dancing in it, The Nutcracker gives almost everyone a chance in the spotlight. With its emphasis on dance drama and contemporary work, Milwaukee Ballet dancers don't get all that much chance to shine in mainline Classical rep. The Nutcracker gave Pineiro that chance, and shine she did.

Annia Hidalgo, a vibrant Snow Queen Thursday, alternates with Pineiro as Marie for the rest of the run. Hidalgo will dance opposite Alexandre Ferreira. Courtney Kramer and Nicole Teague take turns as Clara opposite Barry Molina's Fritz.

For tickets, visit the Milwaukee Ballet website or call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206.

Remaining Performances, all at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall:

Thursday, December 26, 20131:30 pm
Thursday, December 26, 20137:30 pm
Friday, December 27, 20131:30 pm
Friday, December 27, 20137:30 pm