George Balanchine thought of his “Nutcracker” as a gift to America’s children. Indeed, not long after the founder of the New York City Ballet premiered his 1954 spin on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale, the dance title with roots in 19th century Russia became an American holiday classic.
It can be an enticing present, and the return of Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” by Miami City Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion this weekend does offer the traditional treats, even if wrapped in some unfortunate packaging.
Act I’s interstitial projections of scurrying mice, cosmic wallpaper and houses dusted with snow moved like dated PowerPoint slides and brought to mind computer clip art circa Windows 98. The party scene’s iconic Christmas tree, which Balanchine considered the heart of his ballet, hangs like tiers of a sloppily frosted wedding cake. And when Mother Ginger appears, she looks more like a cross between a wide-eyed alien and a sea anemone than a rosy-cheeked mom of many.
But unwrap this production a little more, and gems do spill out. Magic happens when “real” snow (not the computer-generated stuff) descends during Miami City Ballet’s light and crisp “Waltz of the Snowflakes.” Magic happens when the Sugar Plum Fairy miraculously glides on a single toe point. And magic happens when Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score meets euphoric bursts of dancing (even if the Music Center’s live orchestra played it a little cool on Friday).
Ashley Knox in particular shimmers as Dewdrop, the dynamic soloist at the center of “Waltz of the Flowers,” radiating a queenly glow whenever she cuts through the air with her lightning-fast footwork. The Sugar Plum Fairy may rule the Land of Sweets, but Knox flits through her sea of flowers like a regal petal on a breeze.
Principal Tricia Albertson plays a rather prim and proper Sugar Plum but finds her inner queen with Reyneris Reyes in their grand pas de deux, unfolding into back bends and extensions so effortlessly.
This “Nutcracker” was billed as a Cuban-tinged production when it premiered last year, and scrumptious costuming by Isabel Toledo turns numbers like Hot Chocolate and Marzipan Shepherdesses into sumptuous eye candy.
But perhaps the most charming denizens of Sugar Plum’s kingdom are its youngest: the student dancers of the Colburn School and Gabriella Foundation, who give life to the production’s tiny mice, toy soldiers, candy canes and Polichinelles.
To see such young children transform into a delightful assortment of characters and confections may just be the greatest gift of “The Nutcracker” — and on that front, this production delivers.