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Entertainment & Arts

Review: In a season full of ‘Nutcracker,’ the brilliance of Balanchine shines through

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Miami City Ballet soloist Jordan-Elizabeth Long in the world premiere of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
(Alexander Iziliaev )

As an expensive Music Center import, the new Miami City Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” is both unnecessary and indispensable.

Unnecessary? Sure. As seen at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday — opening night of a six-performance run — this “Nutcracker” turned out to be a Cuban-tinged staging far less distinctive than many others in Southern California. After our short-lived Hollywood-style “Nutcracker” or long-running early California version, for example, who needs the conservative and often dowdy Miami sets and costumes designed, respectively, by Ruben and Isabel Toledo?

What’s more, the high quality of the dancing on Thursday could well be matched on many local stages during the 2017 “Nutcracker” season. But this Music Center co-commission does boast impressive scale: 45 adults and 60 children plus an orchestra and chorus. And by bringing the George Balanchine “Nutcracker” back to Los Angeles, the Music Center and Miami and made the venture absolutely indispensable despite its flaws.

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The Miami City Ballet production has sets by Ruben Toledo and costumes by Isabel Toledo.
(Alexander Iziliaev )
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The Miami City Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" somehow manages to be both invaluable and unneeded.
(Alexander Iziliaev )

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Choreographed for New York City Ballet in 1954, Balanchine’s “Nutcracker” wasn’t the first American version, but its success and influence arguably made the ballet inescapable in the U.S. But beyond popularity, it’s generally considered the best anywhere, for the great ballet ensembles of Europe — in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris — all dance inferior or just plain dreadful choreographies.

Angelenos with long memories can recall when the New York ballet presented the show outdoors at the Greek Theatre in the summer, and it was clear from the success of those performances that this was no mere Christmas ornament but a major work in the 19th century classical tradition worth seeing anytime, anyplace. It’s high time to see it again, for none of the mom and pop companies that keep ballet a living art form in Southern California — or the dance-makers who consider themselves the inheritors of the Balanchine mantle — can give us anything equal to its authenticity and authority.

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Miami has been dancing it for 28 years and delivered its storytelling scenes ably on Thursday, but “The Nutcracker” grew most satisfying in the great neoclassic passages: the intricate Snowflake ensemble and the masterly interplay of soloist and corps in the Waltz of the Flowers; the complex partnering-on-the-run of the grand pas de deux; the wit and charm of the last-act divertissements. Yes, it mattered that the company staged those brilliant Act 2 showpieces against the backdrop of a giant pretzel that looked like prison bars. But in an imperfect world, an imperfect Balanchine “Nutcracker” is still cause for celebration, and the involvement of many different institutions — among them the Colburn School and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus — added luster to the performance.

Miami will rotate its leading dancers, and the Thursday cast sustained the level of spirit and technical finesse we expect from millennial American dancers. Strongly partnered by Renan Cerdeiro, Jennifer Lauren danced the grand pas with a wondrous ease and serenity compared to her rather cautious performance of the Sugar Plum solo. As Dewdrop in the Waltz of the Flowers, Nathalia Arja made every entrance and exit an exciting exclamation point. But for all her diligence Jordan-Elizabeth Long couldn’t bring the dated exotic/erotic Arabian dance to life.

Male prowess flourished with Shimon Ito’s Chinese dance and Kleber Rebello’s lead Candy Cane — both performances displaying perfectly placed multiple jumps. Among the well-drilled and spirited children (dominant in Act 1, ornamental in the last act), the sweet Marie of Renata Adarvez and elegant Little Prince of Erick Rojas deserved their prominence. Reyneris Reyes mimed effectively as Drosselmeier.

The lighting by James F. Ingalls often stayed dim — perhaps to allow the elaborate and sometimes finicky projections by Wendall K. Harrington to make their ideal effect. In the Snow Scene, for instance, the dancers enjoyed plenty of light but the forest backdrop remained scarcely visible. Just before that sequence came perhaps the most beautiful and essential stage-effect of the evening: nothing but falling snow and gleaming stars. It lasted for a moment or two but made the ensuing scenic extravagance seem one more unnecessary choice.

The beloved if overfamiliar Tchaikovsky score sometimes found conductor Gary Sheldon enforcing orchestral cohesion with slow tempos and a lack of forward momentum, but he served the dancers ably.

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The lavish scale of the production includes 45 adults, 60 children and a live orchestra and chorus.
(Alexander Iziliaev )

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘The Nutcracker’

Where: Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

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When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, noon and 4 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $34 and up

Info: (213) 972-0711, www.musiccenter.org

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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