Tom Strini

A visual preview and a defense of the Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker

By - Dec 9th, 2009 12:05 pm
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When The Nutcracker rolls around in December, dance critics are supposed to roll their eyes and sigh. It’s so trivial. It’s so same-old. It’s so NOT cutting-edge ballet. Sarah Kaufmann, for example, went all Grinchy on “Nutcracker” in the Washington Post on Nov. 22, on the puzzling grounds that it somehow stifles creative, dangerous avant-gardism in ballet.

It’s Christmas for crying out loud. Do we really need, say, Pina Bausch gloom, doom and decaying flesh or the stark, brainy and sometimes brutal work of William Forsythe under our mistletoe? (Understand that I’m a fan of the late Ms Bausch and the sophisticated Mr. Forsythe. I wish the Milwaukee Ballet would take on some of their dances. But not between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25.)

If the Milwaukee Ballet staged a dull, cynical Nutcracker aimed at cash-register ka-ching and nothing more, maybe I’d be cynical about The Nutcracker. But it doesn’t, and I’m not.

Michael Pink’s version is brilliant in its good humor, brisk pace and clear and logical story-telling. It is also gloriously and abundantly dancey. The sets are old, but immaculately maintained and still beautiful, charming and impressive. Seeing it once a year is not a trial but a joy. For me, The Nutcracker is an indispensible perennial of the season.

I think it’s good for the company, too. Cast rotations during a long run allow almost every dancer to step into a featured role. Dancers who spend most of the rest of the year being the Third Girl from the Left get into the spotlight, and that’s healthy. I have never seen Pink’s dancers bring anything less than their A-game to The Nutcracker.

What’s not to like, here? A very merry Nutcracker to all!

The Nutcracker opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, and runs through Dec. 27. Call the ballet’s ticket line, 414 902-2103 (recommended) or visit the MBC website, where the “buy tickets” link sends you to Ticketmaster. A complete performance schedule is also at the MBC site.

Photo Gallery: The 2008 Milwaukee Ballet Nutcracker. All images by Rick Brodzeller, special courtesy from The Milwaukee Ballet. Click on thumbnail for full view of individual images.

video from rehearsal for the 2009 version of Michael Pink’s Nutcracker with the Milwaukee Ballet:

…for other videos from rehearsal and Milwaukee Ballet events, follow this link.

0 thoughts on “A visual preview and a defense of the Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Brian Jacobson, thanks for putting together the GREAT visual package.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Tom, you bring up some great points in defense of annual Nutcrackers. While yearly Messiahs may be more appreciated on a bi- or tri-ennial basis, Nutcrackers and Christmas Carols, if properly maintained, cast, and performed (as those in MKE are year after year) have multiple elements from all the arts and–as you point out–give younger performers much-welcomed experience from year to year. Anything that lifts us–even if repeated–I say, “Bring it on!” Long may the Sugar Plum Fairy dance at her annual outing!

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