'The Nutcracker' sparkles in revised, refreshed production by Joffrey Ballet with Cleveland Orchestra

11.28.14
Tito Munoz, Joffrey Ballet
The Plain Dealer

By Zachary Lewis 

Little Clara isn't the only one certain to go home happy from the Joffrey Ballet's revised production of "The Nutcracker" with the Cleveland Orchestra.

No, all who witness the show now being staged in the State Theatre at Playhouse Square are bound to share in the central character's delight, especially in the revised, refreshed presentation conducted by on conducted by Tito Munoz.

Tightened by eight minutes through cuts to certain repeats and additions, the classic holiday fantasy penned by Tchaikovsky moves along at a noticeably swifter pace. Beyond that, new costumes and lighting make for a spectacle more vivid than ever.

Where, exactly, the trims were made is tough to discern. So seamless are the revisions, all this viewer noticed in Wednesday's opening-night performance was how swiftly the first act progressed and how Act II never slowed. This account of the tale also seemed more innocent, less concerned with romance.

Spruced-up visuals also enhanced the experience. Worry not. Nothing fundamental to the production, set in Victorian America, has changed. The Christmas tree still climbs to the ceiling, an army of toy soldiers still battles the mice, and Clara still floats away from the Kingdom of Sweets in a balloon.

Rather, updated lights and remade costumes result in a display that stuns throughout, not just at such pivotal moments as the snow scene, rendered magical here not only by an impeccable cast of snowflakes and snow winds but also by the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus. Almost everything, in fact, looks crisper, sharper.

Still, every "Nutcracker" hinges on its dancers, and those here are in pristine form. The ballet equivalent of the Cleveland Orchestra, to whom it dovetails perfectly, the Joffrey troupe shines from top to bottom.

Pick any of the lead characters: April Daly's Sugar Plum Fairy, snow principals Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez, or Nutcracker Prince Miguel Angel Blanco. Or choose one of the myriad flowers, dolls, and sweets who enliven the production. No matter. Each can rightly be described as dynamic, athletic, and keenly attuned to his dramatic duties.

Daly and Blanco, for instance, deserve credit for a grand pas de deux boasting rare gravitas in addition to showmanship. The flowers, meanwhile, arrange themselves in one of the more ethereal "Victorian Bouquet" scenes this viewer has ever seen.

Even the children look better than ever. Seemingly selected with special care, this particular batch of local youngsters clearly knows how to dance and how to comport itself on stage with refinement.

The presence of the Cleveland Orchestra is the icing on the cake. Nothing, frankly, compares to ballet with live music, let alone ballet with a lush, alert orchestra equal to the music and led by a conductor sensitive to the needs of both dancers and musicians.

The "Coffee" sequence from Act II is a highlight in this regard. Not only do dancers Jaiani and Gutierrez portray their characters with seductive eloquence but the orchestra under Munoz also offers soft, expressive support, of the kind no recording can match. Thus does the scene pack fully twice its usual allure.

In one respect, it's absurd that Clara, in the ballet, sees her every dream fulfilled, all in the span of two hours. In another, it's not far-fetched at all. After all, this "Nutcracker" accomplishes the very same thing, again and again.