The night of Dec. 19 marked the first Thursday of Milwaukee Ballet's run of "The Nutcracker" from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the Marcus Center. The ballet company makes an annual tradition of performing the classic set to Tchaikovsky's ingenious score, and this year's production featured the three children as a familial focus under Artistic Director Michael Pink's direction.
In recent interviews with Rachel Malehorn (The Rat King) and Marc Petrocci (Fritz), described the nature of the production as a journey by way of Pink's detailed storytelling and shared some backstage secrets. And while it's clear from the production that Pink has a focus on storytelling, the structure of the production follows a story in the first act followed by pure fun, showmanship, and folly in the second act. The exception here is the continuation of Karl (Davit Hovhannisyan) and Marie's (Mayara Pineiro) love story, which continues into the second act as they perform a beautiful duet and we see Marie's character transform from the oldest child to a mature woman in love. However, there is still continuation from the first to the second act as we see details carried from one to the other, such as a toy or book.
These details resurface from the party scene to the later transformed, shrunken scenes in a way that make mundane objects or background toys a fresh, lively addition to the scene. It's these details in the storytelling along with Pink's focus on the three children that creates a strong focus on family. Petrocci described the production as "A family production geared towards family about a family," and he couldn't have been more correct. He went on to discuss the levels of collaboration in "The Nutcracker" saying,
The beautiful thing about it is it's really a collaboration. It's a community thing- we have the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra joining us playing the score live, all those infectious melodies that come around Christmastime, we have the Milwaukee Children's Choir in the pits singing with them for us, and it really is a family affair and a magical journey.
This collaboration, particularly with the children's choir and dance troupe, increased the wonder and magic in the production. It's most certainly the kind of ballet that both children and adults can enjoy. While children can marvel at the toys come to life and imagine themselves as one of the young angels dancing at the start of the second act, adults can appreciate the technical prowess of the dancers and can also take part in the wonder of the whimsy just as the children do. But besides adding an element of childlike fancy to the already family-oriented production, incorporating children dancers in the partygoers and mice contributes to the illusion of experienced ballet dancing adults as children. Clara (Luz San Miguel) and Fritz (Marc Petrocci) are especially interwoven amongst the Children's Cast, which did well to emphasize their roles as children.
Though San Miguel and Petrocci did an incredible job transforming into children, even while there were no actual children on stage. San Miguel's enthusiastic, exaggerated movements made her the typical little girl who thrives for attention from the older, heroic Karl and takes part in humorous antics with her brother Fritz. Likewise, Petrocci perfectly portrays the rambunctious, mischievous Fritz who can't help but get on his sisters nerves and lead the battle against the mouse army. There are plenty of moments where the focus isn't directed specifically on either of the two dancers, and yet they still maintain the funny, child-like qualities their characters for which their characters call. After Thursday night's performance, Petrocci shared that both he and San Miguel are given some liberty to improvise in moments such as these. He said that while the party scene is pretty choreographed, the second act allows them some opportunities to play a bit on the sidelines as long as they are within reason and the time period. Malehorn (who played the Rat King) similarly said,
There are certain prescribed steps you have to do on the music, but there are also some moments you can just do something silly and act.
Much like the talented San Miguel, Petrocci, and Malehorn, each and every one of the dancers had the opportunity to transform themselves into unusual, animated characters such as a clown or duck or flower. While the dancers impersonated this array of characters with all the animation one might hope for, they also did it with incredible talent and grace. Their skillful dance techniques were ever-present throughout "The Nutcracker" from floppy toys to childlike dancers as they exhibited effortless lifts and incredible lines. From Drosselmeyer's (Timothy O'Donnell) to the Jack-in-the-Box's (Barry Molina) flips and spins to the Spanish couple's (Nicole Teague, Alexandre Ferreira) grace and poise, there was something for everyone's sense of fun. Malehorn said it best when she stated,
I think 'The Nutcracker' truly is just about fun and beauty. I think that it's just purely enjoyable for the audience to be transported into different worlds.. to be taken along with the characters to a somewhat ordinary party scene to the Land of the Snowflakes and then to the Land of the Sweets where all the dolls are dancing around them.. where everything can come to life at any moment. I hope the audience can escape into this magical world right along with us.. to take away a sense of enchantment. Even though I know that's kind of the cliché word I think that that's true!
There is one last chance to see this specific cast perform "The Nutcracker" during the evening performance on Dec. 26. "The Nutcracker" continues now through Dec. 27 at The Marcus Center and tickets can be purchased online or by calling (414)273-7206.