Miami City Ballet’s refreshed “Nutcracker” made for great theater, and some terrific visuals with top notch dancing that at times outpaced the orchestra. The Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Arsht Center was mostly full for the Friday night opening, as both families out for a holiday event mixed with regular ballet goers who crowded in for the unveiling of the new costume and set designs by Isabel and Ruben Toledo.
Even before the curtain lifted, Wendall Harrington’s visual storytelling added features of projective art that alternated from quirky to jaw-dropping. Harrington replaced the old production’s static image of the opening snow scene with a vignette of an angel soaring among clouds and snow-covered homes before apparently crash landing in a pile of snow. She also employed enhanced reality during the famous scene when the clock strikes midnight. In the new version the Christmas tree doesn’t just grow taller, it expands so leviathan-large that the entire stage nestles beneath just one of its branches with holly berries the size of basketballs.
Isabel Toledo’s costume designs were exceptional, with an attention to detail that rewarded close seating (or a pair of theater glasses). During the party scene of the first act, the children played leap frog, the families joined in a court dance, Herr Drosselmeier (mimed with nuance by Reyneris Reyes) presented his inventions -- but though the George Balanchine choreographies were the same as the old production, the fabrics of the new costumes moved naturally, imbuing the drawing room scene with flow and energy.
Evident also were a number of visual games Toledo played with material and hues. For instance, the colors of the little girls’ dresses in Act I form the palette of the Land of the Sweets in Act II.
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Also gone is the old production’s stuffy Biedermeier interior. Under Ruben Toledo’s redesign, the Act I set minimizes the number of props. What’s left is a riot of colors from the Owl-topped yellow clock and oversized red velvet couch to wallpaper crowded with sapphire, ruby and emerald medallions that glow and melt during Marie’s dream sequence.
Not all the Toledos’ additions were successful. Act II opens to a backdrop of a large boat rigging, whose braids tangle around two palm trees topped by lime slices. The images were an awkward nod to South Florida whose effect only somewhat improved when the flat lighting that opened the act later took on rich lemon, orange and papaya tones.
Renata Adarvez made an entirely likeable Marie, standing up for herself during the party scene or energizing her troops during the battle with the Mouse King.
Also delightful was Dominick Scherer as her mischievous younger brother, both predictably causing trouble but also endearingly connected to Marie during the opening moments of the ballet, his head resting against her lap.
Another important change was the addition of the Opus I orchestra under Gary Sheldon. In some passages the live music enhanced the dancing, while in others the dancers seemed oblivious to it.
For instance, music and dancing combined impressively with Harrington’s projections during the “Waltz of the Snowflakes.” Here the cascade of paper snow visually augmented by mammoth video snowflakes complemented the dancing of the corps, who were marvelous, entering and exiting in pirouettes with the same timing and then together turning across the floor while kicking forward in emboité.
Also impressive was Shimon Ito as the Toy Soldier, whose energy felt less gymnastic and more musical, precisely coordinating jumps and heel-toe steps with the pulse of the strings. This was true as well in Act II, when Ito returned with Margarita Armas and Brianna Sosa during the dance of Tea. The careful attention to musicality of all three dancers coupled with the bright red pointe shoes of the two women and the fuchsia accents on Ito’s red tunic made this pas de trois a visual delight.
On the other hand, Nathalia Arja as Dew Drop generated gorgeous turns and moments of impressive, whip-like extension, but her sequences were disconnected from the orchestra’s phrasing.
Similarly, Jordan Elizabeth Long during the dance of Coffee sped through the subdued phrases of the oboe and strings and was animated during forward steps where it didn’t make sense to rush.
Jennifer Lauren as the Sugar Plum Fairy had gorgeous footwork during her solo, though some of the effect was lost as she raced through the delicate phrasing of the glockenspiel and piccolo. However, when paired with Renan Cedeiro as her Cavalier, they delivered the most impressive dancing of the evening, timing the harp phrasing wonderfully as they transitioned from arabesque pencheé into a series of lifts. When Lauren assumed arabesque she stuck it without a flutter even when Cedeiro pulled her across the stage en pointe, or when he pocketed her in his arms for the closing fish dive.
If you go
▪ What: Miami City Ballet’s “Nutcracker”
▪ Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House, Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
▪ When: Tuesday through Thursday, 7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 2:00 and 7:00 p.m., Sunday 12:00 p.m.
▪ Info: Tickets $30-$125; www.miamicityballet.org.
“Nutcracker” moves to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Dec. 28-30.