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Meet the Cuban-American design team that gave Miami City Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ a new look

Designer Isabel Toledo and her husband, artist/designer Ruben redesigned 200 costumes and all the sets of Miami City Ballet's production of George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker.'
Designer Isabel Toledo and her husband, artist/designer Ruben redesigned 200 costumes and all the sets of Miami City Ballet's production of George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker.'

Miami City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is getting a face lift. Design dynamic duo Isabel and Ruben Toledo have been tapped to take George Balanchine’s classic holiday tale to new heights.

Isabel Toledo is renowned for being the designer behind former First Lady Michelle Obama’s outfit for the Presidential Inauguration in 2009. The golden ensemble was fit for Obama’s style, but for a Sugar Plum Fairy and cute little mice, Isabel and her husband, Ruben, injected whimsical touches and vivid tapestries in their design.

Expect to be blown away.

Dance of the Flowers

The couple, who has been married for 33 years, designed the 200 costumes and multiple sets together, as they do with all their collaborations. The goal was to ensure that Miami’s global culture was front and center when the ballet hits the stage on Dec. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

Ruben Toledo takes photos of a Miami City Ballet dancer posing in the costumes designed by his wife, fashion designer Isabel Toledo.

To breathe new life into the production, the pair started their research with the Balanchine Foundation in New York. “It’s such a perfect, beautiful art piece,” says Ruben.

XYZ plays the XYZ

“We really did dissect it into its core. We studied the work of [Barbara] Karinska, who was the costume designer of the original production. She was a legend,” says Isabel. 

“I took off from the period it was done, the Industrial Revolution, and built on that because that affected my industry a lot,” Isabel continues. That means fabrics – big, luxurious fabrics – accessories and beading. The project was a “fashion dream,” says Isabel. She incorporated jacquard to the designs as well as coloration that was prevalent at the time. 

Pas de deux with these two guys

Part of the challenge of using fine fabrics and beading to create the costumes was ensuring they weren’t too heavy. “Everything was so light. [Isabel] had a weight in the work room while we were working and everything was weighed like potatoes and onions,” jokes Ruben.  

Lourdes does this to the costume of xyz.

The couple also wanted to redesign to speak to the essence of Miami, their second home outside New York City.

“We’ve been coming here since we were kids, so we know Miami through all its different phases, from the ’70s Miami, the ’80s Miami, to now what it has become – such an international city,” Ruben says.

Isabel agrees.

“It’s like almost having watched your own child grow up and it turns into a whole other adult now, you know?” she says. “There are so many different kinds of people here, which is wonderful to then see ‘The Nutcracker’ being revived, because it is about travel.”

Miami City Ballet Director, Lourdes Lopez, thinks the team has the perfect blend of artistic sensibilities and understanding of Miami’s cultural audiences. “What an honor to work with Isabel and Ruben Toledo,” she says. “They will create a new production that uniquely belongs to Miami City Ballet and will become the highlight of the holiday season in Florida.”


What: Miami City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Dec. 19-23, 2 p.m. Dec. 22-23, noon Dec. 24;

Where: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (also showing Dec. 28-30 at the Kravis Center)

Cost: $30-$150