Cincinnati Enquirer: 'The Nutcracker' still delights

'The Nutcracker' still delights

By David Lyman • Enquirer contributor • December 12, 2010

THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER

Schools were closed, rush hour was ghastly, the temperature still didn't creep above freezing.

Thursday was a perfect evening for "The Nutcracker."

For the umpteenth year - 37, in case you're counting - the Cincinnati Ballet opened its production of the classic holiday ballet. (All 37 have been sponsored by Frisch's Restaurants, incidentally, a remarkable record of corporate philanthropy.) And for the umpteenth time, the theater was filled with kids - and more than a few adults - ready to be dazzled by all the wonderment that is "The Nutcracker": flying sleighs, a dancing dragon, ballerinas swirling through falling snow, human-sized toy soldiers battling giant mice and, of course, a Christmas tree that magically grows ... well, it grows so tall we can't see where it ends.

After a few viewings, it's easy to get a little cynical about all this stuff. It's such a sweet - some might say "treacly" - tale. And the music is soooooo familiar. But somehow, the cynicism always withers at the first sound of giggling kids when the "dead" Mouse King falls through his stretcher. Or when the wave of a wizard's arm turns tiny dolls into life-sized dancers. Or when eight ever-so-teeny dancers with huge bellies and noses emerge from under the voluminous skirts of Mother Ginger.

It's silly. And frivolous. And really quite lovely. The stuff of fairy tales.

Despite what you might think, things do change from year to year in "The Nutcracker." And those things often have a profound impact on the production.

The depth of talent in the Cincinnati Ballet has grown enormously in recent seasons. There is a consistency that earlier iterations of the company couldn't achieve. You always knew the leading couple would be great. But beyond that was anyone's guess. Not any more.

For the record, Janessa Touchet, as Marie - the little girl at the center of the story - and Cervilio Miguel Amador as her heroic Nutcracker prince were everything a fairy tale couple ought to be: spirited, alluring and so exuberant that you can't bear to take your eyes off them.

But there is loads of other dancing well worth watching. In the Arabian dance, Maizyalet Velázquez bypasses the tawdry sensuality that usually defines the role in favor of a sultry elegance. It's classy and sophisticated and much more respectful to the culture it portrays. This year, the three-man Russian dance - always a crowd-pleaser - assumed a more percussive and virile feeling as performed by Selahattin Erkan, James Cunningham and Thomas Caleb Roberts.

Thanks to a new sound technician, even the booms of onstage explosions take on a more full-bodied sound.

An equally big part of this enriched "Nutcracker" is the orchestra. Thanks to the Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund, Maestro Carmon DeLeone is working with a 40-piece ensemble from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Not only does the group have six more musicians than the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra, but it has the enviable sound of an ensemble that plays together 52 weeks a year. Under DeLeone, this orchestra has a robustness to it, a sound that is vigorous and lustrous - like an ensemble with an identity rather than a group of talented freelancers who play together every few months.

So say what you will about "The Nutcracker." For those of us who hold a place in our hearts for Santa and the Easter Bunny and Tinker Bell and all the rest of those childhood treasures, "The Nutcracker" is an old friend whose return we welcome every December.

"The Nutcracker," through Dec. 26, Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Downtown; 513-621-5282; www.cballet.org.

davidlyman@gmail.com.