Call it a cash cow or an altruistic effort to bring classical dance to the people of America, The Nutcracker is a long-running box office success that just might be the best ever introduction to ballet.
With music by Tchaikovsky and choreography based loosely – sometimes very loosely – on Lev Ivanov’s 1892 original, The Nutcracker presents a veritable variety show that appeals even to constituencies that are normally resistant to ballet. For young boys there’s the battle between the toy soldiers and the mice (Swords! Cannons!); for heterosexual males there’s the Arabian variation (as Balanchine said, “something for the daddies,”).
Once Nutcracker brings an audience into the theater, it skillfully draws them from familiar social dances and domestic scenarios into an introduction to ballet blanc (the snow scene), a series of colorful divertissements, and a climactic grand pas de deux that speaks to one generation succeeding another and to the meritocracy represented by the best ballet companies.
We looked for opportunities to see The Nutcracker in and around Cleveland and spoke to some artistic directors for insights into the unique spins they put on this seasonal entertainment.
The City Ballet of Cleveland dance company has built the first act of its Uniquely Cleveland Nutcracker around historic Cleveland philanthropists of the early 1900s. We see the families of Samuel and Salmon Halle of department store fame celebrating Christmas with other names from Cleveland’s past, the Gund, Mather and Severance families. Instead of the mysterious and magical Godfather Drosselmeyer, Uniquely Cleveland Nutcracker has Charles F. Brush, inventor of the arc light. And instead of the traditional battle scene, we see a reenactment of the eventful 1920 World Series in which Cleveland defeated the Brooklyn Robins: Go Cleveland!
“The first act of Nutcracker can drag,” says City Ballet’s artistic and executive director Courtney Laves-Mearini, “so we’ve kept it short with references to Cleveland history that our audience will be able to catch with the help of a brief program note.”
Next up, we hadn’t heard of Cleveland Inner City Ballet until just recently, but they’ve been around since 1998. As founding artistic director Chandra Ford-White tells it, “My husband and I had just purchased a home in the Hough community and when then Councilwoman Fannie Lewis found out I was a dancer living in her ward, she said, ‘Why don’t you come and teach some classes to our inner city children here at Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center?’ Ever since then we’ve just grown and gone on to teach in many other underserved communities in Cleveland.”
CICB’s Nutcracker brings together their students from all over Cleveland, this year about 22 dancers aged 2 to 15 years. Their imaginary trip around the world includes a stop in Africa as well as Spain, Russia and China. The traditional Tchaikovsky score includes some sections played live by Karin Tooley, our favorite ballet accompanist (back in the days when we were taking classes). Ford-White has fond childhood memories of performing in Dennis Nahat’s Cleveland Ballet Nutcracker so she’s included puppets and scurrying mice built on remote controlled race cars.
Then Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker stops for two nights at Cleveland Music Hall during their tour of 80 cities in North America. As in previous years, the adult professional dancers will share the stage with local student dancers ages 7 to 16 years.
Not to take anything away from the efforts of local dancers, but reviews of Great Russian Nutcracker over the years are decidedly mixed. The New York Times review of last year’s tour describes Moscow Ballet as a pickup company of Russian dancers not on the same level as the Bolshoi, Mariinsky or Mikhailovsky Ballet; though the dancers are talented and well-trained, says the Times, the choreography and storytelling are unmusical, tasteless and mediocre. Yelp gives this production a rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars. Search “Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker review” and see the decidedly mixed reviews for yourself. Or — maybe ‘talented and well trained’ will be enough to give pleasure.
In and around Northeast Ohio we found a number of other Nutcrackers. Ballet Theater of Ohio performs at the Akron Civic Theatre. Ohio Dance Theatre performs at Stocker Arts Center in Elyria.
And Neos Dance Theatre performs their 1940s Nutcracker (pictured above) at the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield. The Renaissance Theatre lobby will feature actors and nostalgic memorabilia from the Mansfield Museum stationed throughout with “1940s Reflections,” which will include a vintage car, a flashbulb “selfie station,” and more. Blending classical ballet with contemporary dance and putting a new spin on a holiday classic, Neos promises a 1940s Nutcracker featuring Mansfield locations such as the Women’s Club, Kingwood Center, Malabar Farm, and more, while maintaining the integrity of the original plot line and Tchaikovsky score.
City Ballet of Cleveland Dance Company’s Uniquely Cleveland Nutcracker will be performed at the Eastern Campus of Cuyahoga Community College at Sat 12/5 @7pm & Sun 12/6 @ 2PM. Cash only for tickets at the door: $30 adults, $15 children and seniors. Learn more about City Ballet of Cleveland HERE.
Cleveland Inner City Ballet’s Nutcracker will be performed at Liberty Hill Baptist Church, 8206 Euclid Ave. Sat 12/12 @ 6pm. Tickets are $15; children under 12 FREE. Learn more at clevelandinnercityballet.org or phone 216-903-6604.
Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker is at Cleveland Music Hall Mon 12/14 & Tue 12/15 @ 7pm. Tickets are $30-$102 Go to www.nutcracker.com or call ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.
Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s Nutcracker is at Akron Civic Theatre Sat 12/5 @ 2 & 7pm and Sun 12/6 @ 2pm. Tickets are $34- $46 at akroncivic.com/ or phone 330-253-2488. Learn more at ballettheatreohio.org.
Ohio Dance Theatre’s Nutcracker is at Stocker Arts Center Fri 12/18 & Sat 12/19 @7:30pm and Sun 12/20 @ 2pm. Tickets are $31-$39. Learn more at ohiodancetheatre.org.
Neos Dance Theatre’s 1940s Nutcracker is at the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield at Sat 12/12 @ 2:30pm & 8pm. Tickets are $19-$30. Learn more about Neos at neosdancetheatre.org/.[Written by Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas]