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Nutcracker in Naples


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In the annals of The Nutcracker, it’s probably a rare feat for a dancer to triumph both as the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier, and also as Drosselmeier. But last weekend, as Miami City Ballet opened its holiday season at the Philharmonic in Naples, Luis Serrano did it twice in two days. Serrano played the old man at the matinees, then turned around to do the cavalier in the evening performances.

If you didn’t read the program it would be next to impossible to know that this was the same guy. As the cavalier he was a spinning, leaping Danseur Noble, a perfect gentleman with his fairy consort. As Drosselmeier, he was a doddering, myopic, cranky old man, single-minded in his mission of introducing an innocent girl to the mysteries of the erotic imagination. This Drosselmeier wears a frozen sneer, and eats most of the nuts he cracks for the children. And he keeps his impassive, matter-of-fact demeanor even as he takes on his demonic role, directing the mice in their assault on Marie.

These days, most performers put at least a little Disney into their Drosselmeier, making him into a kindly eccentric, a cleaned-up cartoon version of creeping old age. Serrano eschews all that, and the minimalism of his approach allows the dark symbolism to emerge in the mice, the Nutcracker and the frankly phallic Christmas tree. MCB’s tree is made of cloth, and unfurls upward like a cobra before lighting up like fireworks. In the shadow of all this, Marie’s anxiety attack is entirely credible.

The role of the cavalier could not be more different, but it’s also susceptible to the dumbed-down approach. Serrano, though, rejects the easy way of turning him into a disposable Ken doll for Princess Barbie. Instead he goes about his work with the same dispassionate intensity he brought to Drosselmeier – here a super-wrangler for the ballerina, who clears the space with javelin jetes and scythe-like turns a la seconde. MCB’s marketing slogan this year is something about being superhuman, which seems over the top, but Serrano lives up to the hype. Watching him in either role, one does not wonder whether we might be able to do the same. It’s clear we couldn’t, or wouldn’t. So he opens the door to existence beyond the mundane – the realm of art.

Mary Carmen Catoya and Jennifer Kronenberg also did double duty, performing as both the Sugar Plum Fairy and Dew Drop. It was a satisfying double-double. Kronenberg defined both roles in the matinees, sure on her feet and strong through the core. Then Catoya came along and added a little more flair – extending higher and diving deeper into each role. Both these ladies exuded the cool radiance that makes the air so rare in Balanchine’s Land of Sweets. So did Katia Carranza, who thrilled with her arrow-like extensions in a low lift by cavalier Serrano.

Other definitive performances came from Haiyan Wu, who opened up the Arabian dance with willowy limbs and precise chimes of the finger-cymbals, and from each of the Delgado sisters, Patricia and Jeannette, with pointes like pins leading the Marzipan shepherdesses.

Newcomer Alex Wong outdid nearly everyone I’ve ever seen in the Chinese dance. His split leaps were impossibly high, wide and quick – I think he even threw in an extra one at the end before scrambling back into his box. Watch this guy.

Tiffany Hedman and Charlene Cohen looked expansive and joyous as the demi-flowers. Cohen’s battements were truly grand, not just over her head, but perfectly shaped through the foot. A kick like this, emerging from layers of wildly colored tropical chiffon, was MCB magic – Christmas in Florida.

Nutcracker season is a chance for everyone to shine, and some of the younger members of the corps sparkled repeatedly. Among them were the mysteriously serene and supple Kristin D’Addario, and the voluptuous apprentice Maira Barriga, not always in sync with her sisters, but justifying the distraction, e.g. with a juicy twist of the torso in the Spanish dance. Last but not least, there’s Zoe Zien, who has come into her own in her second year in the corps. Zien is small, but seems to expand as she articulates every joint of every limb to set off her movements, flashing her fingers like fine jewelry. She put the icing on the snow.

What’s not to like? Very little, except for the near-total absence of boys in the children’s parts. There were plenty of Fritzes in the audience. So come on parents, how about letting them raise a little hell on stage?

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Thank you so much for the dual report, flipsy! It sounds like a combined all-star MCB cast between the two performances, with a great deal to compare and contrast. It was also great to hear about one of the child performers at NYCB becoming a professional dancer, and I look forward to hearing more about Zoe Zien over the course of the season. It's also great to hear about performances in which the drama was as satisfying as the dancing.

(BTW, I envy whatever weather is in Florida right now. It's snowing in Seattle and 85% of the people here have no clue how to drive in snow...)

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