Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
I am usually not a big fan of transposing time and place in a classic work of art, some elements always seems to refuse the transition, and so often these reimaginings are the work of less than first rate talents. Once in a while a production transcends the negatives and offers something worthy of the original, and Hart's vision is mostly this exception. Gloriously art deco, and oh, how I love the style. Sets and especially the costumes by Peter Docherty are on a level worthy of any world-class company. The plot points and character relationships in act one remain close enough to the Hoffman version, while the updates work well to bring the experiences of today's young children onto the stage, dusting some cobwebs away.
The second act in both versions is a divertissement, a mostly plotless string of dances. Hart's imagination, transferring the world travel versions of Hoffman to circus imagery, works especially well. Here, Chinese teapots become an equestrian act with zebras, the Asian variation becomes an art deco elephant and Asian big cats. Also featured are acrobats and tightrope artists. The most famous musical moment, "Waltz of the Flowers," is made fresh with new choreography and maroon and soft green costumes. Hart's work is capable of multiple viewings; this was my second outing and I found the storytelling easier to follow and the dancing to reveal new beauties. Still, I hope that anyone trying to encompass the magic that is The Nutcracker will also see a traditional production.
Corps work is not the strongest suit of this fine company; character work is. Ryoko Sadoshima was a lovely Clara, her dancing quite lovely, partnered variously by Filippo Valmorbida as John Ringling North, Richard House as John Ringing, and Ricardo Graziano as Prince in the second act. The artfulness of her dance was a trade off. Many companies cast the role with a 15- or 16-year-old girl who brings more youth to the role, but I accepted the compromise. All of the men above are fine dancers. Graziano is Sarasota Ballet's lead romantic male, and his dancing showed why. The chemistry between House and Valmorbida as uncle and nephew was tangible. Amy Wood, in her final dancing appearances with the company after 13 seasons, was a delicate Mabel Ringling, forever the true love of John. Ivan Duarte threatened to steal the entire first act as Clara's bratty brother Fritz. Danielle Brown and Luke Schaufuss made a lovely couple as Clara's parents, Captain and Mrs. Stahlbaum, and doubling as the Snow King and Queen. Victoria Hulland and Ricki Bertoni led the clown brigade and Ivan Spitale was the uppity Hotel Manager. Kate Honea was a lovely Sugar, Sugar Plum Fairy in the original opposite Graziano's Prince. They were more prominently featured in act two. There were many other wonderful character assumptions, all listed below.
The Sarasota Orchestra was in the pit under Maestro Stilian Kirov. The music for the first act never seems to have a great deal of shapeit's the second act music that forms the core of "Nutcracker Suites." Tempos for much of this well loved music seemed sluggish, resulting in imprecise playing from the musicians and plodding dancing where energy needed to prevail. The Arabian dance fell very flat the night I attended, the elephant hardly drawing any oohs and ahs from a packed house. Hopefully, this improved in later performances.
John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker performances are now over for this revival, but I recommend trying not to miss it when it returns in a couple of years or so.
Sarasota Ballet presented John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker December 20-21, 2019, at Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For more information visit www.sarasotaballet.org.
Full Cast (Friday and Saturday Evenings) Act I: Clara: Ryoko Sadoshima