Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sarasota Ballet offers a beautiful, original "Nutcracker."

   Going to see an unfamiliar version of "The Nutcracker" is  a bit of crap shoot. There are many more bad stagings of the classic ballet than good ones, and attempts to "reimagine" it fail much more often than they succeed.
   That makes the experience of the Sarasota Ballet's "John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker" all the more rewarding. Its ideas are interesting and its execution is gorgeous.
   This is the second year for this "Nutcracker," which so far has not been performed anywhere else in the world. There are two more performances today (Saturday, Dec. 21).
   The story has been moved to New York City in the 1930s, where art deco architecture and Depression-era fashion offer a different visual palette than we're used to to seeing in "The Nutcracker." The characters John Ringling and his family, shortly after the death of Mable Ringling.
A scene from ""The Nutcracker"

   The translation works, and the story fits the familiar E.T.A. Hoffman outline without much a stretch.
   The choreography by Matthew Hart is tasteful and clever -- he incorporates ballroom dance styles of the era and Michael Jackson-esque pseudo-gangster reference into the ballet -- and the sets and costumes by Peter Doherty are lovely.
   Performances from the entire cast, from principals all the way through to the very young students dancers, are confident and meticulous. And the Sarasota Orchestra plays Tchaikovsky's music -- perhaps the most familiar classical music of all time -- beautifully.
   Given all that's great about this staging, it feels odd to say that its curtain is a major flaw. But before both act one and act two, the audience has to look at a curtain dominated  garish, amateurish and just plain ugly image of the Nutcracker's face It serves an interesting function in the opening of each act, and it's easy to see why someone thought it would work, but since the audience has to look at something so creepy for 20 to 30 minutes, it's a significant scar on a production that's otherwise pristine.
   Once the curtain has been raised, though, this "Nutcracker" is a marvelous thing to see and hear.
   Remaining shows are at 2  and 8 p.m. today, at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $15-$100. call 941-359-0099 ext. 101 or go to

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