ORLANDO – For a few magical moments, it happened: after darkness had set in, the snow started falling in downtown Orlando.
It was an enchanting moment, briefly capturing a scene that nobody in this city excepts to ever witness during December, when 80 degree temperatures are common. But as the dancers from the Orlando Ballet came onto the stage, and the snow began falling in a picturesque scene of a rural, mountainous backdrop, this production of “The Nutcracker” had the clear ability to transport the audience out of their seats at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre and instead put them right in the middle of that captivating fantasy scene.
Faux Winter in Orlando. If area residents can get fake snow by visiting downtown Celebration for the Snow Falling Nightly event or the Old Town theme park for similar soapy snowflakes, or experience actual below-freezing cold at the ICE! exhibit at Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center or at IceBar on International Drive, who needs the real thing up north?
Likewise, if local audiences want to get transported into something positively magical and in the true spirit of the holiday season, it’s easy to understand why “The Nutcracker” remains a staple of theatrical performances this time of year. And even more so, it’s also easy to understand why the Orlando Ballet made has it a tradition to perform this classic every December. For one thing, they do it so very, very well.
“The Nutcracker,” of course, is the timeless fantasy about a young German girl whose family celebrates Christmas Eve with a big holiday party, which includes the opening of special gifts – including a nutcracker, one of the most recognizable gifts and holiday ornaments and decorations this time of year.
After the party ends and the adults retire for the night, the young girl is so excited she can’t sleep and gets up and returns to the scene of the party, where that nutcracker is still sitting there, waiting for her. She falls asleep, and her dreams come brilliantly to life on stage, as mice, harlequins, toy soldiers, and dolls dance across the stage.
The play’s choreographer, Robert Hill, the artistic director of the Orlando Ballet, takes a similar approach to this production as he did in October to his special Halloween show, “Vampire’s Ball.” The first act sets the story in motion: people rushing back and forth across a busy street on Christmas Eve, finishing their last minute shopping, with one man even carrying a recently chopped down pine tree to his home. Only a street lamp lights their way.
Then we move into that opulent home, with the huge Christmas tree in the background, and watch as the family and friends gather to celebrate the coming holiday. Later, the room is mostly in darkness as the young girl wanders in and sees the nutcracker in the middle of the room, almost like it was calling out to her. She lies down on the couch, and doses off. And then her dreams live out on the stage.
Having established the story in the first half, Hill is able to devote virtually the entire second act to what he does best: brilliant choreography that will absolutely dazzle you. This is a very high energy performance by some of the most amazingly skillful dancers you’ll ever see, and Hill does he absolute best to ensure this production never slows down.
Hill appeared at the opening of Thursday’s initial performance, saying he wanted to “come out and thank you and all our supporters. We have to thank so many people,” and that included, he was quick to point out, the impressive number of very young children who took part in this production.
He was joined on stage by Dierde Miles Burger, director of the Orlando Ballet School, who noted that they had recruited a lot of very talented youngsters to take part in “The Nutcracker.”
“We have over 130 children performing in this production,” she said.
Hill advised the audience that they could also appreciate the fine work that went into this show behind the scenes, noting “the wardrobe and the production and the team here at Bob Carr are just amazing at getting us ready.” He’s right – the set designs, from the Christmas party to the fantasy world that the toys inhabit, as well as the costumes of candy canes, toy soldiers, mice and Russian Cossacks, are all quite impressive.
“The Nutcracker” is being performed through Sunday, with shows at 7:30 p.m. at Bob Carr. For tickets and information, log on to www.Orlandoballet.org or call 407-426-1739.
The Orlando Ballet has two more productions coming up this season: “Battle of the Sexes III” from Feb. 10-12, and “Swans: Black & White,” Hill’s unique version of “Swan Lake,” from March 30-April 1.
“So hopefully,” Hill told the audience, “you’ll come back to see us in February and April.” That’s very good advice, indeed.
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