December 23, 2010 Going to the theater almost every week was a ritual of childhood for me. I’d climb into my grandma Pita’s baby blue Cadillac and we’d drive off across town to the Jackie Gleason in Miami Beach followed by lunch at Wolfie’s. It was an important rite of passage and I’d take weekly voyages into these other galaxies. From the pitch black theater would emerge lights that shone on cultures and stories from around the world. It made me a traveler and participant of this world and many others. It illuminated my childhood with dreams and memories.
This sense of wonder and magic was prominent in the Miami City Ballet’s presentation of George Balanchine’s Nutcracker at the Adrienne Arsht Center last week. Rich and elaborate backdrops and set design creating a snowy, fragrant, and wintery world transported the audience into a European Christmas childhood bliss. Young Cecilia Hitchcock played a beautiful Marie, with sophisticated arm extensions and engaged facial expressions. Her subtle wrist rotations and movements out of slumber were believable and well executed. In fact all the endless children working through the stage were well trained and rehearsed, busy and absorbed with their own holiday rites of passage.
At times I felt that I was in the world’s most expensive student recital. The storyline dragged and felt too dependent on the children to move it. The piece was an expertly done production of ballet canon, but in many ways just felt outdated. When the professional company did grace the stage they seemed bored and mechanical. I had to keep reminding myself how important it is for children to see others like them performing, and the transformational experience it was for the youth onstage.
The second half offered relief with more action, color, and energy. My favorite piece was the Sugar Plum fairies, charming the stage in pinks and browns offering a tinge of earthiness and wit. I looked around the audience and felt pleased to see so many families in attendance. I tried to channel that little girl getting out of the baby blue Cadillac and feel excited. I couldn’t really, but I did realize the importance of this production, its beauty and thoroughness, and mostly its role in creating ritual, rites of passage, and tradition.