Cincinnati Ballet is exquisite regardless of the ballet they are performing, but there is something special about their version of the holiday classic “The Nutcracker.” Could it be the long-awaited return to the spectacularly renovated Music Hall that is built to honor music and dance? Or is it the superbly detailed sets that transport you into Clara’s dream world? Or maybe it is the exceptional talent of the dancers in one of the finest ballet companies in the world? Or is it simply the holiday season and everything seems to be touched with just a little bit of magic? Regardless of the reason, “Frisch’s Big Boy Presents The Nutcracker” is one holiday tradition that is only getting better with age.
Our family has been going to see “The Nutcracker” during the holidays since I was a little girl. Now that I have two girls of my own, we have gone every year since Victoria Morgan’s “New Nutcracker” premiered in 2011. My oldest was four years old, and while it took some creative fidget management, it dazzled her the first time and continues to do so today. My youngest joined us once she turned three (I’ll be honest, that was a little ambitious of us) and was equally delighted. Now that they are ten and seven years old, I can tell you with all honesty that “The Nutcracker” truly gets better with age! Dinner was enjoyable and filled with conversation, they both read the playbill and identified the different dancers, they reluctantly but good-naturedly posed for pictures, and they both held their breath in that magical moment when the lights went down and the orchestra began to play. But the best part was seeing the show through their eyes: an introverted, creative tween who is trying to save the world and an extroverted, outspoken second-grader who is plotting to take over the world. Oh, the stories I could tell, but let me share a little bit of how age makes “The Nutcracker” a new experience every year.
The opening scenes of Act I in Blanche’s Kitchen and The Party captivated and delighted them both equally. The slightly more expansive stage makes the set even grander and embraces the audience as part of the performance. As Herr Drosselmeyer appeared, igniting the story with his gift of a nutcracker, my youngest leaned over to say, with wonder in her voice, “How do they make the magic happen?!” Thank you, Cincinnati Ballet, for creating this memory for my baby. As Fritz displayed the perfect level of precociousness, my oldest leaned over and said, “Good thing I don’t get jealous like that” (Uh huh…exactly). But the pièce de résistance of the first two scenes is when Grandma and Grandpa break it down on the dance floor, showcasing Victoria Morgan’s innate humor. Both of my kids giggled with delight and proclaimed that “Nana and Papa would never do that.” They are not wrong.
Moving into the final scene of Act I with The Battle, it is equal parts breathtaking dance and fantastic humor. Both girls were riveted throughout. This scene includes one of our favorite parts of the entire performance, in which the Snow Queen and King dance in a storm of snowflakes. The dancers will vary depending on the performance you attend, but rest assured, they are all extraordinary. This particular scene is utterly beautiful and my younger daughter declares, “It looks just like Elsa’s ice kingdom!” Clearly a job well done. Simultaneously, my oldest says, “Now I know why they do the intermission after this act. They need to clean the floor so no one slips on the snow.” Yes, she is ten going on thirty-five.
That brings us to Act II and the final scene with The Land of the Sweets. This is a non-stop cornucopia of visual splendor. At this point, my youngest was getting tired, requiring a bit of creative fidget management. She was still enjoying every moment, but her commentary was getting a little more saucy with comments like, “Those poor gingerbread teddy bears in the back deserve to dance more,” and when the male soloist performed, she proclaimed, “Now it is time for the man to show off his skills.” Needless to say, her whispered commentary made the show even better. My oldest, however, brought it all home by leaning her head on my shoulder and saying, “Thank you so much for taking us here, it is one of my favorite holiday traditions.” It does not get much better than that.
While your experience will undoubtedly be different from mine, take the time to make it part of your holiday traditions this year and in years to come. It has become a rite of passage to experience it both with my family and through their eyes. I learn something new and appreciate something more every time. Cheers to Cincinnati Ballet for creating magic this holiday season, for that is exactly what “The Nutcracker” is. It is showing now through December 24.
NOTE: For the New Works and DanceFix enthusiasts in the crowd, Heather Britt’s daughter (Congrats Essa!) is performing in select showings of The Nutcracker this year.
Christi Geary is the proud mom of two girls 10 and under, best friend and wife of her husband Brian, and an Associate Director at the Procter & Gamble Company focused on innovation insights and analytics. She enjoys and participates in art of all kinds, feeds an insatiable curiosity for learning, pursues different forms of exercise when she can find the time to balance out her foodie predilection, and delights in spending time with family and friends.