Adapting the traditional ballet
Choreography By Matthew Hart 
Design by Peter Docherty
Music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Sarasota Ballet Directed by Iain Webb
Van Wezel  Hall, Sarasota, Dec. 14 & 15, 2012
Ruth Eckerd Hall, St. Petersburg, Dec. 21 & 22 

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Every "arts town" seems to want its own "Nutcracker" to be performed annually. Except for one performance, done in Space by Eddie Toussaint over a decade ago, Sarasota and its Ballet have settled for a traditionally choreographed and themed dance until now. What's been world premiered in 2012 is an inventively choreographed spectacular combining the traditional score with a scenario that tells a story related to the circus and the genius behind it. How he was deeply motivated by his love for his wife Mabel is made clear from the start of the ballet, as she (unusually dignified Kate Honea) descends from the heavens on a half-moon. It's recalled that Ringling left his estate and promotion of the arts to Florida, and particularly Sarasota and Bay Area, just as does his figure in this ÒCircus Nutcracker."  Like the other circus bearing the Ringling name, it has a tremendous cast with many performing specialties.

As for the story, Clara (Sara Sardelli, light and lovely) is a not too little girl. Instead of dreaming or journeying via new imaginary ways, she has them by running away with the circus! And she has both John Ringling (suave David Tiaiye) and John Ringling North (impressive Logan Learned, who later becomes the Nutcracker and even later also  Ringmaster) to help her in her subsequent adventures. The earliest one takes place in a hotel, perturbing its Manager (funnily fey Jamie Carter). Well, who wouldn't find the huge black Mouse King, his Mole, Gangster and Children Mice disconcerting?  It's understandable they, along with Child Clowns (a sweet group from The Sarasota Ballet School), have to work together a great deal to clear the place, also the way for Snow Queen and King (regal Danielle Brown and Ricardo Rhodes) and their Snowflakes (more students).

In Part Two, Clara joins the Ringmaster and circus personnel on their train to the Circus grounds. All the familiar dances take place to the traditional music but with newly choreographed movement and portrayals.  Sarasota Ballet's dancers become Zebras, Arabian characters,  an Elephant, Wild Cats, Acrobats. Tightrope Walkers simulate a rope on the ground but with studied off-the-ground dance. Those famous Ringling Clowns (played by Steven Windsor and Sara Scherer)  manage to pack eight Child Clowns into a little car near the bleachers, a nice variation on the old clowning trick.  There's a sumptuous Waltz of the Roses—which ties nicely story-wise into recalling Mable Ringling's favorite flowers. (Mable's Rose Garden is today a feature on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art.) Of course, still a "Nutcracker" highlight is the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her royal partner. Kate Honea shows her classical growth as the royally purple Sugar, while Ricardo Graziano makes both a technically and artistically thrilling Prince.  He's definitely not around just for the lifts!

Production values are lavish, whether descents from the heavens or fluid changes of scenery and props from hotel to on-the-railroad to underneath the Big Top.  As in a traditional circus, the scenery does not rely on projections, though a few are used to good effect  as components of scenes. Costumes merit a review in themselves.  My only reservation was about those for the Snowflakes, where the tutu skirts were so wide and stiff that when the women were lifted, one had to stare at their crotches!  Lighter shoes on some of the men may well also be considered in future engagements.  And there should be many of these, for many holidays to come. Sarasota has truly now a "Nutcracker"  that's distinctive.

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