The Nutcracker: Miami City Ballet's Awe-Inspiring Winter Wonderland

I hadn't seen The Nutcracker since I was a little girl. That performance, staged at the university that anchored the Western Pennsylvania town where I grew up, made only the lightest impression on me at the time. Other than there being a gigantic nutcracker statue and a very confusing plot -- was the little girl in love with the nutcracker, or the prince, or the creepy uncle (ew), or...? -- I don't remember much about it.

But I'm going to remember last night's opening of Miami City Ballet's The Nutcracker for a long time.

MCB wowed its audience at the Arsht last night, eliciting audible gasps and bouts of spontaneous applause directed at nearly every aspect of its staging, choreography, performance, and even music. If you're looking for Christmas spirit, you'll find it on the Ziff Ballet Opera House stage.

The show started out slow, which is less the fault of MCB and more a function of story set-up. It's fun to watch children in pinafores prance excitedly around a Christmas tree, but when you know the trippy scenes that are yet to follow, you're naturally going to want to skip ahead to the rats and toy soldiers and marzipan dancers.

And when MCB's production enters that world, the payoff is astounding -- a thinly veiled on-stage scenery change that takes place right under the audience's nose, eliciting gasps of delight from nearly everyone in the theater. And then it's snowing, and beautiful snowflake ballerinas are dancing, and oh, Christmas.

The momentum continues throughout the rest of the performance, with stellar feats by some of MCB's most recognizable names. Jeanette Delgado starred in the center of a troupe of ballerinas, dressed in bright, tropical pinks and oranges -- perhaps a costume designer's nod to South Florida. Delgado's flawless execution was the focal point of the flowers' scenes, but the real star was the spectacle of those skirts fluttering across the stage in the most picturesque tableaus of the night -- even besting the spectacular snow.

Mary Carmen Catoya as the Sugar Plum Fairy, on the other hand, dazzled the audience with the sheer strength of her ankles. In one impressive move, her cavalier, Renato Penteado, gently dragged Catoya across the floor as she remained balanced on one leg -- on pointe. In another, Catoya held a graceful pose -- again, on pointe -- for so long that I heard mumbles of "how in the world..." underneath the audience's appreciative applause.

Then, with a final flourish of flight, the show was over. Stepping outside into Miami's humidity just didn't seem quite right. But hey, at least for a few hours, it really felt like Christmas in Miami.

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