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Pink ribbons were seen everywhere on Saturday night when The Milwaukee Ballet opened their holiday season with Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker. Each audience member received a bright pink ribbon when entering the theater to wave when Board President Dennis Buehler presented Pink (dressed in a black velvet suit jacket accented by a striking pink tie) to the audience in honor of his 10th Anniversary season. Waving the pink satin along with applause to show their appreciation, the audience gave their own thanks to the company’s popular Artistic Director.

When Pink arrived exactly ten years ago on the exact date of December 8, he described Milwaukee to the audience as snow covered and cold. Then he related to the enthusiastic crowd how much he enjoyed raising his growing family in this city, filled with a thriving arts community, and how each person contributed to this success. Only afterwards did The Nutcracker open to showcase Pink’s adaptation fined tuned to perfection.

The costumes and scenery immediately dazzle the audience from the first moments when Herr Drosselmeyer and his assistant Karl finish their gifts for Clara, Marie and Fritz for the holiday celebration to follow. On Saturday night, Marc Petrocci’s Fritz leaped across the stage to steal several scenes together with his younger sister, Clara, an equally energetic Nicole Teague. Karl, a magnificent David Hovhannisyan, pairs with older sister Marie, a delicate Valerie Harmon, to ignite the romance Pink instilled in the classic holiday tale. In Pink’s adaptation, Marie and Karl become the destined twosome to fall in love from the very first scenes.

Most impressive to close the first act will be the stunning pas de deux danced by Harmon and Hovhannisyan in simple white costumes, like the new fallen snow. In a dance with incredible lifts and pointe work, Pink has tweaked the choreography with exquisite elegance. When Ryan Martin’s Drosselmeyer again sprinkles sparkling dust over the foursome and opens The Snow Queen book cover, the beautiful royalty steps out, snow begins to fall, and the performance again finds perfection as Fritz and Clara frolic among the ballerina 'snowflakes.'

When the curtain rises in the second act to tiny angels fluttering across the stage and the grand carousel, the breathtaking scene bathed in a soft pink glow from the backdrop lighting captivates the audience. This year each number displays exceptional dancing. Susan Gartell’s Arabian performance quiets the crowd, while Teague handles a swirling red ribbon with agility when Clara accompanies the Chinese dragon. Petrocci again demonstrates his ability and stage presence when he adds the fourth member to the tricks of the three colorful Jacks. Hovhannisyan and Harmon light up the stage in solos and another romantic pas de deux. 

The Nutcracker’s choreography has become more complex and exciting to appreciate through the years. During this time, the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy has thrived  producing a host of accomplished youth performers that elevate the production, adding vibrant richness to the cast. These achievements only add to Pink’s legacy admired in his other full length ballets, Peter Pan and the recently premiered La Boehme, projects under constant revision as he did for The Nutcracker. As Pink stated that night, “Most of the children in the performance were just a twinkle in their parent’s eye when I arrived ten years ago.”

If one has missed attending The Nutcracker, 2012 will certainly be the year to buy a ticket and enjoy this lavish production. Even long time fans will find this year’s edition more enchanting than ever. After the memorable second act, the dancers arrived for their curtain call waving pink ribbons. In an evening twinkling with almost unmatched perfection, Michael Pink has grown immensely along with The Milwaukee Ballet. He deserves every ribbon waved that evening to celebrate his 10th Anniversary.

The Milwaukee Ballet along with the Joan, Jack and Victor Stein Foundation presents Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker through December 26 at the Marcus Center. For information and tickets, please call: 414.902.2103 or click the MKE Ballet link to the left.   By Peggy Sue Dunigan, who has attended The Nutcracker for more than twenty years and seen numerous adaptations. 


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