Preview: "Cleveland Orchestra, PA Ballet savoring fresh spin with Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker'"

On both sides of the Cleveland Orchestra-Pennsylvania Ballet production of Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" coming to Playhouse Square this week, performers claim to be reveling in a holiday classic they say remains fresh. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

On both sides of the Cleveland Orchestra-Pennsylvania Ballet production of Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" coming to Playhouse Square this week, performers claim to be reveling in a holiday classic they say remains fresh. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) has published a preview of The Cleveland Orchestra and Pennsylvania Ballet's joint production of The Nutcracker, which will be conducted by Brett Mitchell:

If the public enjoys the show half much as the artists creating it are enjoying the process, Pennsylvania Ballet's upcoming presentation of Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" with the Cleveland Orchestra will be sitting pretty.

No sense here of "The Nutcracker" as a holiday chore. On both sides of the production, on stage and in the pit, performers say they're reveling in a holiday classic that remains fresh....

Brett Mitchell, associate conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and leader of the performances this week at Playhouse Square, also is having a mighty fine time, albeit for a different reason.

Tchaikovsky's ballet for Mitchell is proving a kind of treasure trove, a score full of musical riches beyond its popular excerpts.

"It's been a revelation," said Mitchell of his first exposure to the complete ballet. "There's a ton of music that only gets played every two or three years." ...

The Cleveland Orchestra may, in his words, be "the most flexible, sensitive orchestra on the planet," able to respond automatically to whatever nuanced request he might make, but "The Nutcracker" still contains a great deal of material with which the musicians aren't intimately familiar.

What's more, the score is different from what it might be otherwise. In addition to a main character named Marie (not Clara), a large cast of children, and an earlier appearance of the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," Balanchine's version of "The Nutcracker" contains an insert from Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty."

Then there's Mitchell himself. Not only is he new to conducting the complete "The Nutcracker." He's new to conducting ballet, period.

Which isn't to say he's inexperienced. Far from it. On top of time spent with Pennsylvania Ballet, learning "The Nutcracker" from the dancer's perspective, Mitchell cites as training his several years in Cleveland, conducting orchestra performances with film. (He also jokingly points to a third-grade stint as the Mouse King.) The difference now is that dancers and musicians can and do interact in real time.

"To learn how dependent the stage and pit are on each other, that's what's been the most interesting," Mitchell said, adding that after spending time with the ballet in rehearsal. "I know pretty well what they're looking for."

The same could be said of Pennsylvania Ballet and its audience. Aware that crowds for "The Nutcracker" are eager for a spectacle as well as great dancing and music, the company, Mitchell said, has brought to Playhouse Square a production every bit as lavish as Cleveland has come to demand.

"When you see it," Mitchell said, "you're going to say, 'That right there, that's exactly what it should look like.' It's exactly what you would expect."

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