Cleveland Ballet dazzles Playhouse Square with the Nutcracker

Kaitlin Ryan, Arts and Life Editor

Crowds gather to enter the theater for the Nutcracker production. (Kaitlin Ryan)

Cleveland Ballet returned to the stage nearly seven years ago. On Dec. 4, the company performed “The Nutcracker” at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace. Artistic Director Gladisa Guadalupe welcomed viewers of all ages — little girls in red bows and sweet elderly couples holding hands — for the two-act production. This was one of the five performances offered to Cleveland this holiday season.

Guadalupe stated in the show’s introduction that in the first two days, the company performed for 10,000 people. Which was a great feat, considering the show did not go on last year and vaccines or a negative COVID test were mandatory.

On the snowy night, Marla Minadeo gave Cleveland audiences a graceful interpretation of Caroline, alongside her co-lead of the Prince, played by Brazil’s Bruno Palheta. 

Palheta received gasps and astounding applause from the audience all in the first scene, set on Christmas Eve when the infamous nutcracker arrives. He weightlessly danced through the air, creating an illusion that his feet never even touched the ground. 

…Caroline’s living room seamlessly transformed into a war ground for the mice and nutcrackers to battle. ”

Each dancer matched their leaps, skips and pirouettes to the beat of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s composition creating an utterly pleasing experience for viewers.

As impressive as the marriage of graceful movement and music was the immaculate set design of Jeffrey McLaughlin and Cameron Caley Michalak. The decorations were nothing shy of festive with draping ribbon, glittering bells and a warm fireplace. The scenes — Christmas Eve in a beautiful home, a snowy landscape and a hot balloon ride’s travels throughout the world — were all projected to the back of the stage. 

As Caroline drifted to sleep and the dream sequence began, a herd of ballerina mice moved her from the elegant velvet-esque sofa and into the left corner of the stage. Without much notice from the audience, the Christmas tree was whisked away, presents stashed backstage as Caroline’s living room seamlessly transformed into a war ground for the mice and nutcrackers to battle. 

The scene to follow was a dazzling close to Act I. Snow Maidens graced the stage accompanied by glittering fake snow and beautiful harmonies. To close, a group of angels, played by small children, scurried onto the stage holding glowing candles. At the focal point of the stage stood a little girl who waved to the audience quickly. Quite the sweet close to the first act.

In Act II, the show only intensified. The costumes were brighter, more elaborate. The dance numbers received rounds of applause and ferocious before even concluding. 

When Caroline and the Prince are touring the world, watching famous dances from cultures around the world, it seems to symbolize a coming together of lands, bonding over the beauty of ballet. 

The breathtaking dome ceiling above the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square. (Kaitlin Ryan)

Costumes were designed by Guadalupe herself, with the help of the Cleveland Ballet costume shop and Russian and Ukrainian costume companies. There was clear attention to detail when designing the cultural costumes to honor the tradition of dance throughout the globe. With vibrant fabrics and a sweetly digestible color palette, the costumes lit up the stage during the second half of the show. 

The King and Queen, played by Kaela Ku and Zachary Catazaro, seemed to nearly steal the show in Act II. They performed two duets and two solos, catching praise from the audience repeatedly. The pair wore shimmering gold costumes and demonstrated excellent chemistry with one another.

At the show’s close, the audience roared with applause as each company artist posed and dramatically bowed. 

The curtains closed and the King and Queen snuck out for another bow. Followed by Caroline and the Prince.

The King and the Queen got the final bow and appeared once more, which may have seemed excessive but did add to their royal performance.