note: entire contents copyright 2013 by Sheila Barth
Last year, I described the Boston Ballet’s newly-designed-choreographed, two-hour classic production of “The Nutcracker” in three little words - elegant, enchanting and exquisite. This year, I’m adding another superlative - exciting.
It’s delightful to see and hear little girls in flouncy dresses, with tiaras balancing atop their curly locks, sitting in their seats, giggling, then entranced into awed silence by the beauty on stage. Older females are decked out in their holiday best, thrilled to have an occasion to gussy up, while little boys in bow ties, vests, and dress pants resemble “The Nutcracker’s” mischievous little brother Fritz Silberhaus, who conjures up mayhem.
When the ballet begins, even they are mesmerized by a magician’s tricks on stage, and the dancers’ funny, acrobatic, athletic precision. Special effects are attention-grabbers, too.
The ballet features different dance troupes and outstanding principal dancers in separate performances throughout its monthlong run, drawing from 11 casts, including the full company and 250 Boston Ballet School students. Artistic Director-Director Mikko Nissinen waves his magical wand over all, from Robert Perdziola’s newly designed story-book-style set and his stunning, glittering costumes, to music director-principal conductor Jonathan McPhee and the orchestra’s marvelous tinkly, fantasy-filled accompaniment. Instead of traditional long, stiff, tulle tutus and heavy, flocked cotillion gowns, female dancers wear soft, flowing, empire-style costumes reminiscent of the Napoleonic Era. Gentlemen are garbed in waistcoats and tails. Nissinen adheres to tradition, eloquently emphasizing the beauty and power of ballet to wordlessly relate the story, adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” and Alexandre Dumas pere’s libretto, “The Tale of the Nutcracker,” set to Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s timeless score. The ballet originally premiered Dec. 18, 1892, at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, thrilling aristocracy and the populace alike - as it does today.
Nissinen also de-emphasizes magical stunts and gimmickry, focusing on the story and the dance,commencing with the overture, as poor people and street vendors gather on stage. Homeless people are lying in the streets - a sad reminder of today’s unfortunates seeking shelter in the T stairways and streets near the theater.
On stage, as well-heeled shoppers and strollers pass by magician Drosselmeier’s (Nelson Madrigal) workshop, he performs a few magic tricks and tosses candy to them, then rushes to the Silberhaus’ Christmas Eve party, to entertain guests there. With a flourish of his magic wand, he taps large boxes. Out pops a life-size Harlequin (Irlan Silva) and mechanical ballerina (Diana Albrect).
The children in the audience gleefully jumped in their seats when a fuzzy, cuddly, large dancing teddy bear tumbled out and frolicked on stage.
They also enjoyed the children’s dance, elderly grandmother and grandfather (Maria Alvarez and Ricardo Santos) doddering around in the adults’ formal dance, and the boys vs. girls’ tug of war when Fritz (Sean Keating) angrily tosses his stuffed bunny and tries to grab sister Clara’s (Calissa Grady) nutcracker away, breaking the precious gift.
Children’s eyes grew as large as the Silberhaus’ tree, looming enormously as Clara sleeps nearby, and adult and baby mice scamper about. The bewitched Nutcracker also grows to adult size, calls together his toy soldiers, bunny and gingerbread man, to battle the evil Mouse king and his minions.
Because Clara saved the Nutcracker Prince’s life, he takes her and Drosselmeier on a dreamy, enchanted journey, where snowflakes fall freely, glistening through the air and birch trees, among the Swarovski-glittering, dancing snowflakes and regal Snow Queen and King (Petra Conti and Eris Nezha), and their white reindeer-driven sleigh. The entire corps’ synchronicity and precision is stunning.
Clara and the prince ascend and descend on a dreary, cardboard-looking gray cloud, into the Nutcracker Prince’s kingdom, where the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince regally entertain Clara and Drosselmeier with a coterie of performers - from Spanish dancers to a fluid, acrobatic Arabian couple; fun-loving Chinese dancers; three gravity-defying Russian folk dancers who kick up their heels and leap through the air, (especially principal dancer Avetik Karapetyan). Shepherdesses and their flock scurry about, but clearly the crowd pleaser for young and old is giant Mother Ginger (Patrick Yocum) and the bouncy polchinelles, who tumble out from underneath Ginger’s massive skirt.
Theatergoers are hushed with wonder by Jeffrey Cirio and Seo Hye Han’s breathtaking pas de deux. Cirio was born to dance. His every breath, muscle, sinew, and movement is poetry in motion.
And so is “The Nutcracker”. It’s enough to make folks, large and small, fall asleep, like Clara, dreaming of sugar plums, snowflakes, and beauty at its best.
BOX INFO: Directed by Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, now through Dec. 29, at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston. Tickets start at $35. For tickets or more information, visit www.bostonballet.org, or call the Box Office at 617-695-6955.