. Sometimes, the show offstage is almost as exciting as the event.
At Boston Ballet’s renowned “The Nutcracker,” watching the parade of excited little girls wearing flouncy, glittery dresses, faux fur capes, sparkling shoes and dazzling tiaras as they parade down the palatial Opera House aisles, is a pre-show feast.
During the magnificent ballet, the house falls silent. A reverential stillness fills the air, as these young patronesses become mesmerized by the ballet’s graceful magnificence.
This same ballet, accompanied by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s exquisite music, has charmed audiences from its debut at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892. Even in today’s electronic and wired society, “The Nutcracker” never ceases to cast its fantasy-filled, magical spell.
Children of all ages giggle, wide-eyed, at the life-size Harlequin (Ricardo Santos), wind-up ballerina doll (Hannah Bettes), and roly-poly, cuddly, life-size teddy bear (Lawrence Rines), who milks his exit for more applause.
Their laughter at the clustered baby mice turns to a collective gasp as the Mouse King and his minions multiply on stage, ready to battle the Nutcracker King and his life-size toy soldiers, cannon and all. A gingerbread man and fuzzy bunny rabbit, reminiscent of the toy rabbit Clara Silberhaus’ bratty brother, Fritz, rejected, stand tall during the raging battle.
Portraying Fritz, Edward Kidd is especially engaging, his acting and dancing inspirational to his peers in the audience. Kidd’s the quintessential mischievous little brother, whose jealousy creates a non-genteel boy-girl tug of war, breaking the children’s uncle-magician Herr Drosselmeier’s precious piece de resistance present -a nutcracker soldier - to Clara.
With Genevieve LeClair conducting the Boston Ballet’s orchestra, coupled with Artistic Director-Director Mikko Nissinen’s breathtaking choreography, Robert Perdziola’s recent storybook set and gorgeous costume changes, “The Nutcracker” continues to enchant and excel. This year, the company touted Finnish lighting director Mikki Kunttu’s changes, too, but they’re subtle, enveloped in the production’s overall splendor.
Although the cast varies, the matinee performance I attended boasted superlative performances, with Boris Richir portraying Drosselmeier; Federico Fresi, the Nutcracker prince, and Sara Schwartz, as Clara. Clara‘s welcoming reception to the Nutcracker Prince’s kingdom brings on a host of international dancers, performing in Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian garb, that’s exciting to watch. So are genteel shepherds, finely garbed, leading their white and one black sheep in the French Pastorale. Grandiose Mother Ginger (Drew Nelson) and her myriad of playful, polichinelles (little Boston Ballet student dancers) delight the little folks as they frolic with Clara.
Special effects also enchant children and the young-at-heart, especially when the Silberhaus family tree magically grows and grows, covering the entire background, and falling, glittery snowflakes cover the stage, morphing into dancers in gossamer tutus, performing en pointe,
Ji Young Chae and Isaac Akiba’s pas de deux as the Snow Queen and King glitters and gleams, as do Dew Drop princess (Lauren Herfindahl) and her lovely flowers. The Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince’s grand pas de deux is a stunning lead-in to flashbacks of each group of dancers, and a rousing finale.
Was it all a dream? To the children in the audience, it was their dream come true.
And while Nissinen focuses on creating a memorable, mystical, magical experience that youngsters will cherish for life, he doesn’t lose sight of the human factor. The opening crowd scene, with ensemble members strolling outdoors, admiring Drosselmeier’s wondrous shop and his magic acts, subtly features poverty-stricken urchins and adults, encircling fire-lit barrels to keep warm, or huddling on city streets, hoping for a handout - a sad reminder of downtown Boston’s doorways, MBTA station elevators and entranceways.
BOX INFO: Traditional, two-act holiday favorite by the Boston Ballet, appearing through Dec. 31, at the Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston. Tickets start at $35.Visit www.bostonballet.org or call 617-695-6955