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Ballet Review | No surprises, but plenty of sparkle, charm in Boston Ballet’s new Nutcracker

Published: Friday, November 30, 2012

Updated: Friday, November 30, 2012 12:11

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Courtesy Gene Schiavone

Nissinen’s ‘Nutcracker’ is humorous and bombastic, but it remains rather disappointingly true to the classic ballet.

 

Boston Ballet’s world premiere of the new “The Nutcracker,” which opened last week and continues through the end of December, does just what it’s meant to do. The company’s artistic director and this production’s choreographer, Mikko Nissinen, has introduced no surprises in his re-choreographed version of the classic holiday ballet, focusing instead on keeping the predictable elements of the ballet to make it everything audiences would expect.

The ballet opens on a perfectly quaint, sized-down version of a doll maker’s workshop. It then takes the audience through a typical Victorian mansion, into a frenetic battle scene between the magically lifelike toy army and the posse of an opulent rat king and on an adventure through a glittering magical kingdom before bringing Clara, the ballet’s protagonist, back home.

There’s plenty of room for imaginative twists that remains unfilled. Given an opportunity to create a whole new production, Nissenen’s decision to play it so safe seems like a missed opportunity. What the show lacks in ingenuity, though, this new “Nutcracker” makes up for in skill and professionalism. Robert Perdziola’s new costumes, as well as the understated set he designed, are sleek and gorgeous. Sunday’s cast showcased them brilliantly. The dancers’ technique throughout begs no criticism. The company’s corps de ballet excelled under a forest of birch trees, and the company artfully produced falling flakes in the famous snow scene at the end of the ballet’s first act and again in various capacities after intermission. Led by Jonathan McPhee, the Boston Ballet’s Orchestra provided the dancers with a spritely interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s score.

In any professional “Nutcracker,” the highlight is, of course, the opportunity to watch a younger generation of dancers take the stage. Boston Ballet School students dance the roles of children in the first act’s Christmas party. They remain smattered throughout the rest of the ballet as pint-sized yet perfectly rehearsed members of the cast. Among them is the charming Eliza French as Clara, the story’s protagonist. French is once of several dancers taking the role this season, but she merits special attention for her joyful leaps and infectious smile. Also notable are the dancers who march and spin with impressive precision as soldiers in the first act’s battle scene. They do battle with an equally enjoyable cast of bumbling mice that hurl comically balloon-sized onions and maraschino cherries, and set off smoky cannons while the now full-sized Nutcracker Prince (Yury Yanowsky) plays out his epic defeat of the rat king. Nissenen and Perdziola took special care in crafting the transition from ballroom grandeur to the surreal so that the performance remains playful. When the mice first appear, it is one-by-one on the 12 strokes of a grandfather clock at midnight, each rodent striking a sillier pose than the one before it until, finally, number 12 appears in a square beam of light spread out like a decidedly Scott Brown-esque model on the cover of GQ. When the Christmas tree swells to dwarf the room, it’s truly a spectacle in set design and fiber optics. 

Clara and her newfound prince are whisked away by jingling reindeer to the Nutcracker’s magical kingdom where Yury Yanowsky, ever effervescent and naturally buoyant, led a trio of Russian dancers that brought a spark of life to an otherwise predictable second act. The company’s skill in corps dancing re-emerged during the “Waltz of the Flowers.” Lorna Feij򭪠who performed on Sunday, was a brilliant Sugar Plum Fairy, sporting the centerpiece of Perdziola’s costume overhaul in a tutu that, according to the program notes, sports over 4,000 Swarovski crystals. 

The company has officially ushered in the Christmas season with its new production — perhaps missing out on the chance to stand out, but capturing the spirit of “The Nutcracker” by sticking with tradition and charm.

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