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Beautifully reborn, Nutcracker's magic shines anew


Boston Ballet Orchestra

Based on the story "Nutcracker and Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffmann.

Music by Peter Tchaikovsky.

Choreographed by Bruce Marks, Daniel Pelzig and Sydney Leonard.

Conducted by Jonathan McPhee.

Wang Center, through December 31.

By Anne Marie Chomat and Hur Koser
Staff Reporters

With the year's first snowfall Boston Ballet once again has begun celebrating the holiday season with the magic of The Nutcracker. This is the company's 30th production of the Christmas fantasy and marks the start of a new era: This year, the ballet is presenting a beautifully restored and enhanced production with new costumes, scenery and choreography.

The story starts Christmas Eve, 1830. At the Silberhaus home, Clara's family is preparing for an extravagant celebration. Guests arrive. The highlight of the young girl's evening is the arrival of her mysterious uncle, Dr. Drosselmeyer, who demonstrates his magical creations - including a tiny toy theater - and gives Clara a little soldier nutcracker. Later that night, Clara steals downstairs to get her nutcracker from under near tree. However, her uncle has cast a spell on the room (which suddenly triples in size) and Clara is met by a battle between an army of mice, trying to invade the room, and a troop of toy soldiers, led by the nutcracker who has suddenly come to life.

After having won the battle - thanks to Clara, who throws her slipper at the Mouse King - the nutcracker turns into a handsome young prince who leads the girl out on a sleigh into an enchanted world. A balloon appears and carries them off to the Palace of Sweets, where they are greeted by the Sugarplum Fairy. An elaborate ceremony is prepared to honor Clara's courage against the Mouse King, and in which dancers from far-away lands perform. When it's time for Clara and her nutcracker prince to leave, the inhabitants of this magical land all gather to bid them goodbye.

It is a whole new look for Nutcracker this year. The setting has been changed from Late Victorian to Early Romantic, thereby matching the time period in which E.T.A. Hoffmann actually came up with the original story. Additions include the toy theater in the second act and the individual backdrops of the divertissements. Choreographer Daniel Pelzig has produced a new Snow Scene and Waltz of the Flowers. Also, there is a new character introduced this year: Dr. Drosselmeyer's nephew, who acts as sorcerer's apprentice to his uncle. However, the rest of the performance and the choreography is mainly the same.

All through the performance, elements of the decor present the audience with an extraordinary and imposing world of fantasy. Once again this year, a magical Christmas tree grows from sixteen to forty feet in height in less than a minute. Oversized sets and props match the growing tree as Clara shrinks down to the size of the toys. A double-depth stage has been built for the snow scene and especially for the creation of the grown-to-life-size tiny toy theater, first presented to Clara at the Christmas party.

Each Act II divertissement comes with its own scenic backdrop and miniature stage setting: sparkling gold pagodas, a spectacular mosque-and-minaret backdrop, soaring domed Russian palaces, an elegant French garden, and more. There are also a stack of three luxury boxes added on either side of the stage - the lowest level is occupied by Clara and the prince Nutcracker during Act II; this gets them off stage and focuses attention on the divertissements. It is actually the hand-carved details that make the entire decor so real and the richness of colors that make it so breathtaking. The sugarplum fairy palace on the clouds, for instance, seems more real than Clara could imagine. Special effects such as the snow fall, the balloon in which Clara and her nutcracker fly off, and the flying Dr. Drosselmeyer, are all among those features that contribute to the magic of this year's performance.

This year, the costumes are brand-new and more colorful than ever. The Nutcracker himself appears in shiny white uniform this season. The new mice costumes look pretty convincing with brown tulle and huge tails - indeed, if the mice lacked a sense of humor, they would appear scary instead of cute. The same goes for the Mouse King, in his new green, authentic Turkish outfit with golden ornaments. Drossemeyer, however, wears the most striking costume: a handsome outfit of Prussian-blue velvet and a Napoleonic hat.

Indeed, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on these special effects, props, and costumes, sometimes to the extent that the audience tends to be drawn to marvel at the extravagant scenery rather than at the actual dancing. Nevertheless, the dancing is full of vitality, energy and emotion. Especially in the second act, the different divertissements (the Arabian, Chinese, Russian and Flower dances, among others) all bear the touch of authenticity. Choreographers Daniel Pelzig and Sydney Leonard have mingled beauty, grace, and the delicacy of some dances of the professional staff with the cuteness and smallness of the younger dancers, dressed up as cuddly white lambs, little white reindeer, toy soldiers, or baby mice.

Throughout the performance, it is quite striking to experience scenes which delicately shift from sheer expressiveness to simple storytelling - for instance, the incredibly emotional and expressive Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy compared with Clara's travel from one world to another. Dancing and acting intermingle throughout the performance - that is what makes the ballet dramatic. One may occasionally wonder whether Nutcracker is too dramatic, in the sense that the first act is almost entirely acting, with bits and pieces of short dancing sprinkled in some places. That might be true to some extent; nevertheless, the drama of Act I is nicely balanced with the magic of the dances (especially in the Palace of the Sweets) in the second act. In fact, the scene where the Sugar Plum (Pollyana Riberio) and her Cavalier (Patrick Armand) appears is definitely worth waiting for.

The performance overall is extraordinary and represents an incredible amount of work; over 100 performers dance to the enchanting music of Tchaikovsky this year. No wonder why about 140,000 people from all over New England are transported each year into the world of Christmas magic by the sides of a nutcracker, a magician and a young girl named Clara. Do not miss this year's Nutcracker; it is definitely worth seeing - more than once, if possible.