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ballet review: ...Nutcracker... Offers a Sparkling FantasyMasterful Execution Outweighs Lack of Technical Difficulty

By Natania Antler

Boston Ballet

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Choreography by Mikko Nissinen

Boston Opera House

Runs through Dec. 30, 2005

There are an amazing number of things that can go wrong in a production of “The Nutcracker,” but the Boston Ballet seems to have avoided most of these pitfalls in a sparkling rendition of the ballet. Especially while adjusting to a new home for “The Nutcracker” at the Opera House, the Boston Ballet has done well. But because Mikko Nissinen’s choreography did not seem to be technically difficult for the dancers, it was at times a bit boring. Still, however, it was executed with precision and succeeded in the main purpose of this ballet: to create a fantastical wonderland that all kids, and even adults, can enjoy. This traditional production of “The Nutcracker” was well worth seeing.

“The Nutcracker” ballet traces one little girl’s Christmastime dream. During a fun Christmas party, Clara receives a nutcracker as a present from her favorite uncle Drosselmeier. After bedtime, she sneaks back into the ballroom to retrieve her forgotten doll — and falls asleep. She dreams of being attacked by the King of the Mice, but is saved by her doll, who has just been brought to life by Drosselmeier. Then, ushered on by Drosselmeier, Clara and the Nutcracker travel through a snowy land in which they meet the Snow King and Queen. Finally, in the second act, they come to the Nutcracker’s own kingdom, where they are welcomed and entertained by the Sugar Plum Fairy and a host of other characters.

This production of “The Nutcracker” uses the children from the Boston Ballet School to full advantage. These kids have a lot to do in the ballet, and they do it well. This is how it should be, as “The Nutcracker” is, after all, a ballet designed for children. My favorite use of kids was as reindeer that pull a sled in the Snow Scene. Their costumes, white velvet affairs with antlers and furry crests, were cute, and they stole the scene.

This production of the show did a good job with the grand corps de ballet numbers, such as the Snow Scene and Waltz of the Flowers, but I’ve always found these scenes and their two accompanying pas de deux somewhat boring. This choreography didn’t change my mind; sure, it’s pretty, the music is nice, and everyone wears sparkly costumes, but it doesn’t go much beyond that. In the same vein, the Shepherd’s dance, or “Pastorale” in the second act, was also uninspired. It was difficult to tell what the point of this dance was after all of the other clearly themed Chinese, Spanish and Arabian dances.

Despite these less than exciting patches, what made this production memorable were the minor characters. In the beginning Christmas party, Drosselmeier brings out some life-size wind-up dolls that entertain the kids. The Harlequin and Columbine dolls (Daniel Sarabia and Misa Kuranaga) managed the jerky motions of the dolls while keeping up with difficult choreography. The second dance in this set is often a soldier doll of some sort, but instead was a dancing bear, played with charm by Gabor Kapin.

My favorite scene of all is the Arabian Dance, in which the choreography was fascinating and the dancing superb. The beauty of this music, and the relative length of the dance as compared to the other character dances in the suite, gives an opportunity for gorgeous choreography that is all too often fumbled in other productions. Instead Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga pulled off a brilliant performance of this dance, with the help of Nissinen’s choreography.

Boston Ballet has on the whole done an excellent job of putting on a traditional “Nutcracker” performance. Go take a look, especially if you’re bringing kids and in the mood for some seasonally appropriate fun.