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The Nutcracker

Boston Ballet

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Choreography by Mikko Nissinen

Boston Opera House

Performances run through Dec. 29, 2007

This winter, the Boston Opera House will host “The Nutcracker” during the 115th anniversary of the ballet’s premiere in St. Petersburg, Russia. More than 80,000 people are expected to travel from all over New England to come watch this annual holiday tradition.

As many ballet fans know, the ballet begins at an elaborate Christmas party thrown by the Silberhaus household. The party is interrupted by the dramatic arrival of Herr Drosselmeier, godfather of the Silberhaus children Clara and Fritz. He entertains everyone with his magical toys and creations, including a large dancing bear and life-size windup dolls. After the show, Drosselmeier gives Clara a Nutcracker doll, which she instantly loves, so much so that she sneaks back to look for her doll after everyone has gone to bed. She ends up falling asleep with it under the Christmas tree.

Clara soon wakes up in terror to find giant mice running around her. Her fears are relieved by the arrival of Drosselmeier, who performs his magic to enlarge the Nutcracker and bring him to life. Together they watch as the now man-sized Nutcracker and his toy soldiers battle the mice and their king. The Nutcracker eventually defeats the Mouse King with the help of Clara, who throws her slipper at him.

Drosselmeier then magically transforms the Nutcracker into a prince and Clara is whisked away into the breathtakingly beautiful Enchanted Forest. Here she meets the Snow Queen and King, who dance for her as she rides around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Clara eventually says her goodbyes to the Snow Queen and King and flies away with the Nutcracker Prince in a balloon.

The Second Act brings Clara to the Kingdom of Sweets ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. Clara is treated to a series of themed dances, including the memorable “Grandmere Ballabile” dance, which features a gigantic woman with eight children who come out from underneath her voluminous skirt, and the famous “Waltz of the Flowers,” led by Dew Drop. All of this culminates in the final “Grand Pas de Deux” between the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

While strong performances by the Nutcracker, the Snow Queen and King, Dew Drop, and the Sugar Plum Fairy are generally a given, the Boston Ballet’s rendition showcased some surprising talent from its other cast members. Lauren Herfindahl, only 12 years old, showed both maturity and an innate gift for dancing in her performance as Clara. Her confident and graceful steps demonstrated why she was chosen for this lead children’s role. Kathleen Breen Combes gave a standout performance as the jerky wind-up Columbine doll. She was so convincing that had we not seen her dancing, it would be easy to believe she was a well-made stage prop. Romi Beppu and Sabi Varga mesmerized the audience with their beautiful performance of the Arabian dance, which in spite of its nontraditional choreography was certainly one of the biggest highlights of the night. Though these dancers played more minor roles in the ballet, they nearly outshone many of the main dancers, who gave excellent but somewhat undistinguished performances.

The show’s props and background sets produced a magical feel, and the dramatic visual effects left the audience gasping in awe on more than one occasion. The Christmas tree grew to an astonishing 30 feet on stage, extending upward along with the rest of the set during the battle with the mice. The Enchanted Forest scene was visually stunning, with snow falling and gigantic trees all over the stage, and the cloud-filled, opalescent towers of the Kingdom of Sweets could convince anyone that he or she was in fairyland. Drosselmeier, ever the magician, even flew across the stage midway through the ballet.

The ballet also kept a playful touch with little bits of humor interspersed throughout the show. Though the scene with the mice is traditionally nightmarish, anyone older than Clara would find it hard not to be amused by the sight of the dancers capering about in their large, fuzzy costumes. They used these costumes to their comedic advantage, including gags such as a stretcher brought in during the middle of the fight to carry off a wounded rat and a little junior mouse who futilely tries to fight the much taller Nutcracker. This comedic strategy continued throughout the show. Ballet dancers dressed all in white took the place of reindeer to pull the sleigh in the enchanted forest, and in the Pastorale dance a little black sheep managed to be get left behind his white sheep counterparts. While it might seem odd to laugh out loud at such a renowned ballet as “The Nutcracker,” it just goes to show how the Boston Ballet’s performance is able to pull out childlike wonder and amusement from the entire audience, young and old alike.

No holiday season is complete without a viewing of “The Nutcracker,” and we highly recommend that you see this production for a magical experience.