The BLOG: Culture

A mesmerizing Nutcracker from Boston Ballet

Ashley Ellis as Dew Drop (in center) and Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Ashley Ellis as Dew Drop (in center) and Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

The only thing better than The Nutcracker is the laughter and awe erupting in a theater packed full of delighted children. Mikko Nissinen’s production of The Nutcracker is a seamless production balancing artistic sophistication with innocent playfulness. The dancers of Boston Ballet bring Nissinen’s whimsical vision to life for all to enjoy, but wisely keep kids—their most important and inspired constituency—in mind.

A rich air of the Regency Period dresses the classic Christmas tale set to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece score. Devoid of sickly colors and kitschy, outdated gimmicks in other productions, this Nutcracker feels like ballet in a major key. Plenty of activity keeps the eye busy without overwhelming it. It’s family friendly, especially the Battle Scene, where plush mice lob candy treats at the Nutcracker’s soldiers and nibble on a giant gingerbread cookie (played by a young Boston Ballet student). It’s lighthearted, but not trite—and if that plush dancing bear in the Party Scene doesn’t make you smile, you’ve got a serious Scrooge complex going on.

A detail that I particularly appreciate is how the ballet portrays Drosselmeier. Instead of being the enigmatic, creepy old uncle like in most productions, Nissinen created a cheerful companion for Clara (danced by a promising young Delia Wada-Gill on opening night) throughout the ballet, while still retaining hints of his trademark mystery and magic. Each dancer who assumes the role entertains a sort of freedom of interpretation, giving Drosselmeier unique quirks and habits. On opening night, I enjoyed the warmth and sweetness of Principal Dancer Eris Nezha’s Drosselmeier.

Another strength of Nissinen’s Nutcracker is his choreography for the Corps de Ballet in the Snow Scene and Waltz of the Flowers. The arrangements are creative, atmospheric and evocative, and the dancers of Boston Ballet performed it better than ever this year.

However, Boston Ballet is capable of more difficult choreography. Though nice, the Act II dances—especially Spanish, Pastorale and the Grand Pas de Deux—could be more enticing and challenging. Principal Misa Kuranaga, for example, danced her Sugarplum Fairy steps so expertly that it was almost as if she was toying with us. Her opening night performance was thoroughly compelling and engaging—it’s hard not to love watching Ms. Kuranaga, an international ballet star, whom Dance Magazine recently said “has come to embody the future of ballet.”

Soloist Isaac Akiba was another treat to watch. He has come to lead the Russian dance extremely well, bursting with energy and athleticism. And in the Arabian dance, Principals Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili danced with unparalleled chemistry, executing their complicated partnering so well that they were able to accentuate their movements with great detail.

Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili of Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili of Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Principal Seo Hye Han and Soloist Paul Craig gave a mesmerizing performance as the Snow Queen and King. Ms. Han, whom I also relished watching as the Dew Drop on Sunday afternoon, is quickly becoming one of my favorite dancers in the company. She increases in talent and ownership of the stage with every performance.

Principal Ashley Ellis was another impressive Dew Drop; she epitomizes elegance with lightness and drama. On Sunday afternoon, she danced the Sugarplum Fairy alongside Mr. Khozashvili as the Nutcracker Prince. Together, they were glamorous, making very intentional eye contact that gave their performance depth. Mr. Khozashvili was clearly in his element during his variation, throwing a revoltade into his coupé jeté en tournant.

Considering Boston Ballet’s strong cast of principal male dancers like Mr. Khozashvili, I was surprised to see soloists cast as the Nutcracker Prince for first three performances. Nonetheless, Soloist Patrick Yocum gave a good performance with Ms. Kuranaga on opening night. Their partnering has improved since Le Corsaire—I appreciated their synchronized gestures and confidence together.

It’s hard to walk out of this The Nutcracker without feeling enchanted and inspired by its top-notch artistry and performers. Every ballet company boasts its own Nutcracker, but Nissinen’s production is something truly special.

Boston Ballet will perform The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House through Dec. 31. For tickets, visit the company’s website.

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