|| The Boston Globe
|| November 28, 2011
|| Jeffrey Gantz
When it premiered in St. Petersburg, back in 1892, “The Nutcracker’’ enjoyed only 11 performances before being withdrawn. Yet in the 20th century, it revolutionized ballet in America - not by what it did on stage so much as by what it did at the box office. Boston Ballet could hardly have achieved its international stature without the revenue generated by a production that’s drawn as many as 140,000 spectators a year. This season’s “Nutcracker,’’ which opened on Friday at the Boston Opera House, is the last for the current sets and costumes (which were introduced in 1995), so if you’ve developed a fondness for them, don’t wait till next year. Besides which, the opening-night performance was as well danced as any Boston Ballet “Nutcracker’’ I’ve seen.
There’s no mystery as to what makes this version so popular: a warm, cozy setting; intelligent details gleaned from the foundation story, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 novella “Nutcracker and Mouse King’’; and a childlike sense of fantasy and fun. The curtain - a woodcut-like depiction of a German town under a crescent moon - rises to reveal a busy street scene under falling snow. The Silberhaus children, Fritz and Clara, get their governess to buy them hot chestnuts; a busker dances for his supper.
Inside, the year is 1830 or so, the Silberhaus drawing room is a study in Mariinsky blue and gold, with cameo portraits on the walls, and the Christmas-party women and children are attired in blues and creams, the boys in tunics and pajama pants, the girls in shorter versions of their mothers’ dresses, with pantaloons. Those will be different next year, but this version has some other elements that I hope survive the redesign. When Clara’s godpapa Drosselmeier emerges, at midnight, out of the Silberhauses’ grandfather clock, the clock flaps its owl wings to remind us that Drosselmeier is an enemy of the mice. And the Mouse King’s yellow-and-gold costume and scimitar suggest the Turkish Knight of England’s “St. George and the Dragon’’ mummers’ play.
Many moments are just downright funny. Two mice run out with a Red Cross stretcher to carry off a fallen comrade. The one black sheep in the Pastorale divertissement is continuously out of step with the five white ones. And one of Grandmère Ballabile’s Polichinelles is too busy milking the audience for applause to notice that everyone else is leaving.
Some of the choreography could use refurbishing. The Spanish divertissement has lost its bite; Russian needs more than three dancers. And the lighting in Arabian is atmospheric to a fault. But the company dances it all as if “The Nutcracker’’ were a serious work of art (which it is) and not just a holiday moneymaker.
Opening night brought a graceful, nuanced Lia Cirio as Sugar Plum and a high-flying James Whiteside as the Nutcracker and her Cavalier. Whitney Jensen was an insouciant Dew Drop with exemplary Italian fouettés and total control of her phrasing. Paulo Arrais and Misa Kuranaga were well matched as the Snow King and Queen, both quick and precise, but also rapt and flowing. Kathleen Breen Combes and Lasha Khozashvili offered a sensuous Arabian, Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti a zippy Chinese; Isaac Akiba led an explosive Russian. And Rachel Harrison was an unusually mature, expressive Clara. Sets and costumes come and go, but good dancing is forever.