|| The Patriot Ledger
|| November 29, 2011
|| Iris Fanger
This season’s production of “The Nutcracker” by the Boston Ballet is the last chance for local audiences to marvel at the decades-old set pieces designed by Helen Pond and the late Herbert Senn and the hooped skirts and extravagantly beaded costumes designed by David Walker and Charles Heightchew. Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen has commissioned new sets and costumes to premiere next year.
To watch “The Nutcracker” is to sit amazed at the magic on all sides. First is the mysterious family friend, Drosselmeyer, performing tricks for the children during the party scene. By the end of Act I, he’ll be soaring high above the stage. And that’s not to mention the snow scene with the corps de ballet of Snowflakes twirling en pointe, while white confetti swirls down from above, mounding beneath their toes, and the transformation of the Christmas tree that grows to 42 feet.
Nissinen has promised a new but “classic” version of “The Nutcracker,” meaning that he will not mess with the familiar story. On this particular Christmas Eve, Clara, her parents and grandparents are celebrating the holidays together, a reminder of the passage of time as the life cycle renews through the generations.
But Clara, as always, will venture out into the dark night with the Nutcracker Prince at her side and Drosselmeyer as her guide, When they arrive at the Palace of Sweets in Act II, she will meet the luminous Sugar Plum Fairy, who will teach her more about dancing, a metaphor for a girl-child finding a mentor to help her become a woman. Rachel Harrison made an especially accomplished Clara. Her bratty little brother Fritz, played by Max Pounanov, could not have pouted more convincingly at being ignored, nor snapped his arms more assertively as leader of the chain of naughty boys in the party scene.
The assured principal dancer, Lia Cirio, was cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy on opening night. Cirio was steely perfection in the pas de deux of the finale, partnered by James Whiteside, who trades his costume as Nutcracker Prince for the all-white tunic and tights of her Cavalier.
Braintree resident Sabi Varga, in the role of Drosselmeyer, served as a sinister but elegant presence and master of ceremonies. Long-limbed with spider-like movements, Varga is fervent in throwing himself into the character. As Drosselmeyer he is well-mannered at the party in Act I, but he has other, more serious things on his mind. He must help Clara vanquish the menacing mice who live under the stairs of her middle-class Viennese home.
As usual, many of the dancers in the show-off numbers in the ballet come close to stealing the show from the hundreds of children onstage. None was more virtuosic than principal dancers Kathleen Breen Combes and Lasha Khozashvili in Arabian, as close to X-rated as “The Nutcracker” gets. Barely clothed, they slithered up and down each other’s bodies, alternating with high-above-the-head lifts. The Dancing Bear was buffoonish and smart, while Rie Ichikawa led the Spanish dance with verve. Among the ballerinas – besides Sugar Plum Fairy – the tiny Misa Kuranaga as Snow Queen commanded the corps de ballet of Snowflakes, and soloist-to-watch Whitney Jensen wafted through the Waltz of the Flowers as Dew Drop.
Viewing “The Nutcracker” this year makes one wonder about the changes the newly commissioned sets and costumes will bring. After all, Christmas memories in Boston have been formed by this production.