Toys, fairies, and snowflakes – ‘The Nutcracker’ returns

By Leighah Beausoleil

Associate Editor

By Austin Riffelmacher

Multimedia Critic

The Boston Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” has returned to the Citizen Bank Opera House for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With its transcendent Tchaikovsky score, sumptuous scenery, and dynamic dancers, this Christmas tradition, though antiquated at times, has the power to delight even Scrooge himself.  

Except for 2020, Mikko Nissinen’s “Nutcracker” has played every December at the Opera House since 2012. 

Nissinen chose not to go out of his way to radically rethink the classic moments of the ballet – which in some cases, brings the production to a grinding halt. For example, the battle scene between the Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King in Act One is dreadful in its content and staging. 

The first 30 minutes of the ballet are purposefully geared toward children. 

Students in the Boston Ballet’s division for children take center stage in the Christmas Party scene. The young dancers are quite talented and hold their own with professional dancers from around the globe. 

The beginning of the first act had its highlights – notably when the life-size toys performed their dances. 

The mechanical ballerina’s movements exhibited control yet grace – creating the illusion of a real-life doll. 

The stuffed bear’s performance was entertaining. As it enters the stage by bursting through its box, the audience erupts into laughter at the costume design depicting a bear with a large and frightening face that would make the wildest of black bears cower to its knees. 

It feels like once Clara and the Nutcracker Prince go into the Magical Forest, the dancing finds its footing. The “Dance of the Snowflakes” creates a stunning stage picture with ballerinas leaping through the falling snow bringing the first act to a close just when things start getting interesting for the adults in the audience. 

The second act musically and choreographically is far more complex than the childlike wonder of Act One. 

Act Two benefits from the fact that all of the world-famous Tchaikovsky tunes are stacked one after the other. Whether it’s the Russian Dancers or the Sugar Plum Fairy, the iconic moments bring the audience to the edge of their seats. 

The array of costumes created by Robert Perdziola is intricate and beautifully made. Each formation of dancers has its distinct character. 

Perdziola also did the sets, which are pretty but rickety. Audiences who mainly go to Broadway touring productions at the Opera House will be surprised at how expansive the stage is. 

Another surprise, frankly the highlight of the evening, is the production’s 46 piece orchestra. Everyone should at least hear this music live once in their life, even if the idea of sitting through the ballet is excruciating. 

The form makes it difficult for those unfamiliar with the story to follow it. That’s not to say it’s “Les Miserables.” Watching narrative dance is a way of reading theater that requires adept skill. 

Though the performers were spectacular, the story’s content was questionable, with the premise being Clara wanting a life-size version of her Nutcracker. But then in the second act, the story seemingly is about the Nutcracker Prince taking Clara into the clouds to introduce her to his girlfriend. 

Perhaps it’s best not to intellectualize holiday fare. 

Despite Clara being the character who gives “The Nutcracker” its narrative, she spends almost the entirety of Act Two sitting on a couch with her Uncle Herr Drosselmeyer watching her Nutcracker and others perform various dances of thanks for saving his life. 

Both the women playing the Dewdrop and the Sugar Plum Fairy were spectacular. The skill, grace, and athleticism they exude remind you why their profession is so unique, and why after almost two years without live performances, they are needed. 

A- 

Everyone should see it once