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Just right?
Boston Balletís Nutcracker at the Opera House
BY JEFFREY GANTZ


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Ľ Related links

ē The Boston Ballet

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Call it "The Nutcracker and the Three Theaters," not a very catchy title, but itís a good story. Boston Balletís The Nutcracker spent 35 happy years at the Wang Theatre, drawing as many as 140,000 people a year (more than go to any other Nutcracker worldwide) to a house that, with 3600 seats, really is too big for ballet. Then the Wang Center folks decided they could make more holiday money with the likes of the Rockettes and Irving Berlinís White Christmas, and so last year the Ballet took its Nutcracker to the Clear ChannelĖrun Colonial Theatre, which with 1700 seats is too small for what has to be a holiday moneymaker. This year Boston Balletís Nutcracker is in the 2500-seat Opera House (also Clear Channel), through December 30, and if, unlike Goldilocks, the production hasnít found its new home just right, itís still a pretty good fit.

Itís also a workable marriage between the 1978 sets by Helen Pond and Herbert Senn and the 1995 costumes by David Walker (with additions by Charles Heightchew) and the more recent choreography by company artistic director Mikko Nissinen. The Opera House stage is shallower than the Wangís, and though that means fewer party guests and Snowflakes and Flowers, it also brings the action closer to the audience. The 45-member orchestra, on the other hand, is farther away, some 15 feet down in the Opera House pit. Music director Jonathan McPhee and associate conductor Mark Churchill canít see the stage and have to look at a monitor, and the necessary amplification makes Tchaikovskyís score sound tinny, though the spot miking affords many intriguing details.

But the opulent sets now make a good backdrop for Nissinenís spare, unfrilly story line and choreography. The LED lighting from Color Kinetics and the silver backdrop for the Snowflakes and the giant snowflake that ferried Clara and the Nutcracker to the Kingdom of Sweets are gone; the familiar Oriental-blue Silberhaus drawing room and Enchanted Forest and balloon (undeterred by blizzard conditions) are back. As he did last year, the Nutcracker, after dispatching the Mouse King, turns into the Cavalier who escorts Clara to the Kingdom of Sweets and there is welcomed home by his sweetheart, the Sugar Plum Fairy, while Godpapa Drosselmeier, whoís flown in alongside the balloon, looks after Clara. Fritz again throws a tantrum after getting a book as a present, the Governess gives Clara and the other girls a dancing lesson, Grandpa and Grandma break into that polka in the midst of the polonaise, and Fritz is just as delighted to receive the departing Drosselmeierís on-the-fritz (a visual pun?) watch. In Claraís dream, Drosselmeierís Harlequin and Columbine and Bear again chase her around the stage. The old distracting backdrops for the act-two divertissements are gone; Clara and Drosselmeier sit center upstage on a blue throne whose shape echoes the Gothic windows of act one.

Sometimes itís too spare. All thatís left of the Delivery Boy who was sweet on the Silberhaus parlor maid is the young man who does some beats and tours à la seconde in the street outside the Silberhaus home and collects a coin from one of the children. Heís not even credited in the program, though Joel Prouty elicited a deserved round of applause at last Thursdayís press night. Aside from the dancing lesson and the polka, the Governess and Grandpa and Grandma are decoration; apart from matching watches with Drosselmeier and scolding Fritz, Herr Silberhaus has little to do, and his wife less. And Drosselmeierís clownish bumbling is inconsistent with his magic powers. Last year, instead of flying off in a balloon or a snowflake at the end of the ballet, Clara woke from her dream and held up her Nutcracker and seemed to ask whether it really was just a dream; it was the best conclusion any Nutcracker has had since the oft-aired 1978 American Ballet Theatre version in which Gelsey Kirkland looks out through a frosted window in wonder. This year Clara and Drosselmeier just fly off in the balloon.

Thereís not much drama in the dancing, either, not with choreography that verges on pretty and pleasing. Apart from the bravura split kicks and tours à la seconde in the Trepak, the men, even the Snow King and the Cavalier, attempt little thatís memorable; itís as if departed ballet master Raymond Lukens had taken all their turns with him to New York. Chocolate (Spanish), Tea (Chinese), Marzipan (Pastorale), and the Snowflake and Flower ensemble numbers are satisfying rather than scintillating; only Coffee (Arabian) retains the power to hurt and heal. Dew Drop, once a testing ground for principals and soloists, can now be performed capably by any corps member.

Sugar Plumís variation, the one with the celesta, still rewards dancers with line and nuance, and on press night Larissa Ponomarenko had both, creating delicate arabesques with her beats and spinning out an inhumanly even manège of piqué and chaîné turns. What she didnít have was an adequate partner, Roman Rykine looking stiff and flubbing some moves, though he brought off a difficult hopping sequence that other Cavaliers didnít even essay. On Friday, Lorna Feijóo appeared straitjacketed and lacking in her usual attitude; only the variation got her eyes and her shoulders moving. She too received little help from her partner; Carlos Molina, apart from his usual excellent mime, seemed disoriented and out of synch. Different story Saturday night: Nelson Madrigal, fresh-faced and boyish, brought a Puckish quality to his Cavalier, his body language throwing out hints of good-natured parody. He ran out of steam quickly in his tarantella variation, attempting little and doing less; he recovered somewhat in the coda with a series of tours à la seconde, and his partnering was a model by this companyís current standard. Romi Beppu was, as always, beaming in her expression and pointed in her movement.

Karine Seneca brought some mystery ó as well as sex ó to Coffee, undulating sinuously in front of Yury Yanowsky; Kelley Potter and Jaime Diaz were blander and had technical problems; Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga made the best connection of the three couples. Nissinenís choreography for Dew Drop looks better on women with long arms and legs (Melanie Atkins, for one), but Saturday night Tempe Ostergren had enough dew to compensate for any visual or technical shortcomings, and she hit those tricky reverse-direction arabesque turns right on the beat. So did Beppu Friday, though she seemed more studied than spontaneous, and that was also true of Cirio on press night. There were dynamic turns from Christopher Budzynski and Jared Redick (with his 360-degree-turning split jumps) and, especially, Joel Prouty in the Trepak. Kathleen Breen Combes and Misa Kuranaga were disjointed delights as Columbine (my view of Rie Ichikawa was largely obscured by late-arriving patrons); itís too bad Harlequin no longer interacts with her. The Mouse King is back in his Middle Eastern finery (Pond & Sennís sly allusion to the Turkish Knight in the St. George and the Dragon mummersí play) and catís-head trophy belt, and he was appropriately overacted by James Whiteside, Sabi Varga, and Luke Luzicka, but neither Luzicka nor the companyís accomplished "character artist," Viktor Plotnikov, could make much sense out of Drosselmeier.

As he did last year, Nissinen is dividing the roles of Fritz and Clara between company members (Clara on pointe) and Ballet School students, two sets of each. Kuranaga has the sensibility to bring this off; Heather Waymack on pointe was taller than both her Cavalier and her Sugar Plum and looked a little awkward. Both "adult" Fritzes, Michael Breeden and Issac Akiba, seemed too old to be having tantrums. The traditional Clara and Fritz I saw, Elizabeth Powell and Dylan Tedaldi, were traditionally gratifying.


Issue Date: December 9 - 15, 2005
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