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Thirty-Three Years and Still Crackin'

THE NUTCRACKER Boston Ballet At the Wang Center Through Jan. 3

By Sarah A. Rodriguez, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Dazzling. Breathtaking. Marvelous. Delightful. Fuzzy.

Fuzzy?

You read it right the first time. Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker, one of the most popular ballets of all time, is back in its 33rd year of seasonal splendor at the Wang Center and it features some of the cutest creatures ever to grace the stage. Clara and her Victorian-style ilk may have the fluffiest and most elaborate dresses the dancers from the Palace of Sweets may don more elaborate sequin patterns than the average prom queen but the stars of the show are the adorable animals. The repertoire of the dancing bear (danced by Zach Grubbs, Marc Estrada or James Mills) rivals the average Olympic gymnast's. The smaller fry--the four sheep and tiny mouse in particular--do not do more than hop and scurry across the stage; nonetheless, they win more squeals of delight from the audience than the Sugar Plum Fairy does.

The cute cretins, however, are only one part of the elaborate magic that is The Nutcracker. Over 120,000 people see the show annually, making it the "most popular in the world," according to the Boston Ballet. That title is certainly a well-deserved one. Everything about The Nutcracker is a child's fantasy come true--stunning sets, divine costumes, amazing dancing, a literal ton of plastic confetti snow and 1,200 toe shoes. Well, perhaps all those toe shoes aren't part of the fantasy, but they're still a tribute to the massiveness that is this production.

The story, as many know, opens as everyone in a sweet little Victorian-era town is getting ready for Christmas. Clara (Marie Ceranowicz) and Fritz (Hobraiam Suarez) and their parents host an enormous and delightful party, where the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer (Laszlo Berdo) gives Clara a Nutcracker toy that Fritz promptly breaks. (It is interesting to note that in this year's production, Fritz does not get spanked or punished in any way by his parents.) Drosselmeyer, however, takes pity on poor Clara--at midnight, he transforms the living room into a massive battlefield where the Nutcracker, brought to glorious life, fights and wins over the mischievous mice and their king. To show Clara his gratitude, the Nutcracker Prince (Carlos Ivan Santos) takes Clara to the Snow forest and the Palace of Sweets, where a myriad of candy-related dancers entertain the two of them until Clara goes back home, supposedly happy beyond her wildest dreams.

Daniel Pelzig has made a significant number of changes in this year's Nutcracker, some of which are for better and some for worse. Gone is the scene in which Clara and Fritz playfully try to peek through the door at the pre-gala happenings; gone also is the spicy one-woman, four-men "Spanish Dance" (it is now a simpler pas de deux). But these small changes do not make much difference in the overall appeal of the show--it remains as graceful and as cutely comical as it ever was.

As mentioned before, the gaggle of children who perform in the ballet help make it both entertaining to kids and adorable to adults. What pint-sized prima donna ballerina didn't want to be Clara, prancing about onstage in the swirliest dress with the best doll and dancing that breathtaking (and romantic?) duet with the Nutcracker Prince? Some of the intensely traditional ballet's parts, however, may ring a bit uncomfortable with audiences today--all the little boys receive guns and promptly pretend to shoot one another, while all the little girls receive dolls and are content to sit and rock them. Yet despite borderline-misogynistic scenes like this, the first few scenes exude a delightful sweetness found in only the prettiest of children's tales.

The dancers in the land of snow and sweets should be heavily applauded here--due to the short attention spans of many of their shorter audience members, these dancers' skills will probably go fairly unappreciated this season. Most heartily congratulated should be the Snow Queen and King (Jennifer Glaze and Zachary Hench), whose elaborate steps in the midst of nearly-blinding snow must be next to impossible. The Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier (Jennifer Gelfand and Paul Thrussell) also demonstrate unparalleled grace and splendor, with an air that is nothing short of regal.

While all of the "international" (though sometimes questionably p.c.) dances involve incredible talent, the "Arabian Coffee" and "Russian" dances stand out as being particularly difficult. The infectious energy of the Russian dancers, featuring Reagan Messer, tumbles and "Hey!"s its way into the audience's hearts; likewise, the fluid flexibility of the Coffee dancers (Erika Lambe, Todd Ghanizadeh and Zachary Hench) combines the delicate beauty of ballet with the astounding talent of contortionists.

One cannot, however, forget the orchestra. Tchaikovsky's music is almost familiar enough to be a holiday cliche; melodies that many balletgoers already know by heart. Every section shines with perfection, from the lilting flutes to the fluid strings to the variety of percussion instruments. In addition, the children's choir (who appear during the dance of the Snow Queen and King) adds a delightful touch.

There may be some small flaws with Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker, however, they remain few and far between and hidden under the frilly layers of breathtaking spectacle. Filled with gorgeous costumes, glorious sets and amazing special effects (particularly noteworthy are the hot-air balloon that Clara and the Nutcracker Prince fly away on, as well as Drosselmeyer's subsequent flight across stage), The Nutcracker is sure to leave audiences spellbound with the wonder and magic of the season, neatly packaged onstage, for the 33rd year in a row. The dancers are magnificent. The music is enchanting.

And you can't help but love those little kids in the sheep costumes

There may be some small flaws with Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker, however, they remain few and far between and hidden under the frilly layers of breathtaking spectacle. Filled with gorgeous costumes, glorious sets and amazing special effects (particularly noteworthy are the hot-air balloon that Clara and the Nutcracker Prince fly away on, as well as Drosselmeyer's subsequent flight across stage), The Nutcracker is sure to leave audiences spellbound with the wonder and magic of the season, neatly packaged onstage, for the 33rd year in a row. The dancers are magnificent. The music is enchanting.

And you can't help but love those little kids in the sheep costumes

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