Over the past 127 years, Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” has come to dominate the ballet world. Year after year, kids charm their grandparents in giant gingerbread costumes, budding ballerinas compete for the coveted role of the Snow Queen, and dancers of all ages are awed by the superhuman Sugar Plum Fairy. What explains the “The Nutcracker”’s enduring charm, and can it still thrill modern audiences? While other ballet companies are shying away from the Christmas classic, the Boston Ballet’s 2019 production, which ran Nov. 29 - Dec. 29 at the Citizens Bank Opera House, sought to answer these questions. With everything from giant, sparkling set pieces in full Christmas glory to charismatic cast members that infused familiar choreography with energy and humor, the Boston Ballet’s production proved “The Nutcracker” is truly built to last.
Starting off, the show’s production design felt both fresh and nostalgic. Set and costume designer Robert Perdziola opted for giant, glittering murals over typical three dimensional trees or clouds. The incredible detailing — hundreds of tiny cherubs in The Land of Sweets, tiny painted ornaments on the famous giant Christmas tree — added fun and character to the classic settings. The costumes, likewise, were delightful down to the little details, such as tiny sequined snowflakes on layers of rich tulle or subtle petaled ruffles for the Waltz of the Flowers.
The vibrancy of the performance came not just from gorgeous sets and costumes, but also from key dancers’ truly top-notch performances. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping of these was 12-year-old New Jersey native Emma Blake’s performance as the beloved Clara. Blake was completely self-assured, imbuing even the space between each movement with utter energy and excitement. With the charisma of a born principal, she stole the spotlight even from mature dancers like the experienced Drosselmeier (Paulo Arrais). Blake did not waste a single famous step, her flawless articulation and radiant joy lending her Clara with both the maturity of an older dancer and the excitement of someone dancing the steps for the first time.
In contrast to Blake’s youthful exuberance, Chisako Oga’s Sugar Plum Fairy had a coy, graceful restraint that made the ballet as a whole all the richer. In a show that gave a lot of stage time to very young dancers from the Boston Ballet School, Fentroy’s restrained grandeur lent her iconic character all the mystery and maturity of the original.
Another standout was Chrystyn Fentroy, whose sultry adaptation of the famous Arabian variation showcased the powerful, alluring fluidity of more modernized, contemporary ballet. Moving through superhuman lifts and mind-boggling extensions with subtle, sensual ease, Fentroy and her partner Paul Craig were possibly the night’s most unforgettable performers. In contrast to the very classic choreography around it, their movement was all the more explosive and awe-inspiring. In a short routine, they reminded the audience of all the possibility of ballet at its most boundary breaking, taking each reach, each arch, and each intimate contour of expression one step farther than seemed possible.
While showcasing carefully fine-tuned technique, the Boston Ballet’s production also embraced the childlike humor of the show and never took itself too seriously. In fact, the show’s particularly comedic moments were also some of its highlights. From the adorable black sheep’s intentional missteps, to the mouse King’s minions posing as vogue models and yoga students, to their signature confusingly large and athletic Nutcracker Bear, the performance was marked by its whole-hearted embrace of ballet as not just serious, but fun.
From its adorable groups of young dancers to its mesmerizing principals, the Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” has something for everyone: not just serious, but fun.
—Staff Writer Joy C. Ashford can be reached at email@example.com.