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Boston Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’ Review: Christmas Wonder is Back

Paulo Arrais and students of Boston Ballet School in Mikko Nissinen's "The Nutcracker"
Paulo Arrais and students of Boston Ballet School in Mikko Nissinen's "The Nutcracker" By Photo by Liza Voll, Courtesy of Boston Ballet
By Millie Mae Healy, Crimson Staff Writer

On Nov. 24, Boston Ballet returned with their Christmas staple, Mikko Nissinen’s “The Nutcracker.” “The Nutcracker” features accomplished dancers from the company as well as students from the Boston Ballet School and follows Clara as her Christmas gift comes to life and leads her into a magical world.

Opening to complete silence with various characters running on and off what is supposed to be a winter city street, “The Nutcracker” begins on a hesitant, awkward note. This is saved by John Lam as Drosselemeier, the creator of the Nutcracker. Lam has a captivating and magnetic presence onstage, dangerously outclassing many of the other performers in the opening act. He’s a joy to watch throughout, ushering in the magical world for Clara, played by Chisaka Oga, and the viewer, and is equal parts paternalistic and dynamic.

Oga brings a wry playfulness and quiet joy to the iconic character as she begs for the Nutcracker toy after Drosselmeier’s arrival to the party and embarks on her adventure alongside her Nutcracker, who is portrayed by Patrick Yocum. Though the “Party Scene” slightly overstays its welcome, each ensemble scene has such depth of spectacle onstage that it is delightful to watch. The “Battle Scene,” which features brilliant physical comedy as the mice close ranks around Clara, is another instance of the creative choreography featured throughout.

The scenery throughout the performance is also stunning. From Drosselmeier’s workshop on the unadorned black stage opening up to the grandeur of Clara’s house for the “Party Scene,” to the famous opening of the Christmas tree leading into the winter wonderland, to the minutely decorated palace, each setting is more ornately detailed than the last and wonderfully incorporated into the choreography.

“The Kingdom of the Sweets” dances, the focus of the second act, have long been controversial. Dancers perform homages to Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinese tea, French marzipan, and Russian Troika, ostensibly to engage with their cultures, but have frequently been criticized for containing offensive stereotypes. Given that “The Nutcracker” is ultimately ballet, instead of engaging with another culture’s dance tradition, these dances typically contain watered down accents that poorly pastiche another art. Boston Ballet has shown itself to be cognizant of these issues, as Nissinen for this reason reworked the “Chinese Tea” dance to include traditional ribbon dancing; however, the number is so short the inclusion feels jarring instead of working as intended. Similarly, the mimed Flamenco accents in the “Spanish Chocolate” dance and the conspicuously revealing costumes for “Arabian Coffee” compared to everyone else onstage were a disappointing choice. Despite this, the high energy of the “Russian Troika” was a breath of fresh air and the “Waltz of the Flowers” was beautiful if not especially memorable. Though the whole sequence is the colorful spectacle it intends to be, it’s a shame they didn’t choose to do more.

The “Mother Ginger” dance featuring her Polichinelles — with Alexander Nicolosi as Mother Ginger and Boston Ballet School students portraying the children — was a highlight, as the Polichinelles being taught to dance alongside Clara and Drosselmeier was endlessly endearing, and completely sells why so much of the magic comes from including children in the performance. The whole sequence is an entirely welcome spark of joy.

Though far from effortless, Viktorina Kapitonova’s performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy featured beautiful musicality and attack throughout. Though hampered by having an almost identical costume to Dew Drop, the spectacle of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince doesn’t disappoint. The trading of the stage back and forth between the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker was awkward, but Yocum’s incredible control and the overall dynamism makes it a fitting end to the production. “The Nutcracker” will feature a rotating cast for all of the principal roles, adding different dimensions to this famous production.

A beautiful experience for the whole family, Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” will run until Dec. 31 at the Citizens Bank Opera House.

—Staff writer Millie Mae Healy can be reached at milliemae.healy@thecrimson.com.

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