REVIEW: Charm, Elegance and Christmas Spirit in Boston Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’

 
Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

 

Boston Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker is as glittering, enchanting and heart-warming as ever. Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen’s production of this classic Christmas tale is now in its sixth year with Boston Ballet, and they wear it well (and not just the jewel-studded tutus). For a first-rate ballet company, this Nutcracker is a breeze, and a wonderful breeze at that.

Principal Dancers Misa Kuranaga (the Sugarplum Fairy), Seo Hye Han (the Dew Drop) and Second Soloist Lawrence Rines (the Bear and Lead Russian) stole the show. Ms. Kuranaga and Principal Paulo Arrais danced a ravishing grand pas de deux. Their aptitude meant that their dancing excelled—the couple embellished their dancing with superb technical detail, drama and charisma. From Ms. Kuranaga and Mr. Arrais, audiences can expect as close to perfect as a pas de deux can get, which is a demanding standard to set for themselves. But with each performance together, they rise to their own occasion and beyond.

Ms. Han was a sublime Dew Drop. Her fluidity, confidence and gracious demeanor exude beauty and grace, and light up the stage. Mr. Rines’ jaw-dropping athleticism and flexibility drew cheers, gasps and an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Seo Hye Han and Paul Craig in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker_ photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet

Seo Hye Han and Paul Craig in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker_ photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet

Another sure crowd favorite, the Arabian dance, was performed beautifully by Principal Paul Craig and Soloist Maria Baranova. Like in Boston Ballet’s last production, The Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, Mr. Craig demonstrated great capability and ever-growing skill in his first season as a principal dancer.

An element of Mr. Nissinen’s storytelling that I particularly enjoy and appreciate is the sweet relationship between Drosselmeier (Principal Lasha Khozashvili) and his niece, Clara (Boston Ballet School student Eliza French). Mr. Khozashvili brought warmth and charm to his role as the lighthearted magician, and Ms. French, in her third year of performing Clara, is developing into quite a skilled young dancer.

Mr. Nissinen’s tasteful production of The Nutcracker is warm and aesthetically brilliant, top to bottom, start to finish. However, the dancers of Boston Ballet need more challenging and interesting choreography. With a high skill level, they are capable of much more than what Mr. Nissinen gave to them, especially in the Waltz of the Flowers, Spanish dance and Grand Pas de Deux.

The Act II character dances are great opportunities to challenge the dancers with tough roles that they look forward to mastering, a rite of passage on their way to the right to dance the Grand Pas. For now, it’s certainly beautiful, but not demanding.

What is demanding is the 44-show run of The Nutcracker. Choreography that dancers of any level can perform means more democratic casting, which alleviates the intensity of stretching an entire company over 44 shows and also allows dancers—who might not otherwise have the opportunity—take on leading roles.

Despite my picky complaints, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker is a stunning Christmas tradition, and a major highlight of Boston’s delightful Christmas season.

Boston Ballet will be performing Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House through December 31. For tickets and information, visit Boston Ballet’s webpage.