Another year, another Boston Ballet “Nutcracker.” And yes, it’s pretty much the same “Nutcracker” we’ve been seeing for the past few years. But you’ll hear no “Humbug” from this quarter. “The Nutcracker” goes a long way to support the rest of the Boston Ballet season; this year’s 41 performances afford corps members a chance to shine and to audition for roles down the line; the production gives Boston Ballet School students a chance to perform on stage; the many kids in the audience are getting a vital introduction to ballet. The Tchaikovsky score is a masterpiece. Oh and as Friday’s opening-night performance reminded us, it’s a really good ballet.
One reason for the ongoing success of the current production is its fidelity to the work’s ultimate source, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s 1816 novella “Nutcracker and Mouse King.” In Hoffmann’s quirky fairy tale, Marie (as she’s called there) takes to her heart what looks like an ugly nutcracker, only it’s really the handsome young nephew of her godpapa, Herr Drosselmeier, under the enchantment of a wicked Mouse Queen. Marie’s love breaks the spell and restores him. Not a bad Christmas fable.
Then there’s the details. Artistic director Mikko Nissinen and designer Robert Perdziola have set the current version in 1820; the place could well be Nürnberg, where Hoffmann set his story. There’s a social dimension to the beginning: we see Clara Silberhaus, in her powder blue coat and bonnet, buying a posy from some street urchins. When the set opens to allow the guests into the Silberhauses’ holiday party, we get to go in with them, but the urchins are left out in the cold. The Silberhaus drawing room is a cozy russet brown; the Snow Scene is backed by a forest of silver birches; the ballroom in the Nutcracker’s kingdom evokes the grandeur of French “Sun King” Louis XIV in the style of Rococo artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
And of course there are the Boston Ballet dancers. Last year’s opening-night Clara was back again this year. Mia Steedle was in the school then; now she’s a member of Boston Ballet II. Her smile, as she looked straight at the audience, was the cue for music director Mischa Santora to start the Overture; that smile also brought the evening to an end. (Nissinen’s idea of how “The Nutcracker” should end is as good as any you’ll see.) In between, she was agile and spontaneous.
Paulo Arrais’s playful Drosselmeier was just a kid at heart, though he had the gravitas to guide Clara through her romantic awakening. Patric Palkens was, once again, an endearing Herr Silberhaus; Madysen Felber and Sun Woo Lee were sweetly subversive as the grandparents who, in the middle of the stately, party-ending “Grandfather Dance,” bust into a dizzy polka. The Mice have their own little jokes: some of them are first seen in yoga poses, and they eventually assemble to form the “boat” from George Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son.” The battle scene between the Mice and the Nutcracker’s forces seemed unusually compact and crisp.
Highlights of act two included a sultry and technically superb Arabian from Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili and Isaac Akiba’s sterling tours à la seconde in Russian. Viktorina Kapitonova brought a gracious amplitude and gorgeous jetés to Dew Drop. As the opening-night Sugar Plum Fairy, a role that’s belonged to Misa Kuranaga over the past few years, Ji Young Chae was precise and poetic, and most musical in her pointing of her delicate celesta variation. And though Tigran Mkrtchyan as her Nutcracker didn’t show quite the same bravura, they partnered well together.
Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Choreography by Mikko Nissinen. Set and costumes: Robert Perdziola. Lighting: Mikki Kunttu. With the Boston Ballet Orchestra conducted by Mischa Santora. Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through Dec. 29. Tickets $37-$350. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.