Next fall, Boston Ballet will move all its performing operations to the Opera House from Citi Performing Arts Center's immense and unfriendly Wang Theatre. The transfer can't come a moment too soon. We've had previews of what the company will look like during the past three encampments of The Nutcracker at the Opera House, and the production returns there this year (through 28 December). In this setting the holiday perennial looks better than ever — cleaner, tighter, and above all more human.
CLEANER, TIGHTER, MORE HUMAN: In its new setting Boston Ballet's holiday perennial looks
better than ever.
The Opera House is a lot smaller than the Wang, but it still feels grand, with its ornate decorations and high, loggia-rimmed lobby. What makes the biggest difference is the relation between the stage and the audience. At the Wang, whatever is going on seems miniaturized, no matter how big the production is. At the Opera House, the action is closer; we're in the same room with the magic. Opening night last Friday, the dancers seemed to thrive on the more intimate ambiance.
Scale matters on stage, especially in a show like The Nutcracker, where contrasts in size are crucial. The characters range from little kids to adults and oversized animals, the Christmas tree lights up a giant's living room, and the toys grow into dancing people.
The first act is a realistic family party set in the 19th century. We're wrapped in the comforts of parents and presents, friends of all ages who join in little parlor dances. After that, we can sail safely along with Clara into the comic battle with the mice and the sleigh ride in the snowstorm, and then via hot-air balloon to the Kingdom of Sweets.
The toymaker Droßelmeier, in purple cloak and eyepatch, was played by Boyko Dossev as a charming friend of the Silberhaus family. He's kind of amateurish and clumsy — he arrives late at the party and fumbles some of his tricks. But he's almost childlike himself, with sparkling eyes and melodramatic sleight-of-hand. He wins Clara's heart with his gift of the Nutcracker, then orchestrates her dream journey.
Director/choreographer Mikko Nissinen has streamlined the whole production to make a reasonable — but not too reasonable — storyline. Clara (Elizabeth Wisdom) has some ballet dancing to do, first partnered by the Nutcracker Prince (Yury Yanowsky) and then, joined by Droßelmeier, leading a farandole with the rowdy children of Grandmère Ballabile (alias Mother Ginger).
The classical dancing is spread among three ballerinas. Larissa Ponomarenko, partnered by Roman Rykine, presided over the Snowflakes in a conventional pas de deux with corps de ballet. Melissa Hough led the Waltz of the Flowers. The Nutcracker Prince, here called Cavalier, partnered the Sugar Plum Fairy (Lorna Feijóo) in the climactic pas de deux. His relationship to her character is the one thing in Nissinen's production that isn't clear — maybe he's her son or her nephew — but he stays in the Kingdom of the Sweets when Clara and Droßelmeier set off for home. Yanowsky's dancing looked off, maybe because he was substituting at the last minute for Nelson Madrigal, and Feijóo compensated by dancing with even steelier control and more-quivering foot beats than usual.
The second-act character dances, in various "ethnic" flavors, were lively and full of variety. Kathleen Breen Combes flung herself into the luxurious backbends and spirals of Spanish. Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga, their long torsos and arms exposed in skimpy tops and harem pants, were a big hit in the mysterious Arabian.
The Chinese children twirled their umbrellas cleverly, and the audience went "Awwwww!" on cue in the Pastorale when five white lambs appeared in the care of two shepherdesses, and "Aah!" a moment later with the arrival of a naughty little black sheep. This flock upstaged the hardworking trio of James Whiteside, Heather Myers, and Megan Gray. Oh, and the marauding mice had cute pink ears, and their King (Mark Wax) was dressed like the Sultan in Sheherazade.