International Reviews

Holiday Magic, Joy and Grandeur – Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's 'The Nutcracker'. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Boston Opera House.

December 2015.

Something magical often happens around the holidays – people come together in shared joy, no matter what conflicts or disconnections lay between them. Families put aside petty arguments to share good food and special times together. Relative strangers genuinely wish each other “Happy Holidays!” Holiday traditions help to keep this joyous spirit alive, and one such tradition is surely The Nutcracker. This past month or so, our world has seen the type of violence that can make us feel disheartened and grasping for what we know is good in humanity.

Ashley Ellis and Lasha Khozashvili in Mikko Nissinen's 'The Nutcracker'. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Ashley Ellis and Lasha Khozashvili in Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker, commendably delivered by Boston Ballet dancers and its artistic collaborators, offered just what it seems like our world could use more of right now – joy, friendship, beauty, and hope in our abilities to put forth the best parts of ourselves. The old and the new came together to convey that we can indeed stay connected with the thrills and magic of the holiday season. The performance began on a subtle note, with a street sweeper (Ethan Chudnow) and children (students of the Boston Ballet School) lit low in front of Drosselmeyer’s home. The party scene in full swing, however, brought much color, energetic dancing and unique additions to the traditional party scene structure and choreography. On the other hand, many elements in plot and movement stayed true to such tradition.

Various Boston Ballet dancers offered beautiful poise and grace as the adult party guests. Their children (students of the Boston Ballet School) demonstrated solid technique while not losing the compelling fluidity of children’s natural movement. Clara showed elegance in her movement that seems beyond her years. Harlequin (Ricardo Santos) and Ballerina Doll (Ji Young Chae) perfectly balanced technique and character-specific movement. For instance, Chae smoothly landed a complex multiple turn with the Doll’s signature “cactus” arms (bent at the elbows, hands pointing up and palms facing each other) and gentle double-bounce. The audience showed that it loved the big and bold dancing of the Bear (Lawrence Rines) with hearty laughter.

Later on, Clara asleep on the living room couch, the mice (both students and artists of Boston Ballet School and Boston Ballet, respectively) began to creep out. In some Nutcracker performances, these creatures can have a decidedly dark, sinister feel. These mice only made the audience laugh again, however. They would pose in spotlight, frozen in place – caught! This was true of Drosselmeyer, as well; a character who can be mysterious, and sometimes even chilling, danced in a larger-than-life way that made him almost comical.  

Boston Ballet's Paulo Arrais (Nutcracker Prince) and Matthew Slattery (Mouse King) in Mikko Nissinen's 'The Nutcracker'. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Boston Ballet’s Paulo Arrais (Nutcracker Prince) and Matthew Slattery (Mouse King) in Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

In the Snow Kingdom, the Snow Queen and King (Ashley Ellis and Lasha Khosashvili) graced those on and offstage with their poise and technical command. Their Snowflakes never missed a beat with the speedy orchestral take on the traditional snow scene score. Their dancing did not lose size and grandeur, however, even with that speed. A part of me wanted it to slow down a breath or two, to be able to really appreciate the beauty of the complex allegro choreography. For instance, Ellis danced beautifully, but I felt as if she might be able to truly finish each movement if she had the time in the music.

Another part of me, however, was completely absorbed in the fun and magic of it all. It was truly a snowy world, no inch of the stage without blanketing in glittery white. The Christmas tree behind the dancers, completely spanning the wide backstage wall and fully-lit, added to this feeling of no-holds-barred grandeur. Somehow, it all managed to avoid being “campy” or “over-the-top” – and simply remained magically captivating.

In the Land of the Sweets, this feeling of splendor and fun continued. The Spanish variation (from Emily Mistretta, Sarah Wroth, Matthew Slattery and Lawrence Rines) offered the unique flair of culturally Spanish dance, without losing technical finesse. Petra Conti, the female Arabian dancer, displayed a seemingly super-human elasticity – yet strength – in her sultry variation. Here, I enjoyed the slower speed, with the chance to enjoy the energy and smooth finish of each movement, that I craved at other points in the performance.

Lia Cirio in Mikko Nissinen's 'The Nutcracker'. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Lia Cirio in Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

In line with the larger-than-life ambiance of it all, Mother Ginger’s skirt was laughably – yet enjoyably – large. Just as in the party scene, the Boston Ballet School student performers managed to dance with technical command yet with the looseness of children’s organic movement. The Chinese dancers also showed an impressive balance, effectively portraying the culturally specific movement of this variation without taking it too far, into stereotype (as the movement is sometimes criticized as culturally reductionistic). The Russian dancers offered jaw-dropping height and power in their trepak-based dancing, with the energy and magnificence that I had come to expect by that point in the performance.

Dew Drop (Lia Cirio) and the Nutcracker Prince (Paulo Arrais) carried that quality to the end. Cirio danced with incredible strength, yet also enough feminine softness to accompany the jewels shining from the entire front of her tutu bodice. Arrais dutifully supported and displayed her through their pas de deux but was more than ready to traverse the stage with impressive technique and power in his solo section of the coda. To end, the also light, yet strong, Flowers (various Boston Ballet dancers) joined them. Various Land of the Sweets dancers followed, to blanket the stage with incredibly lively and joyous dancing.

The joy they seemed to have in dancing together, in their unique version of this classical and beloved tale, leapt off the stage to travel far past the farthest seats in the house. With recent events threatening to dampen such communal connection and joy, that was truly a gift – greater than any expensive Apple product or piece of fine jewelry. Right now, it is one that our world could sorely use. For that, I thank and commend the Boston Ballet dancers, the choreographer and Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, and all collaborators in this performance effort. I wish holiday joy and love to all!

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

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