The Boston Ballet’s new “Nutcracker,” with its sleek and bejeweled costumes and spacious, regal sets, brings a softness and light — a wistful knowingness — to the venerable holiday classic. It, like artistic director Mikko Nissinen’s past version, is all about the dancing, not just an homage to pageantry and mime (though no worries: There’s plenty of magic afoot). But it goes a step further: It cracks open “the private world of children,” as artist Maurice Sendak puts it in his 1984 introduction to the E.T.A. Hoffmann story at the ballet’s core, revealing how far we have to travel to grow into our full, adult selves.
The production’s success, of course, owes as much to the dancers as to designer Robert Perdziola’s new costumes and sets and Nissinen’s adamance that the choreography spring straight from the Tchaikovsky score.
Perdziola has, in a sense, gone back to the future. His Empire-style gowns, with their high waists and flowing fabrics, hark back to around 1820 rather than the 1840s, as the bigger, stuffier outfits of the previous “Nutcracker” did, showcasing the classical lines of the dancers’ bodies and giving the ballet overall an unfettered, more contemporary look. He has, though, gone a bit nuts with the sparkles: The tutus and bodices for the Sugar Plum Fairy and Dew Drop alone sport more than 3,600 jewels, which under the lights can jolt and blur the costumes’ distinctiveness.
But no matter. The dancing, even more than the gemstones, shines. The dancers — a fleet of some 150 in each show — skim through a Snow Scene limned with birch trees (no more evergreens) and a Louis XIV-inspired Nutcracker Prince’s Kingdom (no more frothy Kingdom of the Sweets) in formations from kaleidoscopic shiftings to serial fouettes that whip the air into butter (that would be Lia Cirio, as Dew Drop). Chelsea Perry, as Clara, sets the tone, from her entrance — a whiff of blue amid the grown-up browns and creams — in Act 1’s Party Scene, to her closing smile after she awakens, acknowleding the real world while giving a nod to the dream crown still on her head. Perry is a natural: The clarity of line in her extended arabesques and suspended leaps connote both whimsy and wisdom.
Sabi Varga as Drosselmeier, in black tails and gold buttons, is light on his feet but a bit menacing, even creepy at times. The rabbit he pulls out of a hat in his workshop in the Prologue foreshadows a new character in the Battle Scene: A giant bunny who joins the Gingerbread Man and the candy-throwing mice before the Nutcracker Prince slays the Mouse King and comes to life. The big lagomorph is a cute touch, but comes as a shock.
Seo Hye Han is an incisive, flex-footed Ballerina Doll, and Irlan Silva, as Harlequin, snaps his beats as crisply as his fan. Isaac Akiba in the Russian dance stuns with his jumps and spins, shattering the space as he whip-turns with one leg extended. Brittany Summer, who partners with Lasha Khozashvili in the Arabian dance, appears made out of bendable steel: She horseshoes her back over Khozashvili, her arms gently pedaling the air.
The big stars of Act II, though, are Jeffrey Cirio, who glows as the Nutcracker Prince, and Misa Kuranaga, an intrinsically musical Sugar Plum Fairy — down to the shudder of a foot at her ankle and the twist of an insole forward. When he guides her in the Grand Pas de Deux as she shifts from attitude to passe-turn to arabesque seemingly in a breath, sparks fly.
Finally: About that growing Chrismas growing tree. It is spectacular. The nearly 17-foot tree in the Silberhaus drawing room splits vertically, revealing a 42-foot illuminated maze of branches, fiber optic points, and ornaments (600 of them). It’s not so much a tree as the essence of the “Nutcracker” — an emblem of what can happen when fantasy straddles reality.