After the food coma of Thanksgiving and the exhaustion of Black Friday's manic consumerism, Boston Ballet's "The Nutcracker" provides a nice little sugar rush right into the holiday season.
Choreographed by artistic director Mikko Nissinen, the company's version of this beloved classic sports vivid, imaginative scenery by Helen Pond and Herbert Senn, elaborate, often whimsical costumes by David Walker and Charles Heightchew, and captivating special effects (like the Christmas tree that soars to the ceiling before our eyes and a balloon that flies up and out of sight, carrying Clara, its young heroine, to the Land of the Sweets.) However, the production also features substantive choreography and, in last evening's opening night performance at the Opera House, some exquisite dancing.
Even the mime-heavy first act, which can be a little tedious for grown-ups who've seen the ballet more than once, has some excellent star turns, beginning with the uncredited role of the Young Man, dazzling Boston Ballet II dancer Isaac Akiba in lofty split leaps and brilliant fouettes. John Lam and Misa Kuranaga are charmingly daft as animated dolls. Even the corps of party children are given some serious pattern and partnered work, which they handle with impressive aplomb. (Throughout, the production's large corps of adorable children display focus and discipline.)
Nissinen also peppers the act with some engaging details, like Drosselmeyer's chicken strut after completing the Nutcracker. Boyko Dossev plays him with a compelling blend of virility and mischief. But even though Act I is streamlined in pacing, it gets a little too busy at times, to the point of confusion in scenes like the cloyingly cute but messy "Battle of the Toy Soldiers and Mice" (choreographed by Daniel Pelzig). Clara, given a vibrant portrayal by Elizabeth Wisdom, barely has time to lay down, much less fall asleep and dream, before bedlam sets in.
But then comes the real choreographic magic, as snow blankets the Enchanted Forest and live snowflakes spin and skitter in ever-changing patterns. Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine are poised and regal as the Snow Queen and King.
In Act II, the ballet really comes to life. Lorna Feijoo is an exquisite Sugar Plum Fairy, elegant yet refreshingly full-bodied, with footwork ranging from delicate flutters to sharp, quick beats. She dances with sumptuous elasticity and lyricism, and her turns are spot on. Yury Yanowsky is one of the more animated and robust Cavaliers in recent memory, exuding warm-blooded confidence and charisma in buoyant turns and leaps. Their lifts seem nearly effortless, with excellent timing and flourish.
Other standouts include Melissa Hough as a gracious Dew Drop and Kathleen Breen Combes, who sparkles in "Spanish," flashing skirts and fan, soaring into leaps with her head tossed back in abandon. Jared Redick, with Robert Kretz and Paul Craig, is terrific in the Cossack kicks and leaps of "Russian," and the hyperflexible Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga sizzle in "Arabian," seductively curling their limbs into sensual serpentine twists.
The Boston Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan McPhee, does a dynamite job with Tchaikovsky's glorious score, playing with clarity and verve from the breakneck opening to the luxurious, resonant chords that send Clara's balloon rising up in the air to carry her back home.