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DANCE REVIEW

Boston Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ brings its enchantment

Erica Cornejo rehearses for Friday's opening of Boston Ballet's 'The Nutcracker,' in which she danced the Snow Queen. Erica Cornejo rehearses for Friday's opening of Boston Ballet's "The Nutcracker," in which she danced the Snow Queen. (Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / November 30, 2009

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Hundreds of dance companies big and small across the country offer adaptations of “The Nutcracker,’’ E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale of a young girl named Clara and a nutcracker who turns into a prince and leads her on a magical journey to the Kingdom of Sweets. Boston Ballet has carved its own niche with an extravagant production featuring lavish sets and costumes, live music, striking choreography (mostly by Mikko Nissinen), and generally first-rate dancing.

For the youngest viewers, Boston Ballet’s production is terrific: swiftly paced, streamlined at just two hours (including a generous intermission), and chock-full of eye-popping dazzle, from the brightly lighted oversize tree to a balloon that soars to the rafters. But in this streamlining, some of the dramatic characterizations, context, and continuity are sacrificed for adults. Nevertheless, Friday night’s opening performance was a glittering kickoff to the holiday season.

Despite conductor Jonathan McPhee’s blistering tempi in the overture, the prologue street scene still drags as we watch Drosselmeier (an appropriately flamboyant Sabi Varga) putting the finishing touches on the Nutcracker. The prologue’s saving grace is Jeffrey Cirio’s virtuosic turn as the Young Man, who sails through lofty leaps and crisp, vivid turns as he greets passersby.

Fiona Wada-Gill’s Clara and Jonathan Hamel-Sellman’s feisty Fritz lead the children of the party scene, ever-charming and well-rehearsed as they go through their line dances. In contrast, the adult party guests look a little tired and ragged. The fun starts with the entrance of Drosselmeier, who brings clever magic tricks (a dancing kerchief, a disappearing Fritz) as well as two life-size dolls. John Lam’s Harlequin and Whitney Jensen’s Columbine skillfully juxtapose graceful pirouettes and leaps with the herky-jerky stiffness of wind-up figures.

The production’s busy Scene Two continues to lack cohesion. Barely has Clara laid her head down than the chaos of her dream erupts. Mystery and magic are supplanted by mayhem created by dozens of tiny mice, soldiers, and dolls. While the scene provides the opportunity to pack the stage with Boston Ballet students, it looks messy to those without a little star in the cast.

But when the stage is transformed into The Enchanted Forest, with ice-laden trees and gently falling snow, the ballet’s true magic begins. The Snowflakes sail through gorgeous, eye-catching patterns suggesting wind-tossed snow. Erica Cornejo is one of the warmest, most radiant Snow Queens in recent memory, pairing crystalline footwork with full-bodied elasticity. Snow King James Whiteside drapes her over his shoulder in stunning, laid back lifts.

Though some of the Act II character dances look under-rehearsed, standouts include Robert Kretz, with Boyko Dossev and Paul Craig, in the split jumps and high kicks of “Russian,’’ and Kathleen Breen Combes and Jaime Diaz in the serpentine coils, back bends, and hyperextensions of “Arabian.’’ Leading a swirling, lyrical “Waltz of the Flowers,’’ Misa Kuranaga is a sprightly Dew Drop, with fluid upper body and sharply etched footwork. Lia Cirio is a gracious, capable Sugar Plum Fairy, with moves that are beautiful technically but somewhat lacking in the airy, spun-sugar delicacy the role deserves. Pavel Gurevich is a solid Cavalier, exhibiting long clean lines and buttery landings in the jumps and turns of his solo work.

Live music is one of the production’s strongest elements, and the orchestra under McPhee plays with tremendous clarity and verve. McPhee was given the task Friday night to make a post-performance onstage plea to support Boston Ballet, a bald but understandable request given the troubled economy. However, it sapped the evening’s fantasy, sending us out into the cold night with visions of dollar signs instead of sugar plums dancing in our heads.

BOSTON BALLET’S “THE NUTCRACKER’’ At: Boston Opera House

Friday night (through Dec. 27)

Tickets: 617-695-6955

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