José Mateo’s Traditional ‘Nutcracker’ Brings Ballet to Greater Boston

–Ryan Breslin/Boston.com Staff

For nearly three decades José Mateo and his namesake ballet school have worked to bring “The Nutcracker’’ to the communities surrounding Boston.

“There are a lot of people who have been to a ‘Nutcracker’ and they’ve never been to another ballet,’’ Mateo said. “For many, it’s the first they’ll see so culturally it’s important that way. It has the popularity that allows it to draw the audience who otherwise wouldn’t explore ballet.’’

Mateo’s “Nutcracker’’ features adult dancers from the school’s company who dance alongside four different casts of child actors from the area, some who are members of the Theatre’s school.

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Mateo casts the children’s roles in quadruplicate to involve more children and to make sure none are exhausted by the 24-performance holiday schedule.

Although the kids have alternates, the adults do not. Spencer Keith, who dances as Cavalier in “The Nutcracker,’’ says the biggest lesson he’s learned rehearsing for it has been to pace himself.

“We have about 25 shows and no second cast to give ourselves a break. Injuries are not an option,’’ Keith said. “‘[The] Nutcracker’ is so strenuous on the mind and body, and being able to take time for yourself to listen to other music and be with people you love make the job so much more fun to come back to every day and so much more fun to perform.’’

Months of preparation go into the three-venue production, which debuted in Duxbury the weekend after Thanksgiving before opening at The Sanctuary Theatre in Harvard Square Dec. 4-14. “The Nutcracker’’ will wrap at The Strand Theater in Dorchester Dec. 19-21.

Children from the Greater Boston area audition for roles in late spring before their formal rehearsals begin in October. Then, the company joins in preparations at the beginning of November.

Cecilia Zevallos, one of four girls chosen to play Clara this year, has been in several “Nutcracker’’ productions and calls the most magical part of the show its atmosphere.

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“After all the weeks of rehearsals, when the make-up and costumes and lights come together, the atmosphere is truly magical,’’ Zevallos said.

In order to keep things fresh for his dancers, Mateo tries to breathe new life into the production each year.

“In ballet, people often grow tired of ‘The Nutcracker’ or complain that they have to do it,’’ Mateo said. “We try to approach it with a genuine enthusiasm that I’d like to say comes through on stage.’’

For Mateo, a Cuban-born ballerino who holds a Bachelor’s in Art History from Princeton University, “The Nutcracker’’ has become synonymous with the holidays.

“Our ‘Nutcracker’ is on a different scale than a lot of other companies’,’’ Mateo said. “My hope is that the audience leaves feeling like they’d seen something artistic and tied to the season’s spirit.’’

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