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Boston Ballet - 'The Nutcracker'

by Carla DeFord

December 31, 2011 -- Boston, MA

This is the second year that Boston Ballet has presented a New Year’s Eve performance of what artistic director Mikko Nissinen described as “The Nutcracker on steroids.” As an innovation for 2011, the major roles were split among several dancers, including two Dewdrops, three Sugarplums, and four Cavaliers. That configuration pretty much encouraged comparison, and so, taking a cue from the tabloid magazines, I found myself playing the game of “Who Did It Better”?

Among the Cavaliers, James Whiteside won hands down. He danced the most taxing solo, and his series of entrechat-six and double tours were executed with all the precision, ease, and charisma one has come to expect from him.

In the Sugarplum department, my vote goes to Lorna Feijóo. She was given the solo that accompanies the famous Sugarplum music (featuring Tchaikovsky’s early use of the celesta), and with good reason. Born and trained in Cuba, she nevertheless strikes me as having the most Vaganova-like port de bras of all the current Boston Ballet ballerinas, which is to say the most subtle.

Of the two Dew Drops, Whitney Jensen was the stand out. She has brilliance, clarity of movement, and a forward momentum that just won’t quit. Not only is she an exciting dancer to watch, she seems perfectly at home with classical technique although she also does other styles well.

A few lesser lights deserve mention. Lawrence Rines as Harlequin was elegant and athletic; his final descent into a split caught me off guard – a wow moment. Olga Malinovskaya was delightfully tipsy as the Grandmother. Jeffrey Cirio as the Young Man in the prologue did wonderful jumps and turns, and Bo Busby as pater familias Herr Silberhaus in Act I and as a Russian dancer in Act II was, as always, notable for his charming presence and attention to detail.

As was the case last year, the junior starring roles were taken by adults, although they are usually danced by Boston Ballet students. Corps de ballet member Isaac Akiba was Fritz, and this was an inspired bit of casting since he danced the role as a child in 1998. The first graduate of the City Dance program to enter the professional company, he is also the only Boston Ballet dancer ever to play Fritz as both a child and adult.

Principal Misa Kuranaga was Clara. Her dancing on pointe gave depth to the role, but she made the party girls, who were all children, look a little like pygmies. It’s a trade-off: adults bring bigger emotions and more sophisticated technique, but the wonder and earnestness that younger Claras embody are lost.

Other children onstage were also eclipsed by adults. Clara and Drosselmeier’s appearance in the Mother Ginger sequence, in which the pint-sized polichinelles are - and deserve to be - the stars, was one example. Even adult dancers lost out to extraneous characters. I guess I’m getting to be an old curmudgeon, but the interpolated appearances of Santa Claus and the dancing bear were, to me, tiresome. They interfered with the Pastorale, in which adult dancers were trying to do a pas de trois and upstaged the lambs, danced by children.

Saint Nick and the bear also appeared in the Trepak, and though you’d think those energetic Russians could hold their own, the interlopers diverted one’s attention. Although Adiarys Almeida didn’t have to contend with such distractions, she was wasted in the Chinese variation. She’s a spectacular dancer, so I hope to see her in a more satisfying role sometime soon.

Although Kris Kringle and his sidekick probably helped keep the children in the audience awake during Act II, their appearance sometimes caused the music and choreography to take a back seat. Such unsettled priorities were also evident in the final moments of the performance. During both the finale and curtain calls, confetti cannon were shot off from balconies on either side of the house, and when cascading bits of silver and gold mylar hit the theatrical lights, the effect was certainly festive. Just before the curtain came down for the last time, however, the Boston Ballet Orchestra, which had supported the dancers so beautifully all evening, launched into “Auld Lang Syne.” Unfortunately, it could scarcely be heard above the roar of the cannon.


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