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Dancing snowflakes and mischievous mice return in local stagings of 'The Nutcracker'

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's "The Nutcracker." (Courtesy Liza Voll/Boston Ballet)
Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's "The Nutcracker." (Courtesy Liza Voll/Boston Ballet)

The iconic tale of “The Nutcracker” is gloriously revived this year through a range of different productions in and around Boston, from classic stagings to modern adaptations that celebrate a variety of dance styles. But all of these interpretations breathe life into the story of a girl who gets a gift on Christmas Eve, before journeying into a dream world where snowflakes dance and sweets abound. Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and first produced as a ballet with a memorable score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “The Nutcracker” continues to enchant and evoke the holiday spirit. The libretto comes from a fairytale by E.T.A. Hoffmann called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Here is a preview of the different variations of the show that you can view this season.

Boston Ballet | 'The Nutcracker'

Nov. 26-Dec. 26

Known for its lavishly ornate production, the Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is an ode to classical dance, as seen through the eyes of artistic director Mikko Nissinen. Set in 1820s Germany at the home of the Silberhaus family, the story follows the young Clara as she receives a nutcracker as a present from the mysterious Drosselmeier, her favorite uncle. An adventure ensues, as the nutcracker is brought to life to face an attack from the house’s mice, and the characters subsequently travel to a kingdom where flowers waltz and sugarplums reign. This year’s production is different in that children under the age of 12 will not perform, as all dancers must be fully vaccinated, but it strives to stay close to the heart of its protagonist, transported to a magical world.

“In the beginning of the ballet, [Clara] flashes a smile, and that’s when the music starts,” said Nissinen. “We go through a journey, from the reality at the party scene, to this world of illusion and a nightmarish battle.” With ethereal, elaborate design and costuming, and elegant staging, the Boston Ballet’s production asks us to believe in the possibility of dreams, how they allow us to transcend and grant our deepest wishes.

Paulo Arrais, Tigran Mkrtchyan and Mia Steedle in Mikko Nissinen's "The Nutcracker." (Courtesy Liza Voll/Boston Ballet)
Paulo Arrais, Tigran Mkrtchyan and Mia Steedle in Mikko Nissinen's "The Nutcracker." (Courtesy Liza Voll/Boston Ballet)

José Mateo Ballet Theatre | 'Tribute to the Nutcracker'

Dec. 18

Angie DeWolf and Spencer Keith of José Mateo Ballet Theatre. (Courtesy Gary Sloan)
Angie DeWolf and Spencer Keith of José Mateo Ballet Theatre. (Courtesy Gary Sloan)

This year, José Mateo Ballet Theatre’s envisioning of “The Nutcracker” will be a tribute, presenting excerpts from the ballet and uplifting its most exciting parts, from a movement point of view. Held at the Sanctuary Theatre in Cambridge, the production will be more intimate and will emphasize the beauty of the body in motion. Because of this, the set will not be a focal point, and costumes strive to allow the dancer to be seen, without disguising the silhouette of the form. The mission of the company has always been to welcome diversity and challenge the idea of elitism in ballet, leaving us with something that is equally “impactful and versatile, in terms of range of expression,” said José Mateo, theater founder and artistic director.

Mateo said that the music of “The Nutcracker” is very conducive to rhythmic movement, and the tribute will follow the style of new classicism. This choreography may look traditional to the untrained eye, but it is actually designed to appear more accessible and not heavily stylized.

“It’s the simplicity of the story that makes it appealing to children and, if done properly, to adults, as well,” said Mateo. “We stuck with the storyline and stripped it of anything that could be distracting from that simple narrative.”


Moscow Ballet | 'Great Russian Nutcracker'

Dec. 1-Jan. 3

While the Moscow Ballet typically tours North America and Canada, this year’s production of “The Nutcracker” will be entirely virtual. Viewers can watch the tale unfold in the comfort of their own homes, and for those who appreciate classical ballet, they will enjoy choreography that has largely remained the same over the past 25 years. This retelling of the story is slightly different in that the principal characters do not go to the kingdom of the Sugarplum Fairy. Instead, the Dove of Peace leads them to the Land of Peace and Harmony. Costumes, all made in St. Petersburg, are intricately sewn and detailed, meant to reflect the beautiful styles of 19th-century Russia. Clara, called Masha in this production, enters a dazzling world, led by the transformed Nutcracker Prince, and the spectacle will leave people “forget[ting] they are in the present time,” said director Nobuhiro Terada.

The Moscow Ballet grew out of the 1980s Glasnost policy, which called for increased artistic openness, and today, its version of “The Nutcracker” is influenced by choreographers with Russian roots, such as George Balanchine and Mikhail Baryshnikov. For Terada, the story is very much about magic and miracles, as they inspire us and get us through life.

Mosco Ballet's "Waltz of the Snow Forest" from "Great Russian Nutcracker." (Courtesy Moscow Ballet)
Mosco Ballet's "Waltz of the Snow Forest" from "Great Russian Nutcracker." (Courtesy Moscow Ballet)

City Ballet of Boston | 'Urban Nutcracker'

Dec.18-22

Anthony Williams’ “Urban Nutcracker” is a dynamic, modern retelling of the story and a celebration of Boston’s many cultures. Set in present-day Boston, the show blends together different kinds of music, merging strains of Duke Ellington with Tchaikovsky’s influence. With vibrantly colorful sets and costumes, the production also features a variety of dance styles, including ballet, urban tap, hip-hop, swing, flamenco, step and jazz. Williams conceived of the idea for “Urban Nutcracker” with an intention of fostering inclusivity and embracing diversity, and it has been delighting audiences since 2001.

Like the original tale, the performance follows a young girl, here named Clarice, as she comes into her own. It gives many nods to life in Boston, as audience members will be able to identify the gold dome of the State House and the Green Monster at Fenway. But for Williams, the show is not meant to be for any particular crowd; it is a “human Nutcracker” that he created for all. For a production that is returning live since the beginning of the pandemic, Williams hopes that it will help people heal.

“I knew there was something special about the show, because it speaks to the audience, to each individual person that sits there,” said Williams. “There’s something for everybody.”

Dancers from the 2016 staging of "Urban Nutcracker." (Courtesy Peter Paradise)
Dancers from the 2016 staging of "Urban Nutcracker." (Courtesy Peter Paradise)

Related:

Shira Laucharoen Arts Writer
Shira Laucharoen is a contributor to WBUR's arts and culture section.

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