Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker: Tiny Tweaks to Tradition

There are some things that I hope never change. The buzz and awe when you step into the Boston Opera House for Boston Ballet‘s The Nutcracker is something I hope never changes. The Opera House halls are all decked out for Christmas as are most of the guests from tiny tots in their jackets and bow ties and glittery little ball gowns to grandpa in his best winter evening jacket. I am lucky enough to take it all in every year as a guest of the ballet.

This year, Boston Ballet made a few tiny tweaks to the production. Some worked well and others will have to grow on me. I do appreciate that the dancers in the Nutcracker have become a more diverse cast in the past couple of years, but I am still waiting for an African American Clara and Fritz. I think that will be a huge step in the right direction not just for Boston Ballet but for the world of ballet as a whole.

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; photo by Angela Sterling; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The one change that Boston Ballet did make, that has to grow on me, was having Clara dance on pointe and selecting an older cast member to play the part. It created some disconnects. For example when Clara gets a pair of pointe shoes as a gift. It is much less exciting and momentous because she’s already dancing on pointe.

I have seen productions with a more advanced student or a company member play Clara, but then the rest of the casting has to be adjusted too to have it be believable. The reason for this change, as told by Boston Ballet is for “enhancing the students’ learning experience and cultivating mentorship between Company and student.”. While, I think this connection already existed, there must be more to it behind the scenes. There didn’t seem to be that same dynamic between Clara and her brother Fritz or the other party girls. Perhaps as the show goes on that will develop but this was one tweak that didn’t quite work for me.

That being said Mia Sneedle’s performance was flawless and (spoiler alert) she successful killed the Mouse King with her pointe shoe!

Paulo Arrais and Misa Kuranaga in Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

What I do love, that has not changed, are the sets and costumes. I love this production’s way of setting the tone for each scene. It truly is magical. Misa Kuranaga as the sugar plum fairy was exceptional and her partnering with Paolo Arrais was fantastic.

Boston Ballet also officially began their season with newly appointed Music Director Mischa Santora. This is an exciting update as Boston Ballet had been having guest conductors throughout last season. Music Director Mischa Santora guest conducted seven Boston Ballet performances of John Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet last season.

Kathleen Breen Combes and Desean Taber in Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; photo by Angela Sterling; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The other choreographic tweaks are refreshing and subtle. For Arabian, the woman is no longer summoned with a clap of the hands but rather appears on stage of her own free will. Kathleen Breen Combes did an amazing performance, as always, performing Arabian and Desean Taber was a more than worthy partner in his own right.

In Tea, the classic and perhaps overly stereotypical “chopstick fingers” were edited out of the choreography and replaced with more traditional ballet hands. The younger dancers had flowers in their hair instead of the Chinese caricature style hats that also gave Tea a more progressive feel.

The last change that I noticed, is that this year Boston Ballet will not have a New Year’s Eve performance. Don’t worry though, there will be plenty of performances to choose from including special evenings such as: study break, all access (tonight), and corporate night.

Nutcracker Study Break Night: Thursday, December 6 at 7:30 pm

Boston Ballet presents the fourth year of Study Break Night, a one-night event for college students to relax during exam week with a pre-performance concert by the Boston College Acoustics and student discounts at the Boston Ballet Shop. 

Corporate Night at The Nutcracker: Wednesday, December 12 at 5 pm

Business leaders, clients, and staff are invited to experience the beloved holiday classic with a one-of-a-kind festive cocktail reception, character meet-and-greet, and an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour, followed by the performance. 

All-Access Nutcracker: Sunday, December 2 at 6 pm

This performance will feature additional accommodations, events, and support designed to make the show more accessible and enjoyable for the community, including: large print programs, live audio description, audio-enhanced equipment, ASL interpretation, specialized seating options, and a digital “social story” to preview the Opera Houseexperience and story of The Nutcracker. In conjunction with the all-access performance, there will be a Touch Tour during intermission in the Opera House lobby, which will allow participants to physically and tactilely experience elements of the show such as props, costumes, characters, and movement.

All 41 performances of The Nutcracker will take place at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Boston, MA 02111).

Tickets start at $37. For more information, visit  bostonballet.org/nutcracker or call 617.695.6955.

The Nutcracker performance length is approximately 2 hours including one intermission.

Choreography: Mikko Nissinen
Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set & Costume Design: Robert Perdziola
Lighting Design: Mikki Kunttu

Misa Kuranaga in Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; photo by Angela Sterling; courtesy of Boston Ballet

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