After the COVID disruptions of the past two years, Boston Ballet’s complete “Nutcracker” has returned to the Citizens Bank Opera House. Last year’s production went on without children under 12 because they hadn’t been eligible for vaccination. Children are at the heart of “The Nutcracker”; the heroine of the ballet’s source, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s 1816 novella/fairy tale “Nutcracker and Mouse King,” is just seven years old. So it’s good to have the kids back. They play the street urchins who beg from a chestnut vendor and then the rich kids who kick up their heels at the Silberhauses’ Christmas party; they’re Clara’s toy soldiers for the Battle Scene and the reindeer in the Snow Scene. After intermission, they’re the Sugar Plum Fairy attendants and pages, the sheep in French Marzipan, the Polichinelles under Mother Ginger’s skirt. It’s not the same festive entertainment without them.
Children aside, Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen’s “Nutcracker” is, as always, packed with thoughtful touches. Keep an eye out for the Bunny, which was part of the ballet’s original 1892 scenario. When Clara’s older brother Fritz receives a stuffed rabbit as his present, he flings it up in disgust, but then during the Battle Scene, the Bunny rescues Clara’s gingerbread man and takes out the entire mouse cohort in a single bound. Don’t miss the entrance of the mice, either: two freeze in yoga poses, and another might be alluding to Michelangelo’s “Night.” Clara’s uncle Drosselmeier, a watchmaker by trade, gets into a good-natured argument with Herr Silberhaus over the reliability of their respective timepieces; at the end of the evening, he gives Fritz his “on the fritz” watch.
One thing this production doesn’t have is an ugly nutcracker. Hoffmann describes Drosselmeier’s nutcracker as having a torso that’s too long, skinny legs that are too short, a skimpy cloak, and a miner’s cap. He’s no pin-up, and neither was Hoffmann, so perhaps there’s an autobiographical element to the story. In any case, when you see Boston Ballet’s handsome nutcracker (before he turns into a prince), remember that he’s really an ugly duckling and it’s very much to Clara’s credit that she loves him anyway.
Last year’s opening-night Clara, soloist Chisako Oga, had the role again Friday. Of late, the part has tended to go to older dancers (Misa Kuranaga used to do it) rather than the trio of students from the Ballet School who would share it every year. I miss the teenagers’ enthusiasm, but there’s no faulting Oga’s youthful spontaneity and superb jetés. She’s even a sweet sister. Fritz is often eclipsed by Clara, but Nataniel Taylor, a student from the Boston Ballet School Professional Division at Walnut Hill, more than held his own. He was a gracious partner to his sister and an authoritative leader of the boy guests; his split jumps with a hobby horse and his pirouettes were exemplary.
John Lam was a mischievous Drosselmeier with an endearing shrug when something didn’t come off. Lawrence Rines Munro’s entrechats enlivened his Harlequin Doll; Daniela Fabelo was an appropriately robotic Ballerina Doll; Sun Woo Lee’s Bear milked the audience and wouldn’t let himself be led off without one final crowd-pleasing wave. Madysen Felber and Daniel Cooper were the grandparents who in the middle of the stately Grossvatertanz (“Grandfather Dance”) break into an ill-advised polka that leaves them dizzy and reeling. Jeffrey Cirio stood out as the life-size nutcracker who leads Clara’s troops, his movements every bit as wooden as they should be. Snow Queen and King were Viktorina Kapitonova and Lasha Khozashvili; she always elevates even the most basic moves, and the many lifts were majestic. The end of act one is a pleasing spectacle, the 10 Snowflakes dancing amid a heavy snowfall against a backdrop of silver birches.
Highlights from act two included a sinuous, sensuous Arabian Coffee from Khozashvili and Chyrstyn Fentroy; a Chinese Tea that saw Felber master her long red rhythmic-gymnastics ribbon; a Mother Ginger (Nations Wilkes-Davis) with the usual cartwheeling Polichinelle; a Russian Troika with exuberant split jumps and whiplash tours à la seconde from Tyson Clark; and a crisp, assured Lia Cirio in the Waltz of the Flowers. Ji Young Chae and Jeffrey Cirio made an exquisite pair as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. His variation featured high-flying cabrioles and neat double tours; hers offered a delicate pointing of the celesta solo and then an impossibly even manège of piqué turns and bourrées. Boston is fortunate to have a “Nutcracker” of this quality.
Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Choreography by Mikko Nissinen. Set and costumes: Robert Perdziola. Lighting: Mikki Kunttu. With the Boston Ballet Orchestra conducted by Mischa Santora. Presented by Boston Ballet. At: Citizens Bank Opera House, through Dec. 31. Tickets: $45-$300. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.