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A sweet and engaging ‘Nutcracker’

Dancing snowflakes in Jose Mateo Ballet Theater's “Nutcracker.”Gary Sloan

Yes, Virginia, there is a José Mateo Ballet Theatre “Nutcracker,” and it’s as sweetly heartwarming and engaging as ever. When Mateo announced last year that he was closing his professional company to focus on education and outreach, the veteran choreographer/teacher was quick to reassure area dance fans that he would continue presenting his popular production of the classic ballet, now in its 31st year. Friday night’s press opening at the Cutler Emerson Majestic featured many of the veteran professional dancers Mateo has worked with for years. The production moves to Dorchester’s Strand Theatre Dec. 14-23, reflecting Mateo’s commitment to outreach, accessibility, and inclusion.

Mateo’s slightly streamlined version of the ballet, set to a recorded score, focuses on the ballet’s dreamlike fantasy from the moment the curtain arises to reveal Dream Faeries cavorting around a tree of fabric swaths, like a giant luminous maypole. Clara’s entrance to discover a mysterious gift gives the character prominence from the beginning, and continues through most of the traditional party scene and the battle of the Mice and Soldiers, before Act II takes us on a journey to the Kingdom of the Sweets. Mateo complements the character’s traditional mime with challenging, sophisticated pointe work. Friday night’s Clara, 13-year-old Kennedy Luce-Burke from Winchester, was dramatically convincing and technically assured, with crisp footwork, high extensions and arabesques, and exceptionally graceful arms.


Over its run, the production involves more than 200 children, including a record 30 from Dorchester, a testament perhaps to the organization’s recently launched studio there and the policy of open auditions — Mateo claims his production is the only professional version in the area to welcome students regardless of training affiliation. It shows a bit, especially in the passel of tiny Polichinelles who energetically spill out from under Mother Ginger’s voluminous skirt. But they’re so adorable and seemingly thrilled to be part of it all that the occasional disarray hardly matters.

The older youth performers, from the first act’s Party Children (who were well behaved — until they weren’t) to the cherubs who seemed to float above the clouds opening Act II, showed poise, polish, and focus. Accomplished teen dancers were Angels helping spur Clara’s journey, as Mateo created eye-catching patterns of crisscrossing lines, spirals, and circles.


Though precision and timing faltered a bit in many of the group sections, choreography for the Enchanted Forest is some of Mateo’s best, partnering the Snow Queen, a graciously regal and supple Magdalena Gyftopoulos, with four princes who facilitated some sweeping lifts. As the Snowflakes entered, partnered lifts added a vivid aerial dimension to lovely floor patterns amidst the falling “snow.”

Jim Banta brought good-natured whimsy to the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer, and Jackson Jirard was a dashing Nutcracker Prince, displaying sharp turns and lofty jetés, not to mention brandishing a mean sword. Highlights of the second act character dances included a terrifically spicy and articulate “Spanish” (Gyftopoulos and Jean Robens Georges) and an adorably perky “Chinese” (Sabrina Appleby and Michayla Kelly). Rick Vigo and Brenna Housman were sensuously lithe but could have used a bit more heat in “Arabian,” and Madeleine Bonn was predictably striking if overly grave as the Dew Drop Fairy, with airy turns, impeccable footwork, and long liquid arms. Angie DeWolf and Spencer Doru Keith overcame a couple of shaky moments to bring a charismatic luxuriance to the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.


Dance review

José Mateo Ballet Theatre “The Nutcracker”

Friday night, through Dec. 9, Cutler Majestic Theatre

Dec. 14-23, Strand Theatre

Tickets $25-$80, 617-354-7467, BalletTheatre.org

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.

An earlier version included a caption that misidentified the photograph.