Where’s the magic?

Looking for enchantment from Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  December 5, 2006

The hook for Boston Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker this year is “more magic.” Under the coaching of “magic consultants” Marco the Magi (a/k/a Cesareo Pelaez) and David Bull, Drosselmeier pulls a bouquet of flowers out of thin air, makes a sheet levitate, and sends a handkerchief flying all over the Silberhaus drawing room. This is by no means his first venture into magic — he used to pull a coin from Fritz’s ear and, most spectacularly, produce two live doves from beneath a covered dish — but it’s a compact, entertaining sequence that helps define his shadowy nature. Boston Ballet, however, is still trying to recapture the magic of its Nutcrackers from 10 and 20 years ago.

PHOTOSHOPPED? Tai Jiménez and Sabi Varga in Coffee.

Some of that magic disappeared with the production’s 2004 dismissal from the Wang Theatre, where it had spent 35 years, the Wang Center folks deciding they could make more holiday moolah with the Rockettes and White Christmas. The Opera House stage is smaller than the Wang’s, which means fewer party guests and Snowflakes and Flowers. The Boston Ballet Orchestra is buried in a pit where the conductor can’t see the stage and has to look at a TV monitor; the amplified sound is tinny.

There have been changes for the better. The Nutcracker who after dispatching the Mouse King escorts Clara to the Kingdom of Sweets and the Cavalier who partners the Sugar Plum Fairy are now the same character, a decision by artistic director Mikko Nissinen that connects the first act with the second and simplifies the narrative. Drosselmeier, who in the original E.T.A. Hoffmann novella is a complicated metaphor for time, has trouble with his watch and finally gives it to Fritz. (Because it’s on the fritz?) And when Clara lies down under the Christmas tree, the reappearance of Drosselmeier’s Harlequin and Columbine and Bear in less friendly form signal the audience that she’s dreaming.

But some of the old magic grew out of the way everybody interacted. There used to be a Delivery Boy and a Parlor Maid who were sweet on each other; now he’s a street busker who does a few tours à la seconde and begs for coins and she’s a young governess who shows Clara some basic dance steps. Fritz and Clara used to scheme and bicker; now they hardly look at each other. Nothing doing between Harlequin and Columbine, either. Grandpa and Grandma break into the polonaise with their polka and then turn back into wallpaper. At least the live sheep (seven white, one black) are back, though bigger and less cute than they used to be.

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