What's more, he was a little taken aback when he arrived in Boston in 2002 and saw his new company's production. "I thought it was this holiday extravaganza that had everything possible packed into it and more. I felt it was extremely gimmicky. It was like six chefs in the kitchen. It looked like a Hollywood variety-show Christmas extravaganza to me. Yes, I was impressed with the magnitude of the machinery, and how many shows they did. But it was like a holiday revue for me rather than a Nutcracker."
His idea, Nissinen continues, was "to go back to the original intent of the thing." But he hadn't gotten very far before, in 2003, the Wang Center, which had housed Boston Ballet's Nutcracker since 1968, declined to renew the company's contract for the production, replacing it in 2004 with a touring version of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes. The Ballet scrambled to find a new home for The Nutcracker; it wound up at the Colonial Theatre, with a smaller stage, a smaller orchestra pit, and smaller audiences. (The Wang seats 3600, the Colonial 1700.) In 2005, the production moved to the 2400-seat Boston Opera House, which was an improvement. But everything had been scaled to fit the Wang; the Christmas tree, which had risen from 15 to 40 feet there, could go no higher than 30 feet at the Opera House.
Besides which, the production was aging. "We were at the point," says Nissinen, "that we would have had to spend a quarter-million dollars a year keeping the old ship afloat. So we decided, instead of waiting until The Nutcracker is not working, let's invest in it and make it better and give it oxygen for the next 15 to 20 years."
He had no doubt, he says, that moving forward was the right decision. But he still had to find a designer. "I was almost a year behind the schedule that I had self-imposed," he recalls, "but I felt that I didn't have the right match, and I was going to postpone this for another year if I didn't have the right match. Then I started talking with Robert Perdziola, and it was clear that he embraced the concept of not going the Disney direction, the Broadway-show direction."
So what direction did Nissinen want to go in? "My way of looking at the story," he says, "is that we're seeing the whole thing through the eyes of this little girl called Clara. There's a Christmas celebration, and she's all excited, and there's an uncle who's a little bit outside of the norm, and the kids and Clara love that, because that's how they are. The story is also about Clara's growing up, turning from a girl into a little woman. She takes her love interest and fascination with the Nutcracker to a sort of romantic level and dreams about it, and yet it's unattainable. It's her journey."
Boston Ballet's new Nutcracker will be taking a journey of its own. The '80s and early-'90s version was a Late Victorian Nutcracker whose costume quirks included two little boys in kilts. (Scottish author James Macpherson's Ossian poems were very popular in Germany.) Walker's costume design in 1995 moved the time frame back to 1840 or so, with the party guests in pastel shades that echoed the Mariinsky blue of the Silberhaus drawing room.