Now, Nissinen is taking it back still farther. "I went about 1820s," he says. "I talked with Robert, and the previous production was sort of 1840s, 1850s, where everything was huge, the ladies' costumes for the party had extra hips and puffy arms, and we decided to go for the Empire style, where it's much more in line with the dancers' bodies, and showcase a more understated kind of sophistication. We decided to keep the place as southern Germany, as in the original, and try to highlight the contrast between reality and dream."
But many elements, he says, will be new. "The opening will take place in a square, and then there's Herr Drosselmeier's puppet-theater scene with street kids, urchins on stage, watching it, and that turns into a town scene, and we found a very clever way to do the entrance into the party scene. And there are the children who dance, but now there are three children who are younger than that, so they're in the party scene, but they aren't participating in the dances because they're too young. We're trying to stretch the family structure a bit. And the battle is different. The Nutcracker is way more mechanical, until he starts to breathe."
Nissinen is looking at the second act, he says, "as the Nutcracker's kingdom that's ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker. I'm not emphasizing the Kingdom of Sweets part; it's definitely in heaven, dance heaven, but you have a feeling that it's much more royalty. I'm tying the national dances to some of the dolls that the kids have got in the first act. The national dances are in celebration of Clara's saving the Nutcracker's life, dancers sharing their national pride."
Just as this is a more adult Nutcracker in concept, it's more muted in color, as a tour of Boston Ballet's costume shop and a dress rehearsal of the second act at its Clarendon Street studio make clear. Drosselmeier is still in black, but the subtle ribbing of his jacket, the even more subtle striping of his trousers, and the double row of buttons on his waistcoat evoke a period elegance. The Snow King's jacket is patterned with snowflakes and fir branches. The Sugar Plum Fairy has two costumes, one pink, one more like brown sugar that she changes into for the grand pas de deux; both tutus are brushed at the edges with gold flakes that Perdziola himself handpainted. There's pale green and rose for the Pastoral trio, ocher and burgundy for the Arabian woman, trousers striped in maroon and blue and gold for the Russian men. What really pop are the Nutcracker's orange-red jacket, the full-skirted coats and plumed hats for the Page children (replacing the Angels at the outset of act two), and the new Harlequin outfits for the Polichinelles.
The lines, as Nissinen points out, are simpler: Clara, in her dove-blue, Empire-waisted walking dress, with bonnet and muff, could be a young Jane Austen heroine. There are 350 costumes in all, in wool, silk, cotton, linen, and many blends; everything is beautifully sewn and fabulously detailed, with 200,000 jewels in total. And everything looks expensive; one only hopes the detail will read when the dancers are on stage.
The sets are painted flats. The Silberhaus drawing room — here more like a ballroom — is grand and ornate in its rich browns, with a central alcove framing the 42-foot tree. The backdrop for Snow has a lovely birch forest replacing the usual evergreens. And the palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince is worthy of Louis XVI, with Fragonard-like depictions of the divertissement dancers on the ceiling. There are, in other words, many reasons to think that this Nutcracker will be a wonderful ballet as well as a wonderful holiday entertainment.
And the new ending? It picks up on what the company did in 2004 at the Colonial. "Clara will be waking up on a couch," says Nissinen, "and to her surprise she does find the Nutcracker as a doll, and she will be disappointed that it was a dream. But in the second act, there's a moment where she's been given a crown, in appreciation for saving the Nutcracker's life. And the ballet will finish with her touching her head and the crown is still there, and her eyes light up, and that's the end."