As Boston Ballet’s high-bar holiday tradition, artistic director Mikko Nissinen’s Nutcracker seems both cozily predictable and magically fresh, a paradox evident in its latest production, at the Opera House through New Year’s Eve.
Even in the quick five years since Boston Ballet’s most popular entry underwent a 2012 facelift with sparkling set and costume designs by Robert Perdziola, The Nutcracker still manages to unveil subtle surprises within its well-traveled trappings.
Familiar faces even abound in repeating roles, as opening night presented Misa Kuranaga as a pliably precise Sugar Plum Fairy, Lawrence Rines as the spinning, leaping bear, Isaac Akiba as the lead Russian of extra-high straddle jumps and Delia Wada-Gill, 15, as a Clara of graceful assuredness and an ever-beaming face.
Yet even the 1800s-décor set pieces seemed to subtly move beyond expectations and proportions in puzzle-like efficiency, from an initial window-like peek into the Silberhaus’ grand drawing-room party scene to a Christmas tree that appeared to grow sideways just a bit further to create a virtual wall of twinkles and toys.
The first act flew by like a dream, which of course it was in part, from the lively party of children running rampant and dancing deftly (though Eris Nezha proved more playful than commanding as Uncle Drosselmeyer) to a mouse battle where the action was clearly defined—and neatly accented by Mikki Kunttu’s lighting. And when the Christmas tree rose like a ripple to reveal a snowflake-sprinkled birch forest for Snow Queen Seo Hye Han’s pas de deux with Paul Craig as the King, the enchanting set appeared more three-dimensional in its breadth.
Alas, Act II still seems like it goes on and on, particularly for less-invested children. The ever-stereotyped court dances prove finely executed and entertaining, with longer focus given to the supple, sensual mystery of Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili as the Arabian duo. But by the Waltz of the Flowers and final pairing of the Nutcracker Prince (Patrick Yokum on opening night) and the Sugar Plum Fairy, some of the dancing comes across as more of the same.
But that’s the nature of The Nutcracker, even with Boston Ballet’s eye-catching visual spells, Nissinen’s sweeping choreography, and the orchestra’s convincing treatment of the Tchaikovsky score under conductor Beatrice Joana Affron. And when Clara awakes to discover the Sugar Plum Fairy’s crown atop her head, her dream turns to reality and the night’s wonder comes full circle.