Boston Ballet
Citizens Bank Opera House
Boston, MA

December 1, 2023
The Nutcracker

Carla DeFord

In this time of war when terrible things are happening around the world, The Nutcracker, in its many versions, offers good will toward men even as darkness threatens humanity.

The Sugar Plum Fairy, especially, embodies the ability of art to offer solace and transcendence.  She is truly the hope of the world, and on December 1, Ji Young Chae’s performance in that role in Nikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker seemed almost consciously to offer a sense of consolation to all who witnessed it.

Ji Young Chae in Nikko Nissinen’s “The Nutcracker”
Photo by Brooke Trisolini

I’ve written previously about how Chae creates a remarkable bond with the audience, using her superb technique, her expressive eyes, and the joy she radiates to draw viewers in.  There was one moment that, for me, symbolized it all. She was in an overhead lift, right arm extended, when she flipped up her right hand precisely on the musical accent.  Although I usually do not care for hand flipping, particularly in Act 2 of Swan Lake, where it often serves as a superficial way to indicate Odette’s wings, in this case, I got a different message. It looked as if Chae was planting a flag atop a mountain, saying, “I hereby claim this territory for the art form I represent as a force for compassion, beauty, and peace.”  It felt like a supreme holiday gift.

Ji Young Chae and Jeffrey Cirio
in Nikko Nissinen’s “The Nutcracker”
Photo by Brooke Trisolini

Jeffrey Cirio as her cavalier matched her in athleticism and precision.  The best part of his performance, however, was what seemed to be a deepening of his onstage partnership with Chae as they continue to be paired, as they were in Don Quixote last spring.  Since then he seems to have gained confidence, achieving solid lifts and gorgeous positions in the air.

Other dancers of note included Tigran Mkrtchyan as Drosselmeier.  In the past some dancers have played him as rather remote, which gave a welcome mysterious quality to the role.  Mkrtchyan did not take that approach; he created a benevolent relationship with the children and party guests that was consistently believable and well-conceived – an acting tour de force.

Lawrence Rines Munro (forward) and Boston Ballet
in Nikko Nissinen’s “The Nutcracker”
Photo by Brooke Trisolini

Lawrence Rines Munro has been performing as Harlequin Doll for years and has pretty much perfected the role.  As Ballerina Doll (a.k.a. Columbine) Haley Schwan was a bit of a revelation.  I had not previously seen her in this role, which is essentially a mini version of Swanilda in Act 2 of Coppélia, and was impressed by the way she maintained the mechanical illusion.  She never forgot she was an automaton (which dancers often do) – brava!

Derek Dunn as Snow King gave, as usual, a performance notable for its lyricism.  Snow Queen was Chisako Oga, who dances big despite her small physical stature.  Sangmin Lee was mesmerizing in the Arabian divertissement — a smoldering presence.  In the role of lead Troika dancer, Tyson Ali Clark tossed off multiple split leaps with aplomb.

Lia Cirio and Boston Ballet in Nikko Nissinen’s “The Nutcracker”
Photo by Brooke Trisolini

Lia Cirio was Dew Drop, and in this performance she showed not only precise classical technique but such charm and willingness to engage with the audience that the entire Waltz of the Flowers became a spun-sugar confection.

The Boston Ballet orchestra, under the direction of Mischa Santora, gave a performance notable for its dramatic intensity.  A shout-out to timpanist Jeffrey Fischer and percussionists Richard Flanagan and Nancy Smith (those cymbal crashes!) for their contributions to the thundering crescendos that add such excitement to The Nutcracker experience.