American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) “The Nutcracker” has become a holiday tradition at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, continuing through this weekend only. This year’s rendition showcases ABT’s excellence in dance but with subtle changes in costuming, staging and seemingly better acoustics than last year, make this performance even more magically engaging.
The story of “The Nutcracker” comes from a tale by E. T. A. Hoffman, which was revised by Alexander Dumas and choreographed as a ballet by Marius Petipa in 1892, with score by Russian composer Pyotr IlyichTchaikovsky.
With new choreography by Alexei Ratmansky in 2010, “The Nutcracker” relates the story of young Clara (Katrina Carney), who receives a magical nutcracker doll from her mysterious godfather Drosselmeyer (Roman Zhurbin) during her family’s grand Christmas Eve party.
At midnight, Clara witnesses the brave nutcracker leading his toy-soldier army against a gang of mice led by the ferocious Mouse King (Duncan Lyle), father of the cute but mischievous Little Mouse (Francis Posey).
The nutcracker soldier soon becomes a real boy (Carson Triplett) and he and Clara frolic in a wintery wonderland created by two dozen gracefully strong “Snowflake” dancers dressed in sparkling gray as snow falls on stage with a tree-lined backdrop (costumes and scenic design by Richard Hudson).
Clara and the boy are soon mirrored by grown-up Princess and Prince versions of themselves in romantic dance, excellently performed on opening night by Devon Teuscher and Joo Won Ahn. But tension rises as the snow becomes too powerful for Clara and her nutcracker friend, until they are rescued by Drosselmeyer in a sleigh.
The second act opens in the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by Zhong-Jing Fang, with her Majordomo played by Patrick Frenette. Dances from around the world—Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian—entertain the children, along with a gorgeous “field” of twirling pink and purple “Flowers” through which four athletic black-and-yellow “Bees” flit and frolic.
Clara’s dream vision settles into dancers Teuscher’s and Ahn’s dynamic pas de deux and solo ballet numbers on a minimal stage with only Clara’s dollhouse in back, into which she and the boy have retreated. These dances are powerful yet fluid, perfectly synced with Tchaikovsky’s intricate score.
Throughout, the Pacific Symphony orchestra, conducted by David LaMarche, delivers that score faultlessly, allowing every note and instrument to wash over the audience (with seemingly better acoustics than last year) as we delight in the dance and story. Music transforms the simple ending of Clara returned to her bed into a moment of transcendence.
Subtly enhanced pacing and staging make this year’s performance even more lively and enchanting than last year’s, and certainly worth seeing again if you’ve already had the pleasure. If it’s your first time, you’re in for a deliciously dreamy treat—with colorful costuming, transporting sets and outstanding talent—making ABT’s “The Nutcracker” a not-to-be-missed holiday event.
American Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” continues at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, through Dec. 18. Tickets start at $29 for performances on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at SCFTA.org or by calling the box office at (714) 556-2787. Run time is two hours, including intermission. Masks are optional.