Christmas tradition is valued deeply in New England, and it is only fitting that the region’s penultimate production of The Nutcracker be an utterly classic experience. For those who want pure dancing, glamour and no theatrical expense spared, the Opera House is decidedly the place to go. Boston Ballet's current production, with choreography by Mikko Nissinen and set and costume design by Robert Perdziola, premiered in 2012. This particular performance was made especially enjoyable by an extraordinary principal cast.

© Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy of Boston Ballet
© Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy of Boston Ballet

Act 1 is decidedly subtle, in muted Regency tones. The Nutcracker can always be enjoyed on multiple levels, but this production in particular provides details that can foster an artistic treasure hunt: the dolls and sweets that decorate the front of Drosselmeyer’s “Children’s Theater” are the same dolls the party scene girls receive as gifts; and these are the same characters that appear in the second act. Clara receives pointe shoes as her initial gift while her friends enjoy their dolls, and later, she inquires as to whether or not she might also receive a doll: resulting in the presentation of the nutcracker. It is these tiny details that allow attentive audience members the chance to find new details upon each annual viewing.

Ani Kassian-Howard was a gentle and studied Clara, rejecting, as do all Boston Ballet Claras, the histrionic dramatics that so often happen – for better or for worse – when students take the role. Neither good nor bad; what it means here is that BB’s Clara is organically immersed into the production, taking her place as a part of the story, rather than its initiator. This certainly contributes to the professionalism of the production – indeed all the children involved were meticulously rehearsed, and even the Battle Scene was both elaborate and tidy. The only weakness in the choreography is seen in the occasionally stilted “reactions” of all dancers, but this may well have been a conscious choice: continuing the productions’ theme of providing a glimpse of a beautiful and faraway world in which things are not quite real, nor would one wish them to be.

As always, the Snow Scene folds the audience in a silvery world of light and purely technical dancing. Rachele Buriassi and Lasha Khozashvili danced the Snow Queen and King - Khozashvili so often takes the role of Drosselmeyer (danced here by Matthew Slattery), that it was a treat to enjoy his work in the cavalier role. Buriassi’s luxurious port de bras were lovely and this was an elegant match. Sweet and lovely, Dawn Atkins danced one Snowflake demi-solo role, the other taken by Emily Entingh. Both of these dancers are scheduled for Dewdrops later in the run, examples of Nissinen’s commitment to providing opportunities to dancers at all ranks. Cherubic Catherine Livingston, a first year member of BB’s second company, stood out as a charming member of the corps.

© Liza Voll, Courtesy of Boston Ballet
© Liza Voll, Courtesy of Boston Ballet
Act 2 opens blissfully with two frames of fluffy clouds and advanced BB School students as Sugarplum Attendants, circling, up to their knees in cloudy fog. The divertissements unfolded like light foil from an exquisite chocolate, revealing more and more of the company’s strength. Desean Taber and company newcomer Chyrstyn Fentroy were exquisitely sensual in the Arabian pas de deux, though a minor problem on an overhead split lift illustrated the one small downside to BB’s policy of constant cast changes. Fentroy has been a wonderful addition to the company, as is Derek Dunn, whose work in the Chinese Dance was impressive. The ever popular Russian dance was led by the passionate Mamuka Kikalishvili, who was a natural for the role.

Addie Tapp, as Dewdrop, continues to emerge as one of America’s next ballerinas. Never overstraining, her Dewdrop was a regal, crystalline display of absolute balletic purity. At 5’10, she’s had to develop her grand allegro, which has improved since her debut in this role last year, and the ending of one diagonal of turns was slightly off the mark, but no matter: the extraordinary quality of her lines and her dancing, combined with her impeccable instrument, class her in a category of her own.

Seo Hye Han made one of the loveliest Sugar Plums I have ever seen. It was clear that she had taken on that individual, detailed work that shaped each of her movements to be the loveliest and most aesthetic possible. Her diagonal of fouettés in the coda finished with several easy doubles, but more importantly and unusually, her musical sophistication showed, as she took the next piqué arabesque precisely on the music, not before. Han’s Prince, Junxiong Zhao, was equally impressive, and together, they took the Grand pas de deux to a level that made it the genuine climax of a beautiful evening.