February might not be the perfect season for the Nutcracker, but American Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker, brings that festive season feeling with a fresh, smart twist and adolescent sweetness that both adults and children would be truly fascinated by. Choreographed by resident choreographer Alexei Ratmansky and performed for the first time in Japan on the company’s Japan tour, this old beloved classic is transformed into a modern fable with the same timeless charm that commemorates the bittersweet beginning of the end of childhood.

Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part © Gene Schiavone
Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part
© Gene Schiavone

Ratmansky is great in creating imaginative scenery and liveliness, bringing life and humor to the usually not-so-exciting first act. He is especially clever in using children as performers, Adeleide Clauss as Clara, Duncan McIlwaine as the Nutcracker boy, Justin Souriau-Levine as the Little Mouse and Gregor Gillen as Fritz (all excellent actors as well as brilliant dancers), along with the students of K-Ballet School as party children, toy soldiers, little fairies, pages and Polichinelles. They are not only just being child performers but each with delicate emotions and joy.

The ballet starts in the kitchen where everybody is preparing for the feast, including the mischievous mice. Columbine and Harlequin are not simple dolls but are characters with a romantic touch. The huge sorrow that Clara shows when the Nutcracker doll is broken is heartbreaking, and displays her loving nature. All the children in the party are like kids you usually see in your neighborhood, playful and naughty, full of vigor.

The Nutcracker © Hidemi Seto
The Nutcracker
© Hidemi Seto

In this ballet, Ratmansky casts the Sugar Plum Fairy as a nanny who warmly embraces the kids. The grand pas de deux is danced by Clara the Princess and the Nutcracker Prince, looking like glamorous adults but who are in fact adolescents dreaming of romance deep down. This dual duet, danced by the child Clara and the Nutcracker boy, and the other by the Princess and Prince, is both stunning and effective, adding a great touch to the dramaturgy by showing the innocence of the children in contrast with their refined adult counterparts. The icy Snowflakes are shimmering but spiteful like an ice storm, trying to tear the little lovers apart, until Drosselmeyer saves them.

When Clara and the Nutcracker boy arrive at the land of Sugar Plums, the characters there are colorful, like an overturned toy box, but very much in time with the music. Divertissements are not just simple dances, each of them has some drama and clever humor in it. A steamy Arabic man is surrounded by four lusty ladies, each one struggling to win his favor. Five sisters of Nutcracker including the amazing soloists Stella Abrera and Yuriko Kajiya appear and demonstrate complicated turns with great technique. Four bees accompany the Waltz of the Flowers, ingeniously woven into the corps de ballet and finally tossing the flowers, creating an effect like an MGM musical – spectacular and a feast for the eyes.

The Nutcracker © Hidemi Seto
The Nutcracker
© Hidemi Seto

The final grand pas de deux does not follow the familiar Ivanov choreography. Instead, Ratmansky has created compelling partnering full of tricky lifts so acrobatic that the beauty of the music sometimes diminishes. But despite that, the grandeur cavalier, played by Marcelo Gomes, displays such elegance and partners the glamorous Veronika Part so tenderly that he makes their duet look like a truly classic love story. What follows is a glorious and breathtaking betrothal scene that every Clara would dream of.

The most adorable part of this performance was the little mouse that appeared in the kitchen and followed Clara and the Nutcracker’s adventures with mischief, running into Mother Ginger’s skirts and being chased everywhere in this ballet. Justin Souriau-Levine’s heart-warming yet playful mouse will remain in the audience’s hearts for a long time with the memory of this spellbinding staging of the Nutcracker. The only flaw in this fresh and stylish production was the Christmas tree that didn’t have enough growing effect to truly enchant, but otherwise the stage design was attractive and truly imaginitive.