George Balanchine’s Nutcracker premiered in 1954 and has been a runaway hit ever since. Every year shows sell out even at increasingly steep ticket prices. The reasons are obvious. The growing tree! The falling snow! All the cute kids!

New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
© Erin Baiano

The joy of revisiting Balanchine’s Nutcracker year after year is that the choreography provides so many opportunities for the entire New York City Ballet company to shine. It has two great corps de ballet showcases – the Waltz of the Snowflakes and Waltz of the Flowers. There are so many different solos for different dancers that no one dancer can ruin the Nutcracker experience but any dancer can walk away with the evening. Since there are six weeks of shows, traditionally the Nutcracker is also a way for up-and-coming corps de ballet members and apprentices to get their moment in the spotlight. There is always enough for dance enthusiasts as well as families to watch.

Last night’s performance of The Nutcracker was well-danced and had plenty of energy. There was nothing routine about this performance. The children were absolutely wonderful. Kai Misra Stone, as the Nutcracker Prince, articulated the famous mime sequence in the second act with so much enthusiasm that he earned a deserved ovation. Sophia Thomopoulos was a soulful Marie and Brandon Chosed very funny as the mischievous Fritz. Maybe the most intense dancing of the night were the eight little Polichinelles who emerged from Mother Ginger’s skirt and immediately formed a miniature corps de ballet whose choreography had Balanchine’s signature fast footwork and ever-changing geometric patterns.

New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
© Erin Baiano

Among the adult soloists standouts included Miriam Miller’s sexy, sultry Coffee and Sebastian Villarini-Velez’s Candy Cane. Miller has mile-long legs and seemed to be relishing the slithering poses of this divertissement. Villarini-Velez had big explosive jumps and ended with a big double jump through the hoop. Alston McGill also sailed through the difficult Marzipan variation with grace and charm. Alec Knight was a very funny, hammy Mother Ginger.

The only disappointment was Unity Phelan as Dewdrop. Phelan is a beautiful dancer with charisma to burn. However, she struggled with the allegro footwork of the Waltz of the Flowers. Her jumps had a floppy quality and did not get very far off the ground. Her turns were effortful and her posture slumped.

Lauren Lovette in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
© Paul Kolnik

As for the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, Lauren Lovette and Joseph Gordon were very fine. Gordon might be the company’s strongest classicist – his solo in the coda had an impressive series of pirouettes à la secondes with great turnout and arched feet. Lovette’s technique is less secure; in the celesta variation she had trouble with one of her pirouettes. But Lovette has a winning sweetness and graciousness that made her the perfect hostess for the Kingdom of the Sweets.

In the grand pas de deux, both Lovette and Gordon paid attention to epaulement and classical line and sailed through the challenges of the choreography with polish. Artistic directors Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan have restored some details to this pas de deux, like the distinct stop before the Sugar Plum Fairy does a lavish backbend and promenade. Gordon and Lovette performed this stop with perfect timing.

At the end of the evening applause was enthusiastic. A group of elderly people were seeing Nutcracker for the first time and one of them squealed, “This is a great Christmas present!” Balanchine’s Nutcracker continues to provide joy for people of all ages. It’s the holiday gift that keeps on giving.