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Not a misstep inMateo's 'Nutcracker'

The choreography of Jose Mateo's ''Nutcracker" can be as multifaceted as cut glass and as pure as a single unadulterated line. Indeed, the dances that resonate most powerfully in this intensely musical version of the holiday classic are those swing to the two extremes -- the ones where Mateo manipulates large numbers of dancers to create a perpetually shifting kaleidoscope of patterns, dynamics, and densities; and the ones where he uses a solo dancer to exhibit the kind of proportion that reflects the balletic ideal.

Scene 5 (''In the Forest") in the company's 17th annual production of ''The Nutcracker" is a shining example, literally, of the first. While the Snow Queen (Temple Carroll White) has a lovely lift to her torso, her tours jete can fall flat. But the 11 Snowflakes who accompany her transform the stage space as they travel in various permutations through and around one another, finally linking in a garland along the back wall. The effect is so magical that at one point you'd swear they've become the music of the familiar Tchaikovsky score.

Elizabeth Scherban Shinsawa as the Sugar Plum Fairy perhaps best embodies the latter, though Francoise Voranger as the Dew Drop Fairy comes close, particularly in her timing, which anticipates the notes of the score. Shinsawa only gets more limpid with the years. The line of her arabesque -- from the tips of her fingers to the ends of her toes -- seems to stretch for centuries. David DuBois as her Cavalier is the perfect partner, whether he's allowing her to course down his body as she descends from a lift or he's supporting her in a spin. Alas, his technique as a soloist appears leaden by comparison.

There are other standout interpreters of Mateo's craft. Desiree Parrott as Columbine manages to be stiff without being brittle, right down to her thumping heart. Sean Gunter is a firecracker Nutcracker Prince, and Robert Fischer is a surprisingly lithe Rat King. Mateo has partnered the Prince and the King in their battle to the death not as mimes but in a true duet. Dorothea Garland is spicy and Matt Ferraro gallant in Chocolate, the first of the Divertissements. Ashley Hubbard is at turns butter-smooth and needle-sharp in Coffee. Jillian St. Germain's articulate legs seem to go on forever in Trepak.

Clara (Jaclyn Sanford last night), too, deserves mention. Mateo's ''Nutcracker" is, above all, about the dancing. The story, he believes, should come not through acting but through the steps. And so he always puts the central character en point, despite her young age. Sanford met the challenge admirably, exhibiting a subtlety of expression as a girl enchanted by the Nutcracker Prince, particularly in the lilt of her hands.

And then, of course, there is Mateo himself, as Drosselmeyer. The man never seems to age. He plays the part with a mix of cunning and compassion -- and a spark of menace to spice the brew.

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