‘Nutcracker’ without the glitz

(Jim Scherer)
By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / December 12, 2009

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WHO: Globe staff member Geoff Edgers and daughter Lila, 7.

WHAT: José Mateo’s Ballet Theatre’s “Nutcracker’’

WHERE: The Spingold Theatre, Waltham (through Dec. 20) 781-736-3400; the Duxbury Performing Arts Center (Dec. 24-27) 617-354-7467

In our family, “The Nutcracker’’ is a holiday tradition not to be missed. But this year, after our standard trip to Boston Ballet’s signature version, I decided to take Lila to see a “Nutcracker’’ production she has never seen. We headed to Waltham to see José Mateo’s company put on the show.

First things first: In these budget-busting times, the Mateo “Nutcracker’’ will certainly save you money. A family of four can attend the production for as little as $60. Tickets at Boston Ballet run $35 to $162 each. You also won’t pay a penny for parking at the Spingold.

Those savings do come at a cost. You lose some of the majesty at the Spingold, which is no match for the glitzy Opera House. There’s also piped-in, prerecorded music, no comparison to the Boston Ballet’s orchestra.

The real test, of course, is what the kiddies think. Lila was decidedly bummed when she realized those speakers were going to provide the music. But she let out a suitable “ah’’ a few seconds later when the “snow’’ began falling and got downright excited when the curtain opened. “I like that we’re closer,’’ she told me.

That’s the charm of the Mateo production. What it loses in scenery and size it makes up in coziness. You hear dance shoes slide across the stage. You almost feel as if you’re in the room, not watching a scene from afar. Did I long for some of the dazzling moments in Boston Ballet’s production? Yes, particularly the Russian dancers, a trio of powerhouses at the Opera House and a slightly diminished duo at the Spingold. But Mateo’s choreography of the dolls makes up for that, spreading the pair across two scenes. He also gives the mice delightful paunches, an amusing detail.

In the end, neither company’s production could overcome the realities of a nighttime show. Just as at the Opera House, Lila wrapped up the performance with her eyes closed in her seat. The message to her father was that whichever production he chose to bring her to, think about a matinee.

Geoff Edgers can be reached at