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'Nutcracker': One with new intricacy and inspiration

The choreography of Jose Mateo's ``Nutcracker,'' appropriately enough, recalls the structure of snowflakes - the kind you make by folding and snipping white paper into crystals as well as the kind that melt on your tongue. His is a unique kind of magic: He can take clusters of dancers and through intricate geometric patterning - of traffic, of dynamics, and of density - transform the very space those dancers fill.


What more could you ask of the holiday classic, set to Tchaikovsky's famous score? Mateo's version of the tale relies not on pageantry and mime, as so many takes on the ``Nutcracker'' do - but on dancing that springs from the music. That goes for both acts. Mateo once told me, ``You always heard that the adults found the first act boring and that the children would fall asleep for the second act.'' By bringing to life the music behind the story - by revealing the soul that drives the narrative and the steps - Mateo has found a way to keep everyone alert.

The casting of Ballet Theatre's 16th annual production of ``The Nutcracker'' is particularly inspired. The young Talia Wong is a rich and fresh Clara. As usual, Mateo has put Clara en pointe and given her plenty to do. What's outstanding about Wong is her arms: T hey're elegant and fluid, from their point of impulse, in her back, to her fingertips.

Desiree Parrott is a mechanistic and vulnerable Columbine at once. Cosmin Marculetiu as Harlequin, and in the act two's Trepak, splits the air with barrel turns and split-legged leaps. Sean Gunter as the Nutcracker Prince is supple and strong; he actually engages in choreographed lifts with the Rat King (Robert Fischer). Only Meg Flaherty, as the Snow Queen, falls short: There's a thickness to her spins, and her toe shoes stab the ground hard as needles.

The display of talent carries into the second act's Kingdom of the Sweets - the place where the dancing in most interpretations of ``The Nutcracker'' begins. Elisabeth Scherer and David DuBois in Chocolate, the first of the four Divertissements, are lightning-quick. Carl Adams partners Temple White beautifully in Coffee, as she arcs backward taut as taffy. Susan Bourque and Wendy Shinzawa are snappy in Tea. And Susan Endrizzi is a lyrical Dew Drop Fairy, despite the fact that her feet could be more articulate.

The stars of the evening, however, are Elizabeth Scherban Shinzawa, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Parren Ballard, as her Cavalier. Ballard's immense leaps land soft as dust. Shinzawa gets better as the years pass. She moves as a piece: Her arms, her legs, even her head emanate from her core, whether she's stretched in an arabesque or spinning in Ballard's arms. Together, even their smallest moves fill the biggest music.

That's a tribute to Mateo, too. Mateo, who plays Drosselmeier, knows when less is more.

("Nutcracker"; Jose Mateo's Ballet Theatre; At the Sanctuary Theatre, Cambridge, last night;; Repeats through Dec. 28.)

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