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Pas de deux: a 'Nutcracker' of bold luster...

The approach of another ``Nutcracker'' season makes critics cringe. Once in the theater with the overture beginning, though, the cynicism slides away - if the particular production is good enough.

 

Boston Ballet's is, as last night's lustrous performance indicated. The quality and depth of the dancing on the Wang Theatre stage makes even more depressing the likelihood that the Ballet's ``Nutcracker'' will be evicted from the Wang after this year, replaced by the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

Once a pastiche by a half- dozen choreographers, Boston's current ``Nutcracker'' is credited to only two: Daniel Pelzig, a master storyteller, is responsible for the first act, narrative-driven; and artistic director Mikko Nissinen, a formalist, has redone - and restored - the patterned classicism of the second.

Nissinen has removed the clutter - both in the decor and in the steps - to let the dancing shine. The major gems in this newly streamlined setting are three: Larissa Ponomarenko as the Snow Queen; Sarah Lamb as the Dew Drop; and Lorna Feijoo as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Yes, there are male principals as well, but as with most late 19th-century ballets, they're there primarily to partner the women, and as deferentially as possible.

In Ponomarenko, Lamb, and Feijoo, the b allet now has a roster of ballerinas who exemplify the kind of classical purity Nissinen seems to be after. Ponomarenko is ethereal; Lamb is more athletic and coltish.

New to the ballet this season, Cuban-born Feijoo dances with uncommon attention to - and interest in - detail. Instead of just grinding out pirouettes, she plays with their timing and the way she moves her head during them. Each turn is unique.

Dancers who had smaller roles also stood out last night. Joel Prouty, as the Delivery Boy in the first act, turns as if he's in a pencil sharpener and could spin forever. Allisyn Hsieh, as Clara, and Jeffrey Cirio, as her brother Fritz, were both enchanting, although as the ballet's linchpin, Hseih has a lot more to do - and does it very well, both in technique and interpretation. It's nice to see a Clara who likes being a child. And Romi Beppu and Nelson Madrigal in the ``Arabian'' pas de deux downplayed the acrobatics to succumb to the music's sensuality.

This ``Nutcracker'' is an extravaganza, with sets and special effects second to none. But with the improvement in the actual dancing, the tricks, including the hot-air balloon and the Christmas tree that grows to impossible heights, are now background for the choreography, and for the metaphors as well.

You can see this production as merely gorgeous, but you can also notice themes such as foretelling and recalling that stitch the fantasy together.

Christmas is a time of anticipation, and in the spirit of the season, this revamped Boston ``Nutcracker'' gathers momentum every step of the way.

("Nutcracker"; Boston Ballet; At the Wang Theatre, last night; Repeats through Dec. 30.)

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